Wellbeing

A Deeper Shade of Blue: How to Brave the Most Depressive Season of the Year

By James Alston | Friday 24th November, 2017

And so you find yourself, at four-thirty in the afternoon, curled up in a ball on your bed, unshowered and unable to get dressed, crying over a video entitled something like ‘This Video Has Restored My Faith In Humanity’. You know you should have eaten by now, but you couldn’t make it past the bedroom door. You’re meant to have Facetimed that friend you haven’t spoken to in a week, but you can’t think of anything worse than speaking to someone. Mum texts you asking if you’re alright, and you can’t face trying to explain your situation. I’m fine. Back to crying.

While the above is perhaps a description of most people’s Saturday mornings (read: hangover), it’s also a small slice of what it’s like when you feel depressed. And not “depression”: you know, that word that gets thrown about when you’ve run out of money and it’s ten days until payday, or when you drop your phone on your face while you’re reading Ink in bed. I’m talking about depression: the mental disorder Dr Steve Ilardi (a psychologist whose self-proclaimed mission is to try and beat the disease) lists among the epidemic illnesses of modern times. The difference between the two - and hopefully this doesn’t need to be said - is that you might be pissed off for five minutes if you bruise your cheek with your phone, but sufferers of depression feel like this every single day, for weeks, months, and even years on end.

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The bad news first...

In these transitionary autumn months, as the nights become longer and the weather colder, instances of feeling depressed soar. Lack of sunlight combined with increased isolation due to bad weather (brave the rain, or finish Stranger Things?), can cause seasonal affective disorder or maybe even major depressive disorder. Combine this with the fact that some studies suggest you have a 25% chance of becoming depressed if you are between the ages of 19 and 25, and it’s clear that Dr Ilardi is right: we have a major epidemic on our hands, one that is currently the biggest killer of men under the age of 50.

Why is this the case? There are competing explanations from psychologists, commentators and scientists alike. Some argue it’s because those damn kids just won’t get off their phones: increased use of technology, they argue, is isolating and leads to things like FOMO and insecurity. Others think there are complex societal pressures at play, including issues of gender, sexuality and race, as well as an overriding stigmatisation of mental illness. Simpler, more reductionist explanations point to stressed lives, a lack of Omega-3 (maybe those Instagram diets aren’t such a bad thing?) and constant social isolation, whether due to technology or the fast-paced nature of modern living. In reality, it’s probably a mixture of all these things: as millennials, we live chaotic lives full of seeing friends, working extremely hard (contrary to popular opinion) and trying to get past that really tough Plants vs. Zombies level.

The good news...

...there are solutions (though for those with depression, it doesn’t feel like it). The most positive step of recent times is that a dialogue has opened up with regards to mental health. Issues like depression and anxiety are discussed in the media more and more frequently, and, especially for young people, there are plenty of mental health services available. If you’re a student, most universities offer free and confidential mental health services. Generally, you call them up, tell them how you’ve been feeling, and they book you in for a consultation as soon as they can.

If you need help urgently, you can usually just walk into the drop-in centre and talk to someone straight away. Services like this are essential for students: moving away from home is terrifying (at least, it was for me), and considering the combination of a heavy university workload, a house full of strangers and an average of four nights boozing at the students’ union per week, it’s no wonder many need the support.

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And if you’ve graduated and haven’t run away from real life to do a master’s (like I have), one of the perks of living in a society filled with technology that was the stuff of science fiction novels a decade ago is that tech companies have caught on to the mental health crisis. Headspace is one company utilising the growing wealth of evidence that suggests mindfulness meditation, even for short periods, can help with anxiety and depression. Obviously, the app isn’t necessary to meditate - anyone can do it. The problem for those with depression is that it’s difficult to perform even the most menial of tasks. A friendly reminder popping up on your phone could be just the thing that gets you up in the morning when nothing else can.

But there’s something even simpler you can do in these cold months, as the leaves rot to orange, the rain falls, and your mood plummets, something that doesn’t require expense or even a smartphone. Tell someone. And, even more essential, tell someone who will understand. A therapist, a faceless stranger at the end of the Samaritan line, your best friend who’s been through something similar - someone who will be able to tell you that you will, eventually, feel better, that you won’t be feeling low forever; telling someone can truly be the biggest help of them all. And not everyone will understand; when I told my mother, she spent weeks telling me I had a thyroid problem. Not helpful.

It’s scary talking about it - you have no idea how people are going to react. In the end, there are solutions, and services expect more people to feel low when the nights are long and the clouds are thick. Sometimes, all it takes is sticking it out until the sun reappears - other times, you need a little more than that.

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