Did you know that in a group of five people, one of them would have likely experienced some form of mental illness?
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A staggering number of adults undergo mental illness in a given year in the U.S. About 42.5 million Americans, to be more precise. And an estimated 350 million people around the world currently suffer from some form of depression.
Despite these stats, there’s often stigma associated with depression, which can make those who have it less inclined to talk about it or seek out help. Meanwhile those who haven’t experienced it may misunderstand the illness or even view it as some form of weakness -- as though it’s something that can be easily snapped out of.
But depression is very real. And it can be deadly.
Depression can lead to a high risk for suicide. “Suicidal thoughts can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or background,” according to National Alliance on Mental Illness. In fact, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. It’s also the second leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds.
So in observance of September being National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month -- and September 10 being World Suicide Prevention Day -- the LIVESTRONG.COM team has decided to meet this issue head on. We’re changing the dialogue about this illness and instead meeting it with openness and compassion.
We’ve rounded up nine stories provided by LIVESTRONG.COM staff -- all personal accounts of our various struggles with self-doubt, depression and emotionally draining experiences.
If you’ve ever felt depressed, we hope that our stories can help show that you’re not alone. We want you to know that it’s OK -- and even empowering -- to talk about depression and other forms of mental illness without shame.
These Are Our Stories
Rick, QA Engineer
"The loss of a parent is always a major shock. My dad and I had a lot of things in common, and I felt closest to him in comparison to my two brothers.
After his death, I felt emotionally and physically drained every day. I would also have dreams about him almost daily. But those dreams certainly helped me cope with the void I felt.
I don’t dream much about him anymore since 16 years have passed. But know this: I feel myself in him whenever I spend time with my 6-year-old son.
P.S. My wife decided to name our son after him: Ernesto."
Valaer, Director of Content
"I’ve experienced bouts of depression and anxiety basically since puberty. In fact, I’ve been treated for Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), which I became aware of when my mom’s best friend was diagnosed with it in the ‘90s.
I mentioned it to my therapist at the time and began to take preventative care steps. Just simple things like getting a pedicure and foot massage or doing a restorative yoga class can help take the edge off because I’m mindfully practicing self-care.
Another big revelation for me during my mental health journey was reading 'The Highly Sensitive Person' by Elaine N. Aron. It helped me understand why I feel like I don’t have the 'armor' that other people seem to have, but it also made me appreciate my sensitivity as a gift of sorts.
The three tools that I rely on to get me through the dark times are exercise, getting enough sleep and talk therapy. Even my family members now know to remind me of these things when they can see my mood turning. It’s so key to develop a toolbox that works for you."
“In college, I would experience bouts of feeling extremely down and alone, even though I was surrounded by friends. These feelings got worse as time passed. And during my senior year, I swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills.
But I still didn’t know how to get help.
After I graduated and landed full-time gigs, there’d be mornings when I couldn’t summon the energy to get out of bed. I didn’t feel strong enough to face the day, so I’d call in sick. But in the fear of losing my job, I finally sought out professional help and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
And while I still have my bad days, I’ve since found the right support group of trusted friends. I’m also thankful to have a loving boyfriend who encourages me to get out of bed when I feel like I can’t. Working out also helps.
I’ve come to accept that depression simply runs in my genes. And while this condition will most likely be a lifetime battle, I’ve learned to view it as a small part of who I am. It doesn’t need to shape my life story. It also doesn’t make me weak. In fact, I think it’s made me a more empathetic person.
Whenever I experience that dark cloud, it helps to remember something my therapist said: ‘Whenever your brain tells you you’re not good enough, know that your thoughts are not the truth. And when you feel yourself spiraling, those negative feelings will pass; they’re temporary. So acknowledge it, and then let it pass. Tomorrow is a new day.’”
Rachel, Contributing Editor
“When I was pregnant, I struggled with depressive episodes. My hormones were going crazy, and as someone who had struggled with an eating disorder, the weight gain made me feel like my body was out of my control (which it was -- it was growing a tiny human!).
It was hard to get out of bed some days. I was in a funk that I couldn't seem to shake, and I was prone to random burst of tears.
So I went to see a therapist.
She told me ‘perinatal depression’ is a term that covers depression during all stages of pregnancy and the postpartum period. It was comforting to know that I wasn't alone in feeling the ‘pre-baby blues.’
I want other women to know it's OK if they're not OK. There are plenty of us going through the same thing, and that there are people, such as therapists and other women, who can (and want to!) help.”
“By the time anybody bothered to tell me depression runs in the family, I was already on the verge of failing out of college. I had stopped going to classes -- even the fun ones -- and would barely make it out of my room.
But lucky for me, my friends and family noticed my decline and encouraged me to actively seek help in the form of a psychiatrist.
I’ve since stopped going to therapy, but only after I felt I had enough experience handling my emotional lows. I was able to set up mental counter-measures.
The biggest change for me (and I’m not just saying this because I work for LIVESTRONG) was going to the gym. I try to go every day for that endorphin release. It helps me channel a negative mental mentality into something physical and positive.”
Michelle, Senior Editor
“As a young teen, I was bullied for being overweight. It was hurtful, confusing and hard to deal with. I felt anxious and even fearful at times.
But one day I remember thinking: ‘What is happening to them that could make them so mean?’
In that moment, it was like I could see through the bullies. I understood that I deserved love and respect, and perhaps they didn't understand or have that. It took all my strength, but I started to show empathy instead of fear, and all of a sudden it didn't hurt so much. It was my super power to fight back.
I also focused on learning, knowing that if I wasn't physically perfect or pretty, I had my knowledge.
As an adult looking back, it really did make me a much stronger and more sympathetic person. And in a way, after going through that, I feel like I can handle mean-spirited criticism even on my worst days, because so often it's actually not about me.
If you're being bullied as a young person or an adult, recognize that it is unfair -- and it sucks -- but also recognize that it's not about you and move on. You're too important to waste your time thinking otherwise. ”
Jamie, Social Media Intern
“The year following college was a challenging time. I was used to hard work equating to results in fitness, grades and relationships. But to my dismay, this didn’t happen this way for me after college. And it didn’t help that I was trying to break into an already saturated field outside what I had studied in college.
My expertise was fitness, so I took jobs as a personal trainer while I acquired the skills I needed to build a better resume for my ideal job: something in media and film. Meanwhile, the pressure of getting more clients was always looming over my head from my bosses. The sporadic routine of training early-morning and late-night clients made me feel like I never got a moment’s rest. And when my head did hit the pillow, I had trouble sleeping.
My workouts suffered as a result, and since fitness is something I am loyal to, I was resentful of not being able to work out to the best of my ability. I also gained some weight.
I remember some days I would sit in my car taking deep breaths and telling myself the future would pan out and that this was only temporary.
After two years, the combination of meeting the right people and acquiring new skills led me to quit my job as a trainer at corporate gyms. The load was lifted, and I had time for myself again.
I realized that when I wasn’t fulfilling myself creatively, physically and mentally, I couldn’t be happy. Self-care is essential to happiness.”
Hoku, Editorial Intern
“Growing up in Hawaii with four siblings can sound like a riot. And it totally was! I got to dance around my grandma’s living room instead of going to pre-school. I got to explore the swap meet tucked into a modest grove instead of going to the grocery store. And I got to play with the endless office supplies at my mom’s workplace on the weekends.
I wasn’t totally ignorant, though, to my parents’ financial struggles and the strain that this put on their relationship and mental well-being.
As a college student, I awoke to those same, hard realities. Juggling four jobs on top of a full-time course load and extra-curricular activities often left me tired and anxious. The collegiate environment of excess didn’t help, and at times I felt desperately alone.
Keeping my family close and maintaining meaningful friendships carried me through the hardship. I sought little communities of people with whom I could relate -- politically charged staff writers at the student newspaper and a group of women with whom I’d mentor middle school girls.
My experiences of difficulty and the people that stuck with me throughout helped to fortify the personal and professional ethics around which I continue to forge my life.”
Ann, Senior Community Manager
"When my dad passed away suddenly in 2015 from melanoma, it was very traumatic. He was 67 years old.
In the months following his passing, I became sad and depressed. I cocooned myself from reality as much as possible. That included a lack of exercise and an abundance of junk food, not to mention way too much time spent on the couch with embarrassing reality TV (think "Little Women: LA" and "Real Housewives").
But nine months and 30 pounds later, I decided enough was enough.
My dad was an avid outdoorsman, and I feel very close to him when I’m in the woods. So I decided to include a weekly hike in my plan to get my health back on track. In addition to being a great workout and helping me get rid of those 30 pounds, my weekend hikes have been very cathartic. Being in nature has been a great place to release some of the grief I was previously keeping pent up."
Help Is Available
If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts and need help, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It's available 24/7.
What Do YOU Think?
Have you or someone you’ve known been depressed before? What are some ways you’ve learned to cope? What do you think about the way society currently views depression and suicide? And what are some ways we as a society can help promote more awareness, understanding and compassion for mental illness? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.