Hey Seattle, Let’s Talk About Mental Health

For me, June began on an extremely sad note. First, we lost the iconic fashion designer Kate Spade. A couple days later, Anthony Bourdain, beloved chef and storyteller extraordinaire was found dead in his hotel room. There was an outpouring of grief from all over the world.

Photo Credit: Mental Health Charter

With Kate Spade’s suicide, the internet questioned why having a 13-year old daughter wasn’t enough to live for. With Anthony Bourdain, people wondered–didn’t he have the best job in the world? People all over the world mourned as if they’d lost a close friend, a fellow comrade. Somehow, Bourdain seemed less of an elusive celebrity and more of a friend we went on weekly adventures with. Through our TVs, we tasted unknown foods and lived vicariously through his adventures, which is why the news hit so hard. It was also a big eye-opener to love more deeply, to show that you care, and to be a little kinder to others. You don’t know what someone else is going through or the demons they’re battling inside.

Along with the sadness, came a pertinent question. How can we learn? What can we do?

These high-functioning and extremely talented individuals couldn’t find it within themselves to go on. Depression doesn’t discriminate. It just strikes. In India where I’m from, acclaimed actress Deepika Padukone has shared her struggle with depression publicly. It is a small and brave step towards removing the stigma that still surrounds mental health throughout the world. In my quest for answers, I spoke to mental health professionals at ERC Insight Seattle in Bellevue who have shed some light on the issue.

Seattleite: Ending your life is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. What prompts someone to take such an extreme action? What does someone suffering from depression go through?

Jane Johnson, MA, LMHC explains, “Sometimes depression feels like your world is on mute. As if you’re surrounded by three tons of water and everything just feels muffled and distant and separated from all light and all warmth. It’s lonely. It’s crushing. It’s immobilizing. Colors are less vibrant. It’s harder to breath. And everything feels like it’s in slow motion. It is the hardest place to get out of. It’s a quicksand that pulls you deeper with every struggle for freedom. It affects us on every level—mentally, emotionally, physiologically, and even spiritually. It strips us of everything that gives us joy and meaning and purpose in life. It isolates us from our loved ones. It is a dark monster that is relentless in stripping us of power, confidence, efficacy, and self-worth.”

More Americans die from suicide every year, as compared to road accidents. This fact is incredibly shocking. Is suicide really about the debilitating circumstances in our lives or do we get victimized by own minds? Is it both? Neither?

Whitney Erickson, LCSW, says, “When someone is in that space, there are no other options. The only things that they are able to see are the choices they don’t want to make. It’s tunnel vision.”

Here are simple, but often overlooked ways to take care of yourself, your family and friends, and even how to reach out to an acquaintance you suspect is not quite alright….

Connect deeply

The very first step is to talk about it. Erickson urges us, “Talk about it. Be vulnerable.” Remind yourself that it is okay to ask for help if you are struggling. You are never alone.

If you see someone you care about struggling, know that your help, love, and acceptance is more valuable than you think it is. Be there to listen. 

Talking about an innate human need for connection, Johnson says, “I really believe that, above anything else, we desire connection. We crave love and belonging and intimacy; that fierce, authentic connection with others. We want to know that we have a place in this world… that there is an acceptance and appreciation for who we are at our core. In a lot of ways, I believe that connection is where we find our best version of ourselves. We find joy. Contentment. Sorrow. Purpose in the pain. We will experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows… and it will all be worth it. Go create meaningful connection. It will be the scariest thing you will ever do… and also the most life-changing”

Practice self-care

Pace yourself, and say no to things without guilt. Give yourself enough time for rest and recovery. Just like physical fitness, mental fitness is equally important – practice it daily.

Do simple things that give you joy—a walk outside, meditation, cooking a meal at home, gardening, or reading a book. Johnson digs beneath the surface to explain what true self care is all about. She says, Be good to yourself. Self-care is one of the most frequently instagrammed and yet sorely misunderstand practices within our culture. It goes beyond the weekly manicure or picture-perfect avocado-on-toast breakfast. Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely an aspect of self-care that is built around balanced eating, balanced sleeping, balanced exercise, and routine health and beauty regimes. However, with that also comes grace for one’s mistakes. Allowing yourself to rest when your instinct is to drive yourself into the ground.”

Create space to laugh. Create space to cry. Discover what recharges your internal battery. Build and master new skills. Seek out new hobbies. Be kind to yourself when every fiber of your being is screaming “I’m a failure” or “I don’t deserve it”. Being good to yourself sets you apart from the idea that you’re not worth it. And you ARE worth it. You’re worth the scented candles. You’re worth the tub filled with hot water and bubbles. You’re worth the extra effort of cooking a nice meal. You’re worth staying up late into the night talking to when your brain won’t slow down. You’re worth standing up to anyone who tells you differently. Your story is worth it. So be good to yourself.

Extend a helping hand

One of the best things you can do is to volunteer your time and energy to helping someone in need. Camille Primous, MS-CN, LMHCA, tells us, Practice compassion for self and compassion for others, because we don’t actually have a safe environment to share what we’re really struggling with. I think if we were able to practice a little bit of compassion and understanding, we might actually realize we’re all struggling with really similar things, and they’re all really human and they’re all part of the experience. I think that silence and stigma is really what perpetuates the problem”

Be there

How can you reach out to someone struggling with depression? What do they need the most?

Erickson says, “Validation. From a space of connection and empathy.Look for warning signs. If you feel a friend or family member is acting strange, unnaturally socially withdrawn, drinking too much or even extremely moody—look deeper into it. In situations where do don’t know what to do, ask a simple question—how can I help?

Johnson says, “The biggest impact you will make while helping someone who is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts is just being willing to be present with them. Sit with them in those feelings. Be empathetic. Be compassionate. Be understanding. Be vulnerable. Don’t give up on them. Remind them that they’re worth it. Love on them. Reassure them that they’re not “too much”. Validate their struggle. Normalize their experience. Because whether we want to admit it or not, a lot of us have been there. That lonely, hopeless, crushing darkness… it’s so much easier to break free from when we show up for each other and say ‘You too? Let’s do this together’.”

Educate yourself

To begin with, Primous asks to reflect within, “I think if we can check our own implicit biases and beliefs about what it means to be depressed and what it means to be suicidal… I think those things can potentially get in the way of us responding in a way where we can hold somebody with that, rather than freaking out.”

Encourage dialogue, conversation and awareness about mental health wherever you can. Erickson explains, “I think that what’s really important about depression is that…depression is an umbrella for a lot of pain and hurt and sadness, that IS-when someone is in a depressed state-actually unmanageable. There’s not an ‘Oh, I can just get out of bed today’…it’s literally, ‘I CAN’T get out of bed today’. When someone is experiencing clinical depression in that intensity and severity, it really has to do with being in that irrational space of emotion, where anything logical or rational is not happening, and is just not a reality.”

U.S. Helplines (free & available 24/7/365)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255
NDMDA Depression Hotline – Support Group 800-826-3632
Crisis Help Line – For Any Kind of Crisis 800-233-4357
National Youth Crisis Hotline – 800-448-4663
Crisis Text Line (if you don’t want to talk on the phone) – text 741741