“Oh, my goodness…………Lord have mercy!” My husband gasped as he was lying next to me in bed and holding his iPad.
Abruptly, I opened my eyes. My heart was racing as I tried to figure out what he was talking about. Immediately, I got up, wrapped my arms around his neck and chest, and questioned what was going on. He told me that Albert, one of our good friends, committed suicide after battling with depression for three years, and that his funeral was in two days.
Wait…. What?…. Albert!….. Depression!….. Three years!
I felt a pinch in my heart. I tried hard to collect the remnants of my strength, and the leftovers of my energy in a feeble attempt to calm my husband down. But, as a matter of fact, I was the one needed to be comforted, indeed.
Albert was only in his mid-thirties. He was a “big shot” as his family, friends, and co-workers used to say. He had it all as people thought. He was a very successful lawyer, owned a top-notch office in the heart of Washington D.C. He was married and had three beautiful daughters, they were the true meaning of joy to him. His wife was the love of his life. He was adored by everybody around him. And on top of that, he was a Christian. Not the type of Christian who would go to church only for Christmas and Easter. Nor the one who would attend the church service on Sunday mornings and hang out with his folks in hookah bars on Sunday evenings. Though, he was a regular church goer, a Sunday school servant, and a deacon. He was a believer.
After knowing about Albert’s heart-wrenching, tragic fate, I was in shock. My mind kept wrestling with the thought. How in the world a very successful, well-educated, high achiever, and a spiritual person like Albert could commit such thing! A big part of my shock was rendered to the fact that he was a true believer. I can probably understand if someone who is rich, successful, young, etc. might still struggle with suicidal ideation due to potential lack of bigger purpose in life such as; spirituality for instance. I have been always under the impression that depression only attacks those who are away from God, those who don’t know about the hope and renewal people may experience when they encounter a deeper relationship with the Lord. However, I was struck by the fact that Albert was religious too. He loved God from all his heart, believed in Him, and probably knew there was hope and restoration through Christ. However, his beliefs didn’t stop him. He still committed suicide.
At this point, I was dealing with a crisis of faith. All the values, the teachings, the dogma, the beliefs I acquired all my life were in question. Why would a godly man like Albert do such thing? What were his motives? What else did he want in life? What was he lacking? To find answers to these questions, I decided to bear the burden of researching this subject in depth. I wanted to take action for my own sanity. I didn’t want to ever question my faith again. So, I went to my room, opened my laptop and googled, “what is depression?”
Depression is a serious illness and mood disorder that affects one’s thoughts, feelings and actions. It causes feelings of sadness and loss of interest in activities one once enjoyed. If left untreated, it may cause severe emotional and physical problems. Depression has many associated symptoms: feeling of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness, anger issues, frustration, anxiety, weight loss, sleep disturbance, loss of interest in daily activities, feeling of guilt, lack of self-worth, trouble thinking, concentrating and moving sometimes, fatigue, lack of energy, reduced appetite, physical problems such as: back pain and headache. And finally, frequent thoughts of death and suicidal ideation.
By looking into the symptoms, I realized that Albert didn’t seem to have any. He looked always normal to us. The “perfect” life he seemed to have didn’t really rendered this horrific end of his. He might have been sad at times, like most of us. For instance, even though I am a strong believer, I still have my own moments of sadness. When a couple of friends failed me when I needed them the most, I was down for almost two months. When I was not accepted into several Masters degree programs, I struggled with low self-esteem for quite some time. Though I was successful on the career, marriage, family and even spiritual level, I was still sad or even depressed. I was not able tell the difference at the time. And, this led me to the second question in my research journey; what are the differences between depression and normal sadness?
Normal sadness, aka “the blues”, is associated with life events. Losing a loved one, failing an exam, or getting laid off could lead to sadness. One could be sad for days, but eventually everything should be fine later. However, people who suffer from depression can’t get back to normal on their own. Also, they can get depressed for no reason. It just happens spontaneously. Sad people are still able to function and undertake the duties of daily life. On the other hand, depressed people are unable to do certain things, and their depression affects their daily life severely. And, this led me to the third question: what are the causes of depression?
Though the causes of depression are not exactly known, there are many factors in play. Biological differences, brain chemistry, hormones, inherited traits, environmental factors, traumas, sexual orientation, severe stress, personal traits, physical, verbal and sexual abuse, loss of loved ones, death, substance abuse, serious-chronic illness, and certain medications. While symptoms of depression are misleading due to sharing common factors with illnesses other than depression, the causes are very clear and alarming. For instance, if someone with depression is losing weight, experiencing tiredness or has anger issues, people can easily justify one’s actions without necessarily thinking of depression. Every single person we know does have at least one or two symptoms of the above, including myself. For instance, despite the fact that I am perceived as a decent, nice lady to most of those who know me, sometimes I come across as a wild, angry, aggressive diva, especially when it’s that time of the month. Also, even though I am mostly cheerful, optimistic, and tend to meet people with a big smile on my face, sometimes I feel miserable and sad especially when its rainy and misty outside. While symptoms aren’t a clear indicator of depression, causes definitely are.
Nowadays, we live in an age where traumas, crises, horrific incidents have become the regular feed of our daily life. We surely know someone who just lost a loved one, someone who is always stressed and carries the burden of the world on their shoulders. We do know someone who is still confused about their sexual orientation. Someone who was abused in the past or even as we speak. We know many who suffered or still suffer from cancer and other serious illnesses. People who were/are drug addicts and alcoholics. Whatever the reason might be, depression has become a common illness among a lot of people, especially between 18 and 44 years old. According to the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America), statistics show 6.7 percent of patients are within this age range. It is also shown that its common among women more than men. If depression at any stage is left untreated, it can cause severe problems on the physical, mental and psychological level. Unfortunately, only 30% of people with depression seek medical attention. A lot of depressed patients would avoid treatment due to embarrassment or fear, like in Albert’s case. He was a big shot and he didn’t want his reputation to be affected. Imagine his clients, friends, family, the people he used to serve in church knew about his illness. He probably thought it would have ended his career and the fancy life he strived to build. However, little did he or other people know that It’s very crucial for family members, friends, co-workers and everyone else to be familiar with the symptoms and attain a better understanding of depression in general in order to help their loved ones and anyone else in need.
As I put my computer down, I encountered conflicted feelings. I was relieved that Albert’s depression had nothing to do with his faith, and that it might have been due to biological imbalance, brain chemistry, or any of the above causes. However, I was still sad and hurt. If people were educated enough about the subject, patients like Albert could have been saved. I was sad that ignorance killed him. I was hurt because we are in 2018, and still feel ashamed to discuss such topic. We are in 2018, and we deal with mental illness as if it’s a curse, and not a disease like any other physical one.
As I was engulfed in my thoughts, I began to think of the other Alberts in my life; different family members, friends, school mates, co-workers. Each one of them has a story. They might not be necessarily depressed, but each one has something going on. After reading about depression and the difference between it and normal sadness, I asked myself: what should I do now? What is the next step? Is it my role to educate myself, read about the topic, gain knowledge to sympathize with Albert’s family without taking any further action?
Immediately, I made a promise to myself and before God: I will be the difference I want to see in people. I will start by myself. I will do my best to be an ear for those who don’t have someone to listen to them. I will be a friend for those who are lonely. I will offer hugs, I will open my house, I will hand them a tissue to wipe their tears. I will make sure to tell them everything will be ok. I will pray for them. I will do everything I can, not to prevent depression from happening, but to ensure them that they are not alone in this world. On the other hand, I will be courteous to everybody else, not just the depressed ones. Because, I don’t know what might be happening behind closed doors, behind this smile on their faces. I will not act like a stranger. I will say “God bless you” when people sneeze. I will make eye contact. I will greet people in the hallways. I will smile at them. I will not mind my own business.
As soon as I was done with my research, I put my computer down, grabbed my phone, and texted someone I knew who happened to have a lot of issues going on at the time.
“Hi, what are you up to for the weekend? Would love to catch up over coffee sometime.”