There are many hidden disabilities that people are not aware of. Sometimes even the individual suffering is not aware of it. Most hidden disabilities, such as depression, are considered, in some way, shameful or devaluing. It is for that reason that many people with these conditions keep them a secret. But living every day pretending that you feel like you are alright when you are not can be very debilitating, diminishing your self-confidence.
When a person uses a wheelchair, a walker, or guide dog to get around, there is a general understanding of what accommodations are needed for them to be included and valued. It’s less obvious how to respond to the needs of people living with depressive disorders, developmental disabilities, or other mental health conditions, who might speak, act, or struggle in ways we are not used to. Since we tend to value issues that are easy to detect and easy to resolve, there is typically a negative stigma attached to people living with mental impairments. But mental health disabilities, though often invisible to others, can be as crippling and difficult to manage as physical disabilities.
The stigma attached to mental struggles is bad enough. What’s worse is that we have also stigmatized getting treatment! In many cases, depression that could be successfully treated remains undiagnosed and ignored because people feel ashamed.
Over the past year, Roosevelt Island has suffered the tragic loss of several neighbors and loved ones to suicide. This is a problem we need to confront together as a community. The more we understand and talk about depression, the earlier we can recognize it in our friends, families, and loved ones and find them help.
On April 26, the Roosevelt Island Disabled Association (RIDA), in collaboration with the Carter Burden Network, will be sponsoring a Mental Health and Wellness Fair from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. There will be a wealth of resources and information available for individuals of all ages. Please come and help us enlighten our community in order to help our friends, family, and neighbors who may be silently struggling.
A Growing Crisis
Depression is a mood disorder that changes how you think, feel, and function in day-to-day life activities such as work, rest, diet, and overall enjoyment of life. For those who experience these symptoms, it’s extremely important to understand how depression can distort reality. Some people describe depression as “living in a black hole.” Others feel that life is pointless and empty and become apathetic. Life has its ups and downs, but when feelings of hopelessness and deep despair take hold and just won’t go away, they need to be addressed.
The number of individuals at all levels suffering from mental health disabilities, especially depression, is growing. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates depression affects roughly 17 million Americans each year; more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression according to the World Health Organization. Although depression is rapidly increasing, recent data suggests that the rate of people being treated is not. Depression that goes untreated is the strongest risk factor for suicidal behavior. Recent studies show that suicide attempts have increased in recent years, especially among young women. In the U.S., suicide claims 30,000 lives each year, making it the 11th most common cause for death. The deep despair that comes with depression can make suicide feel like the only way to escape the pain. If you or a loved one is having suicidal thoughts, please seek help immediately.
The symptoms of depression often vary according to age and gender. For example, men are less likely to self-loathe and are more likely to complain of fatigue and boredom. Women, however, are more likely to experience feelings of guilt, excessive sleeping, or over-eating. Teenagers dealing with depression may show fewer signs of sadness and more signs of irritability and anger. Physical pain, such as headaches, may also be signs of depression among teens. Finally, older adults tend to pay less attention to the emotional symptoms and more to physical pain. Aging adults with depression may also neglect daily responsibilities such as hygiene or taking their medications.
It’s important to remember that these symptoms can be part of life’s normal lows. But the more symptoms you have, the stronger they are, and the longer they’ve lasted—the more likely it is that you’re dealing with depression.
If you have some of these symptoms of depression, you should seek help. Reaching out to your doctor can be your first step, but it shouldn’t be your last. Depression is not just the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain that can simply be cured with medication. It’s caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. In other words, your lifestyle choices, relationships, and coping skills matter just as much – if not more – than genetics.
Isolation fuels depression, so reach out to friends and loved ones, even if you feel like being alone or don’t want to be a burden to others. The simple act of talking to someone face-to-face about how you feel can be an enormous help.
Andrew Solomon writes, “Depression is a disease of loneliness…love – both expressed and received – is helpful, not because it ameliorates the symptoms of depression (it does not), but because it gives people evidence that life may be worth living if they can only get better. It gives them a place to admit their illness, and admitting it is the first step toward resolving it.”
As a community, we need to support those who are taking steps to address their mental health conditions and managing their lives in spite of the challenges. Let us move beyond just making our community physically accessible with ramps and elevators and onward toward being personally available with compassion, an open heart, and a listening ear.
If you have a loved one with depression, take any suicidal talk or behavior seriously and watch for warning signs. Talking openly about suicidal thoughts and feelings can save a life. Most importantly, seek help.
And there is help. NYC Well, which is replacing LifeNet, provides crisis counseling and connects New Yorkers to mental health services by web, phone, and text. You can access a 24/7 hotline at 1 (888) NYC-WELL, texting the word “Well” to 65173, or visiting the chatroom at bit.ly/WIREwell. NYC Well provides comprehensive crisis intervention, suicide prevention, and follow-up services for individuals who are at risk of suicide. The service is available in the 150 most commonly spoken languages.
Depression comes in many shapes and forms. Whether you suffer from depression or you want to know what to look for in others, please attend our Mental Health and Wellness Fair on April 26 at the Roosevelt Island Senior Center at 546 Main Street. Everyone is welcome.
You may also learn about the symptoms of various depressive disorders, as well as other mental health conditions, at the Mental Health First Aid training being given on Roosevelt Island. David Menegon, chair of Manhattan Community Board 8 Veterans Affairs Committee, has called the training sessions “a groundbreaking public education program that teaches the skills needed to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental health and substance challenges and crises.” More information will be available at the Mental Health and Wellness Fair, as well as registration for the various training sessions.
People living with these conditions need to know that it speaks to their courage when they get help.
Please come and help us to raise awareness of what it’s like to live with this invisible disability.