Fighting Depression, One Song at a Time
I was recently involved in a music video project about fighting depression that came about as a collaboration between a band whose lead singer is a doctor and one of the hospitals where he works. Half the proceeds will go to the hospital's fundraising activities to save more lives.
The story was that as the young doctor was in his training years he was told to "man up" and repress his feelings after seeing one too many people pass away on a particular day at the hospital. He works in intensive care, so needless to say, it is a difficult job in a department where people's chances of survival are already compromised.
The song resonated strongly with other hospital staff (big shout out to a nurses group who helped us promoting it online) and with a small wider community that insists on speaking up about depression.
How to fight depression?
The disease is still vastly misunderstood and grossly depicted in most conversations and in the media. Hell, even honest doctors will admit we still have a very poor scientific understanding of the condition.
So what we did was having a chat with some people in the community that got in touch with us regarding the video to talk about what did help them overcome depression (whenever they did manage to). Here are some tips that came out of these conversations.
You can find very good and well-documented information on the impact of our environment on our mental health here. But before we read what they had to say, here's the video we made for King's College Hospital featuring some of the hospital staff - hope you like it.
1. Don’t say it’s in the head
It may be in your head, but it doesn’t help. Often it’s not even a mental issue, but more of a consequence (trauma, impact of other diseases). Knowing where the pain is won’t make it go away, especially with something such as mental diseases that even modern medicine is still only beginning to understand.
Implying it’s something you can get rid of by just thinking it away isn’t going to help. When you’re feeling extremely sad or angry, having someone tell you “well cheer up, you’re bumming everyone out” usually doesn’t! Depression is a whole other beast but at least by trying to putting yourself in someone else’s shoes you can hope to begin to understand what it’s like.
2. Acknowledge the pain is real
There are many causes to depression and you’ve got to realise that we live in times where lots of contributing factors have become widespread. Here’s what depression has been correlated with:
- Living in large cities (recent research suggests that seeing the colour green has a huge positive impact on our mental health. Taking an hour long walk in the city and in the countryside results in different levels of happiness)
- Living in a community, which against goes against large cities where communities have often been dismantled. This explains also why levels of happiness in developing cities in poorer countries tend to be higher (despite worse living conditions) as people have more support from their families and friends. Note that this widely varies from country to country. Women tend to have a worse time just as do communities in certain Latin American cities where violence is widespread (a couple of examples among many).
As we shut people off, their mental stability tends to deteriorate. The definition of poverty itself is very much linked to social exclusion and the rise of mental diseases. We know that in most countries, levels of mental illness are much bigger in the homeless than the average population.
3. Changing lifestyle, but you can’t force it
Focusing on others, such as volunteering, can help - except if you’ve already been giving too much which can lead to mental exhaustion – but so can a wide variety of lifestyle changes.
Often we don’t realise we need a break. To slow down, to think about our lives and how we lead them. To prioritise and focus on what really matters to us all while blocking out all the rest. You can’t really force people to change the way they lead their life, it has to come from them too. But before you get full agreement you can show them you won’t give up on them.
Mindfulness has a real impact on happiness, reported in several studies. You don't always have to follow specific exercises, focus on activities that put you right in the moment:
- Exercising (...duh?)
- Hiking (and spending some time in the wild)
- Cycling to work
More tips to better understand mindfulness and practicing it has even made its way on the UK's NHS (National Health System).
3. It’s not the end
Karl Jung went through depression for some very, very long years. And yet he came out of it one of the most famous psychologists in the world. Not that you have to conquer the world at the end in any way. In this day and age, maybe we need more good people than we need ambitious people.
But remember it’s not the end of your world. It’s a phase, a pause. If you do nothing you might never come out of it. But sometimes you do also have to take the time to face yourself, your fears and issues.
4. Know thyself
Knowing yourself is the best thing you can do. It’s one of the most irresponsible things to not know oneself. You go around on earth interacting with people without even knowing who you are and why you do certain things. You raise kids and you teach them things without knowing why.
That’s essentially why people go to the psychologist isn’t it? Because reflecting upon yourself is hard. And yet it is the most human trait. The ability to take some distance on your actions and reflect on what you did. But you’ll need to take this to the next level and take inside yourself - not at yourself. Most shamans in Latin America know this is the real path of the warrior. The best boxers and martial artists know there is no real opponent. There is only you. And it’s the greatest battle ever. Once you know yourself you can overcome nearly anything.
5. Seeking the causes of things
You decide how you react to events in your life. Not everything has to be the end, of course there are tragic events and that’s where you should be in touch with your own feelings. Repressing it is irresponsible, things will go out of control sooner or later in some way.
Question everything. Understand the causes of things. And start with yourself. But do realise that certain things are beyond your control (and it’s okay, that’s how the world works).
Whether you believe in this or that god or in nature itself, nearly every religion or school of thought will teach you to try to not control things that are beyond your grasp. Go with the flow and do what you can do. It’s still a lot.
Sorry for the slightly revolutionary tone of the article. But I do take this personally as I’ve seen it a lot and I strongly believe we need to learn to love (and know) ourselves before we can love others. It is one of the biggest changes we can make in our lives and that will impact all those we meet during our time on earth.