Reaching the Light at the End of the Tunnel

Isabella Colatruglio

For many teenagers, the most perplexing question might be if there really is a light at the end of the tunnel. Is there really a way to break the chains that depression bounds you with? Victims of depression face the despairing reality of suicidal thoughts, self-harm, overwhelming sadness and isolation almost every day.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) in South Africa there are 23 suicides per day and globally one person commits suicide every 40 seconds.  Depression is the 4th leading cause of disability in the world with South Africa having the 6th highest suicide rate in Africa! The South African Stress and Health published a study in 2019 showing that the prevalence of depression in South Africa is 10%, with only 8% seeking help.  24% of teenagers in South Africa have experienced depression whilst 21% have attempted suicide. The scariest part is these are just the people who have been diagnosed. Countless others remain trapped in a void of darkness and depression without understanding why they feel as they do.

The outlook seems bleak when looking at these facts, but the good news is that help is available and there are methods that a person can use to control depression.

Firstly, it is vital to understand that depression is not just sadness. Depression is defined as persistent feelings of desolation that does not recede within two weeks. Depression is not an emotion either, it is a mental disorder rooted in a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Depression and sadness are not synonymous. Saying that you feel depressed when you are just sad is detrimental to people who do suffer from mental illness. This thoughtless behaviour helps to spur the growth of the dreadful stigma that mental health is a choice or something that you can just “snap out of”.

How to fight depression:

While there is assistance available, you must acknowledge that nobody can do your inner work for you. You must be willing to improve and be committed to improving your mental well-being.

Although there is a stigma around mental health which makes it difficult to speak about it, the best thing that you can do for your mental health is in fact to speak to someone. Nobody is alone. It is important to realise that there are other people who feel very similar and who understand these experiences. By talking to people about your feelings, you will get a sense of community and may feel less isolated.

Speaking to your parents about seeing a psychologist can be very scary, but it is vital to getting mental health under control. Sometimes parents do not understand, but this is not out of anger, it is out of their own anxiety and feeling that they have failed to help their child. Communicate how you feel by having a genuine conversation with your parents.

Although medication is not always everyone’s go-to, it can be of great help. Whilst medication cannot do the work for you, it can help to prevent dips in your mood. You can speak to a doctor or psychiatrist about taking medication.

Distracting yourself is a great self-help method. Finding a hobby can really benefit your mental health. Having a hobby, whether it be sport, something that requires a skill or even something creative, can be rewarding as well as relaxing.

Another way to help yourself is through mindfulness. Possibly the most annoying phrase an anxious or depressed person can hear is, “Just breathe”. Whilst this can be incredibly difficult to do, breathing can help. However, it is not breathing alone that can make a difference in your mood. Combined with visualisation, such as visualising all negative emotions blowing away, this can be a powerful tool to combat depression. There are many different visualising techniques to try. They may be difficult in the beginning, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. Engaging in yoga or Pilates can also help to practice mindfulness.

Eating when you feel depressed can be a mundane task, and someone may lose their appetite completely. However, eating a good and healthy meal can really lift the spirit. Food such as those listed in the Mediterranean diet that contains plenty of vitamin B are known to improve moods.

It is essential to get enough sleep. Sleep is known to affect moods, so having a good sleep routine can help to keep depression in check. Aim for eight hours of sleep every night, and ten hours for teenagers.

It is important to get some sunlight – vitamin D can truly improve your mood. It will help to boost serotonin levels and only fifteen minutes a day is needed.

Whilst self-care might seem rather obvious to people who suffer from depression, taking time to take care of your needs is an important part in recovery. These can be simple things, for instance changing into clean clothes and basic hygiene. Drinking plenty of water, taking time to prepare a good meal, showering instead of bathing (even if it means just letting the water run over you) and pampering with lotions and perfumes are all methods of self-care that many people have found to be effective in fighting depression.

Lastly, challenge negative thinking. People with depression may feel powerless and weak against their thoughts, but it is important to remember the thoughts that plague your mind are often not realistic, even if depression makes it seem so. Thinking positively is not an immediate cure, but in the long term with time and practise, it combats depression.

When you gets these thoughts, use a technique called “Putting your thoughts on the witness stand”.

Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Is there evidence that these thoughts are true?
  • What would you tell a friend who has these thoughts?
  • Is there another way to look at these thoughts or another explanation?
  • How would someone without depression look at this situation?

The key is to cross examine your thoughts until they crumble away. As you continue to work at this technique, you will find that the negative thoughts begin to fade.

With these methods of self-help, you are sure to beat depression. It may seem like an impossible task in the beginning, or even like a dark hole with no escape, but there is always a way out.

Eventually, you will become stronger and better at controlling your thoughts. Your depression will become benign, and the bouts will become far less frequent. No matter what anyone says, depression does not mean that you are broken or need to be cured. It does not define you. Depression is simply a challenge that you must learn to overcome. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.


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