“Our minds and bodies are connected. So, sometimes that physical exhaustion is really emotional exhaustion. Or a combination. You may feel it in your body and think, ‘I’m tired.’ But is there an emotional cause, like feeling overwhelmed?” said Dr. Charmain Jackman, Clinical Psychologist, Entrepreneur and Mental Health Advocate.
When do life’s conditions threaten your stability? Whether it’s Covid chaos, busy back-to-school or trudging through edgeless days, many feel hopeless. Others, lack motivation or want to hit the escape hatch. Like all mental health challenges, depression has been on the rise. And it’s dangerous. Thankfully there’s greater awareness for post-partum depression. But life threatening hopelessness isn’t just a risk for new Mothers. Depression rarely looks like sitting on a ledge and can feel like a sneak attack for people who are beyond busy.
We can’t avoid life’s difficult circumstances or emotions. But we can get savvy about our mental health. And recognize when the distress is more than a bad day. Charmain shares when to sound the alarm and change course.
Depression Isn’t Always ‘Visible’ to Others
Charmain said, “There have been a lot of conversations after recent suicides. Particularly the young woman Cheslie Kryst, about this idea of high functioning depression. Or high functioning anxiety.” She explained this term is new. “In the diagnostic statistic manual (DSM) we use, high functioning depression is not there. But it is a way that the culture is trying to make sense of symptoms. With depression, people often wear a mask.”
So, Beware of Wearing the ‘Mask’
“This idea of ‘putting on a mask’ is something I heard a lot when I worked with adolescents. But I’ve also seen this with adults. So, people might see you smiling and engaging. And you might make it to work and fulfill your day. But when you get home, it comes crashing down,” Charmain explained.
Although women are at greater risk for depression, we’re socialized to say ‘everything’s fine’ even when it isn’t. Pretending isn’t new but over time, there’s an emotional cost. She added, “Women would tell me that after work they would just be in the bed, curled up in a ball, crying incessantly. And not knowing why. But they were unable to do anything else because they put all their energy into just making it through the day.”
Depression is Not Always Sadness
Charmain said, “Most people understand sadness around loss or grief. Like what it means to feel sad after the death of a family member or friend. Or an unwelcome transition, like being laid off or fired. But sometimes people have a hard time understanding sadness connected with depression.”
It may not appear the way you expect it to. She explained, “We often think it’s someone who’s crying a lot. But depression can manifest in different ways.”
It Can be Anger or Even Apathy
Charmain said, “So, you know how we say in our culture, when someone gets on your last nerve?” Why yes. We share Bajan heritage, where that’s a common expression.
She added, “Sometimes depression comes out as anger or feeling miserable all the time. There’s also numbness or apathy. So, when we think about depression, it’s really important to have the different symptoms in mind. We often go to sadness as the main symptom but there are all the other ways that it might play out.”
Name Your Feelings
Charmain said, “Whenever I do workshops for companies I’ll ask people to share some feelings that they’ve had over the last week. And consistently the top three words are: overwhelmed, anxious and stressed.”
She added, “Sometimes we have leaders in the room, and they are surprised when this word overwhelmed comes up. And how many people still feel like that. So, although they understand this pandemic journey is stressful, many still don’t get how much that plays into people’s day-to-day.”
Assess the ‘Why’ Behind Them
Not everyone is ready to reengage with the world. It’s not surprising after years of forced isolation. But if you’re withdrawing from others it can be another sign of depression. So, ask yourself, is it a passing mood or am I hiding?
Charmain explained, “It’s hard for people to assess for themselves. If it’s reluctance to attend an event, think about who is it for? Are you just going to show your face and is that important? Or is there something you want from that experience? Sometimes when you get over the hump, it’s like going to the gym. You may feel, oh this wasn’t bad, I’m glad I’m here.”
Including the Desire to Hide
In person activities are flooding the calendar again. And many feel overloaded with preparation. Charmain explained, “Ask yourself, ‘What am I escaping by not going? Some people who need to return to the office in the fall, may be thinking about the commute, meal prep and extra steps. When I have to go to an in-person event now, I have to think about my outfit and that I haven’t gone shopping in years.”
And it may not feel worth it. She added, “After that, I don’t really want to go anymore. But it requires a lot of new energy to do things you haven’t done in a while. And there may be benefits. So, assess what’s at play when managing your energy on a daily basis.”
Pay Attention to Alarm Bells
Charmain said there are other important cues. “Changes to eating and sleeping habits are also connected to depression. As well as trouble concentrating and having thoughts of death or dying. In our culture women sometimes feel guilt and shame around that. But your thoughts are there and try not to judge them. If you find that you want to kill yourself, get out of here or just don’t see an escape because you feel hopeless, those are definitely the red flags.” And a sign to get help.
And Seek Out Support
Charmain said, “If you’re feeling these things, it’s a good time to check in with a therapist. Or, if you don’t have one, even a good friend. Because if there are signals, you’re not doing well, ask yourself, how can I get support around this?”
The global mental health crisis often means long waiting lists for therapists. But if you’re thinking about harming yourself there are many emergency supports. Like suicide prevention resources, crisis hotlines to call or text or your primary care physician’s office. And many employers offer employee assistance plan (EAP) services. Staffed with trained specialists to support you through a crisis.
Bring Back Daily Joy
You can return to yourself. If you’re not able to get professional support consider alternatives. Including intentional shifts to your thoughts, routines and daily habits. Self-care is a critical part of mental health. Charmain said, “As Moms, because we’re often doing for others, there’s guilt that comes with doing something just for us. And it’s a shift in mindset that we’re deserving and worthy of this.” Amen!
She added, “So what are little things that you can do that make you smile and bring you joy? It doesn’t have to be something big. Just something you enjoy that allows you to feel guilt-free and shame-free. It’s going to help you come back feeling refreshed. And better at problem solving, more creative, more patient with your children and partner, if you are partnered.”
If you are feeling tested you’re not alone. The pandemic hasn’t been kind and many continue to face challenges with Covid and other world events. So, seek out every resource available. Including giving yourself permission to pause when you feel drained, burned out or stressed.
Many thanks to the talented Dr. Charmain Jackman!
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Dr. Charmain F. Jackman, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist of Barbadian heritage and the Founder & CEO of InnoPsych, Inc.
Growing up in a culture where the stigma of mental health was pervasive, but therapists of color were not, she decided that she was going to change that. Dr. Jackman has spent the last 20 years working with people of color (POC) in hospitals, clinics, courts and schools, and has consistently observed that POCs long for therapists who look like them—who understand them and who will do right by them! That knowledge has inspired Dr. Jackman to make it easier for POC to find therapists of color! She also wants to change the negative views of therapy and to educate POC about the necessity of taking care of their mental health and to empower communities to heal.
Tags: depression in Moms, managing depression, managing your mental and emotional health, mental health support, mental wellbeing for Moms, understanding and noticing depression