How I overcame my depression

About this time last year, I was depressed and had recurring suicidal thoughts. I had a difficult time finishing my degree and felt like failure. Today I am full of energy, mainly because I read the works of Aaron Beck and Martin Seligman on depression and happiness, after which my depression disappeared entirely and my level of happiness increased 60%. Beck popularized the ABCDE model that I use every time I face a setback. Seligman provided a series of strategies to do every day to become happier.

Aaron Beck and the ABCDE model to counter sadness

Beck found that we react more to the stories we tell ourselves after an even that to the adversity itself. An Adversity (A) has the Consequence (C) of a sad feeling. Between the Adversity (A) and the Consequence (C), Beck found the Belief (B) to be hugely important. With the same adversity, different beliefs lead to different consequences. Beliefs are a set of thoughts so automatic that we hardly recognize them. Unlike the adversity, which is set in stone, the belief is something we can Dispute (D). The best way to do so is to prove that it is factually incorrect and offer hard evidence against it. This Disputation may lead us to feel Energized (E).

Here is an example of the ABCDE model:

– Adversity: I got a bad mark in a test

– Belief: I am a bad student, will probably fail the exam, and have little value

– Consequence: I feel sad

– Disputation: let’s look at the facts: I got into Cambridge, got good marks in the other tests, and have an internship for the summer

– Energization: I do have value after all

Martin Seligman and the daily practice of happiness

Unlike most psychology research in the 1980s, which studied mental illnesses, Seligman decided to study happiness. Similar to Beck, he found that two important characteristics of beliefs: whether we see things as permanent versus temporary, or pervasive versus specific. For example, if you get a good mark in a test, you may think that you were “lucky in this course” (temporary and specific), or that you are a “good student in any field” (permanent and pervasive). Optimism and hope consists of interpreting bad events as specific and temporary, while seeing good events as permanent and pervasive

Seligman also recommends these exercises to increase your level of happiness:

(1) what-went-well today (or three-blessings): every evening before sleep, I sit down and look for three things that went well during my day and why. I try to find permanent and pervasive aspects of those three good things. (Seligman warns that “it may seem awkward at first, but please stick with it for one week. It will get easier. The odds are that you will be less depressed, happier, and addicted to this exercise six months from now.”)

(2) gratitude letter: every so often, I find someone I never properly thanked, such as my mother, a close friend, or a mentor, and I write a gratitude letter. I reflect on what they mean to me and why I am grateful. Then I contact that person, ask for a face-to-face meeting, take out the letter, and read it slowly.

(3) signature strengths survey: I took the Values In Action survey and found 5 signature strengths among 24 universal qualities (judgment, discipline, spirituality, etc.). I grin every time I see the result from the survey, try to use them often in my day-to-day, and feel invigorated when I do so, thinking “try and stop me now!”. (Go to Seligman’s page at the University of Pennsylvania, click “Questionnaires > VIA Survey of Character Strengths”, create an account, and answer the questions for about 10 minutes.)

To learn more about both of these models, I recommend reading:

Martin Seligman, “Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment”

If you are interested in contacting the author of this article and learning more, fill out the contact form below!

 

My Brother

Most people know the statistics about mental health, especially with celebrities such as Stephen Fry becoming ever more vocal about their own battles, but there’s the general consensus that no one ever thinks it will happen to them until it does. The biggest problem we have is that people will not talk about it. Everyone appears to be ingrained with this stoicism that they can’t talk about their problems, and they must suffer in silence. It is this outlook that fosters an attitude of being a sufferer of a mental health illness as being something taboo. Everyone is affected in different ways, some for a short time, some long term, some directly and some indirectly, but until we start to talk about and share our experiences, nothing is going to change. We as part of Mental Health Matters society are not only personally interested, invested and passionate about this cause, but we are also willing to be that change we want to see. We will be starting a series of blogs to see how different people, from different walks of life around the university are affected in different ways by mental health problems.

My personal journey with mental health began five years ago, when my older brother was diagnosed with depression in his second year of university. At the time I was 16. Being that he lived away from home, and my parents were never overly forthcoming with details, believing (quite rightly) that it was his own choice who and how he told people, I was able to sweep it under the rug and brush it off as a phase. It wasn’t until he moved back from university, that I was forced to confront the idea that this wasn’t going to be a phase, but something that my whole family would have to deal with long term.

Adjusting to life back home was hard for my brother; he would be grumpy and lash out at my little brother, something that would be difficult for me to deal with. I would resent my parents for walking on eggshells around him, not wanting to upset the balance of our usually peaceful house. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t be nicer, why he never wanted to spend time with us, but instead locked himself in his room. Looking back at this time I was selfish because all I could think about was how his illness had affected me. I felt so angry at how he had changed our lives, because I didn’t understand that it wasn’t his fault, he couldn’t just snap out of it. And overall I felt helpless because I couldn’t talk to him because I was scared, scared that I would make him worse. This was a feeling I couldn’t shake for years. I felt guilty that I was able to escape from being at home by coming to Sheffield, leaving my parents and little brother to deal with it alone. I didn’t speak to anyone about my brother’s depression, in denial about how much it had affected me. I never wanted to go home for the weekend; because it was going back to a life away from the carefree existence I had created for myself, to a place that I worked so hard to keep secret from my friends.

Over the summer of my first year of university, however, this all changed. I was looking for a book in my older brother’s room. Whilst I was in there I found a sign that he had written, and put by his mirror. It read; “Today WILL be a good day. I WILL be more positive.” It was at this point that I realised how selfish I had been. All I had thought about for years was how his depression had affected my little brother, my family, and me. Without a second thought to how he felt about how he was affecting people too. I felt sadness that I had been ashamed for so long about something that was no ones fault, and I had spent so long, not trying to understand, but rather trying to avoid it in the hope that it would go away.

It was at this point that I made the choice to stop trying to avoid his depression. I researched it and found people online and read about their experiences living with a sibling that suffers from mental health problems. And most importantly, I spoke to him about it. Realising that you are not alone is something that is invaluable in the battle against an illness that we still don’t fully understand. Despite this, people still aren’t talking about it enough, which is why we have created this blog. The more people share it, the more people see it, the more we might help someone who is feeling isolated and alone. Depression isn’t something that is magically cured, in my family there are still ups and downs, but it is something we all go through together. Since I have accepted that I can’t just ignore it, I have found better ways to cope. Getting involved with Mental Health Matters is therapeutic for me. Though I may not be able to help my brother in his battle, I can spread the word, fundraise and challenge the stigma surrounding mental health. I can’t help him to feel better, so I campaign for something I believe in, in the hope that someone, somewhere is benefiting from what we do.

Hope in the darkest of places

– Caroline Adlam, Group facilitator at Student Minds Nottingham

I am one of five group facilitators for Student Minds Nottingham, who are running a structured support group for students. We’re focusing on building a support network, eating, sleeping and exercising well and finding coping strategies that work for you. But more than that, we want to create a safe, confidential space where people can talk about mental health freely, with other people who get it. A place for conversation, a place for silence, a place for healing, a place for battling and a place for life and all the topsy-turviness that comes with it.

I feel a huge responsibility. Not for people, but to people. A responsibility to be the best that we can be. If by being here we slightly improved the wellbeing of one student, then that would make the whole thing more than worth it.

But I have a vision to reach every student here that is hurting. I remember this when eyes gloss over as I say the word “depression”. People turn their heads away slightly or look down to avoid my gaze. I don’t mind. I am so privileged to be standing here doing this, giving out leaflets about our service. I know that hurting people are not always recognisable from the outside. Sometimes they are the ones who plaster on a smile, or the ones who never meet your eye because they know exactly what you’re talking about. That’s why I chase after people to give them a leaflet, or while I continue to talk after they’ve finished listening.

There was a plant that sat on the windowsill of a green building in town, maybe it still sits there to this day. A lady there told me that everyone else had given up on this plant, but it was her project – she had a deep conviction that it wasn’t too far gone to be helped. She sat it in the sunshine, watered it daily, gave it the time and space it needed to grow again.

I’m not a trained counsellor, nor do I have all the answers. But I believe that no one is beyond help, and for as long as I have air in my lungs I won’t give up shouting about mental health and how hope can be shone in the darkest of places.

Charity Feature: Papyrus

Papyrus

PAPYRUS is the national charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicide in the UK. PAPYRUS aims to reduce the number of young suicides in the UK and one of the ways in which they do so is by operating a national helpline known as HOPELineUK.

HOPELineUK is run by trained suicide prevention advisors who take calls from anyone concerned about a young person (under 35) or a young suicidal person themselves. Sometimes this young person is a student at university, struggling with their workload, making friends, or adjusting to living on their own and more. Our HOPELineUK advisors can help you identify the support your university can offer and encourage you to ask for it. HOPELineUK also gives university staff advice about how to help the students they support.

All HOPELineUK staff are trained in Applied Suicide Intervention Skills which means we can help you put a safe plan in place for yourself or a young person you are concerned about.

HOPELineUK understands that a life at university isn’t easy, and fully supports University Mental Health Day to raise awareness of this.

Contact HOPELineUK by phone – 0800 068 4141, SMS – 07786 209 697, or email – Pat@papyrus-uk.org between Monday – Friday 10am-5pm and 7pm-10pm, Weekends 2pm-5pm.

For more information about PAPYRUS Prevention of young suicide go to http://www.papyrus-uk.org.

Charity Feature: Students Against Depression

~ Richard Keen, Students Against Depression

SAD Logo

Happy University Mental Health & Wellbeing Day! With hundreds of awareness raising and wellbeing events occurring across the UK, we thought this would be an excellent moment to welcome you to Students Against Depression!

We’re an award winning, student led movement gathering real life experiences alongside validated self-help resources to tackle stress, low mood and depression. We believe that the real life experience of students and those who support them is vital in shaping resources that genuinely tackle the problems students face.

So, why offer self-help resources? Though there’s no one-stop fix to depression, there are practical steps we can take to tackle it: starting now. Our site has a diverse range of blogs, self-help ideas and options for support all available online to browse. We do not replace professional services: we’re an exciting addition to them, hoping to ensure quality support and resources are freely available to all.

Understand depression, get support and share your story: Students Against Depression is powered by the work of students themselves, fuelled by the energy of volunteer website developers, graphics designers, campaigners and many more around the UK. We’re proud to be working closely with Students Hubs, Nightline and the wonderful Student Minds to advance the cause of student mental health.

There are countless ways for you to join us in the cause. Visit www.studentsagainstdepression.org, support one of our heroic fundraisers such as Judith (who’s running the London Marathon this April!), or follow us on Twitter @SADwebsite.

Together, we can tackle depression.

Invisible Illness Week

~ Hannah O’Brien

Invisible Illness Week

The 25th-29th November marked a brilliant awareness campaign. The campaign looked at both mental and physical illnesses that often go unnoticed and that you cannot truly see without knowing more about the person. This included eating disorders, anxiety and depression, which is what Swansea Mental Wealth Society and Student Minds focused on.

One of the main aims of the campaign was to get people talking about mental health, and to challenge stigma attached to mental illnesses, because they are more common than people think. In fact 1 in 4 people will experience mental illness within the course of a year, with the most common being anxiety and depression. The main reason these illnesses tend to go unnoticed is because those suffering often do not feel able to talk about them: they may be embarrassed or shy, or it might be that they don’t want people to worry or don’t know how to bring up the conversation. That’s why invisible illness week brought the conversation to you, and offered anyone the chance to speak up about their illness. It was surprising, encouraging and inspiring how many people took the chance to talk. They were extremely positive about the campaign, our peer support group, and the power of talking.

Because talking changes lives.