I’ll never forget the day I got the phone call that one of my closest friends for 20 years—a beautiful young wife and mother—had suddenly and inexplicably taken her life. Her depression, which had gone undiagnosed by doctors and unrecognized by those of us who knew her well and loved her dearly, just became too much. It was one of the most painful experiences of my life.
It’s an experience that haunts me to this day, a decade later. I hate talking about it because I feel guilty that I didn’t see it and somehow stop it. But not talking about depression is the worst thing I could do to honor her memory. For people affected by depression, not knowing how to express the inner feelings of hopelessness prevents us from recognizing it—not only in others but also in ourselves. That’s the killer.
The holidays are here, and it can be a particularly dangerous time for depression if you don’t know the signs. If you’re reading this, you know someone who suffers from clinical depression, even if you don’t know it. In a 2016 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9.9 percent of (non-Hispanic) black women reported feeling that “everything’s an effort,” while 3.9 percent reported sadness and 2.4 percent hopelessness, and 1.8 percent felt feelings of worthlessness. These are all symptoms and signs of depression.
For people living with undiagnosed depression, it kills the joy in life. According to the Mayo Clinic, these are the signs to look for in women of any age:
- anxiety, agitation or restlessness
- slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
- feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
- trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
- frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
- unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
Depression is almost as common as the common cold, yet there’s been no significant advance in the medication for depression since the advent in 1987 of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, the chemicals that power antidepressants like Prozac. That’s 30 years—imagine what the world would look like if advancement in cancer treatments had stood still for the last three decades?
But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we talk about it openly and work together, we can urge and promote the science and treatment of mental health to move forward. The Hope for Depression Research Foundation, a privately funded organization, does phenomenal work in this respect. The HDRF’s website offers simple and clear guidelines for helping yourself and others who are suffering from this very common and potentially serious, even fatal illness.
When you’re facing depression, sometimes you just don’t know where to start. Hope literally landed on my doorstep yesterday when a friend gifted me a bottle of perfume called, appropriately, “Hope.” Created for the HDRF and named after the founder’s mother, Hope, who suffered from depression, this is the first-ever luxury perfume to donate 100 percent of its net proceeds to depression research. The exquisite white floral scent—a mix of jasmine, lily, tuberose and gardenia—is fresh, green and vibrant in order to lift up the spirits.
I’ve attended several events at the foundation and listened to both everyday people and big celebrities like Brooke Shields share their war stories about their battles with depression. I’ve listened to Shields read from her book on her postpartum depression, detailing the dark and desperate feelings that led her to put her baby in the back seat of the family car, intending to ram into a wall in hopes of killing them both, just to end her misery.
It’s this kind of honest talk that helps to lift the stigma surrounding mental illnesses like depression. No matter your circumstances—rich, poor, happily married or single—depression can strike anyone at any time. Depression is an illness and should be treated like any other. It’s not something people can “shake off” or “snap out of” at will.
And like any other illness, stress factors like poverty and post-traumatic stress disorder from military service or violent trauma exacerbate the symptoms of depression. 2016 research estimated that 5-10 percent of our men suffer from depression, and found that suicide is the third-leading cause of death for black men ages 15-24. In contrast, 2014 data (pdf) showed that black women have the lowest suicide rates of any group of Americans. A 2012 article in The Atlantic noted this phenomenon as well as an expert’s explanation that “[w]omen—particularly black women—provide each other social support and encouragement categorized by the opportunity to speak honestly with their peers.”
“The sense of community among themselves, and the ... built-in support that they get from each other, is something we’re paying a lot of attention to, and trying to find ways to emulate [in the military],” said Jan Kemp, mental health director for suicide prevention at Veterans Affairs.
Talking is the first step to curing depression. Taking action—like getting treatment—is the next step. Raising money for research to end depression is a step we can all take together. Hope is a beautiful thing to give ourselves this holiday season.
Additional resources for help:
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK; online chat: chat.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx.
- Military Veterans & Family and Friends: Text 838255—a Veterans Crisis Line responder will text back.
- Postpartum Support International: 800-944-4773.
The Glow Up gift tip: No matter the season, you can always give the gift of Hope: 100 percent of net proceeds from each fragrance sold goes to depression research (exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue; $115).