One of my friends once told me I’m the healthiest depressed person she knows. I can’t say I always feel particularly healthy, especially when I’m going through a tough patch, but I certainly have a lot of supports to steer me in that direction. I’m fortunately enough to live in a place where I have free health care and benefits so I can afford therapy and medication. I’m able to take advantage of dance classes and swimming and meditation, all of which make me feel better (assuming I’m able to get up and get there). And I have a solid gold group of friends and family who continue to take my calls, and keep me from falling down and staying there.
And yet…depression still sucks, sometimes so bad I can hardly breathe. I can’t predict or control it, and have had to come to terms with the fact that it will likely never be cured – it’s a condition I may have to manage, off and on, for the rest of my life.
So I can only begin to imagine what it must be like to deal with depression without many of those pillars I continually lean on.
Working with new immigrants and refugees for over 10 years, I’m continually struck by the strength and determination it takes to uproot yourself and your family, leave behind everything familiar, and start all over again someplace new. Someplace where you don’t necessarily speak the language fluently, don’t know what services are available to you, and don’t have a lot of friends or family. Someplace where you have the huge stress of trying to find a job – fast – to pay the rent and buy food. Someplace that is probably very different than you thought it would be.
No wonder mental health issues are a major concern for many newcomers to Canada. Depression and anxiety can sometimes surface as a result of the stress of immigration, while existing mental illnesses can be made worse.
Here in Canada, we’ve only just begun to discuss these issues openly, and try to challenge the stigma that faces people who have often been labeled ‘damaged’ or ‘crazy’. In other cultures, the silence is the same or worse – those dealing with depression like mine don’t even tell their families, much less try to get help. I can empathize, as I feel like I had to ‘come out’ as someone who struggles with depression.
In 2012, I had the opportunity to create a digital story about my experience. I’m sharing it here in hopes of keeping the conversation going, and also to recognize that there are still so many people fighting this fight who believe they’re alone. They’re not.