“People are very strong and resilient,” Jim Galyan, counselor at The ReGroup psychotherapy facility in Searcy, said. “They’re really good at masking it. Someone can be in a deep depression for a long time before they tell anybody, and on the outside they look good. (But) I think, unfortunately, in our society, people all day long are saying ‘How are you doing?’ and they’re not answering honestly.”
Sophomore Olivia Jones, a student with depression, said there are many days she uses such a mask, but it often requires more energy than she has available.
“(If) I’m in a very social area and people are just trying to chat me up and get me to be that bubbly personality that I really have, (but) I’m just okay that day, it’s really, really draining,” Jones said. “I feel like I’m not giving them the ‘Me’ that they deserve. Then I end up faking that happy and that just emotionally drains me because I didn’t have the energy to begin with.”
Jones’ battle with anxiety and depression began in the eighth grade, following the death of her uncle and years of relentless bullying at school. Ultimately, Jones said her depression led to five years of self-harm.
“I’ve always wanted to express happy, but I couldn’t feel it no matter how hard I wanted to try,” Jones said. “Anytime I felt overwhelmingly sad, I was made fun of so badly, or if I felt like crap, I would (want) to hurt myself because I thought I deserved it. (I thought) I deserved to be hurt emotionally, physically (and) mentally.”
Jones has been free from self-harm since October 2016; however, she still deals with depression on a daily basis.
Junior Taylor Kemp, who also has depression, said he believes people misunderstand depression due to the absence of physical symptoms.
“It can seem like the person is not trying to be happy, not putting in any effort, because sometimes it can look like … they’re just lying around,” Kemp said. “The basic thing people need to understand is that … it’s biological. A lot of it can start with your brain being unbalanced. Through that, you’ll see the behavioral effects.”
ReGroup counselor Jim Galyan said disbelief is one of the biggest challenges people with depression face.
“Depression is very, very real,” Galyan said. “They’re not imagining it. It’s not a defect of character. It is a real condition. … Depression is not just of the mind. There’s a mind body connection. So the whole body goes through a depressive state. … They lose passion, so things that have always mattered to them or they love are just gone. They have no energy.”
Kemp said many of these effects were true for him as he battled with depression.
“It was hard to find meaning in a lot of things,” Kemp said. “Things started to deteriorate, the things I enjoyed. I played sports in middle school. I was in the band. I didn’t quit any of those things in my high school career, I just noticed a definite decrease in wanting to do the fun parts of those things.”
Kemp said his depression began in ninth grade after he switched schools. He said he struggled to break into the cliques already formed at the high school and felt isolated.
“I tried different methods to pursue happiness in my own way, which ultimately ended up being futile,” Kemp said. “I was becoming increasingly unhappy in life. … I was socially isolated enough that I reached a point where I was contemplating suicide fairly often.”
It was at this time that Kemp reached out to his youth minister for help. Together, they talked with Kemp’s parents, and Kemp was taken to see a therapist. He was diagnosed with depression and, after having blood work done, it was determined he needed medication to correct levels of serotonin in his brain.
Jones was also placed on medication. Both Jones and Kemp said interacting with people who cared about them was also essential to the healing process.
Galyan said it is not these people’s job to “fix” their friends with depression, but rather to “hold sacred space for them.” Sacred space, according to Galyan, means staying by someone’s side through their hurt.
Kemp said this could be done in a variety of ways.
“Maybe it’s as simple as routinely having a meal with that person to make sure they’re getting food,” Kemp said. “Go on walk. Go to the gym with somebody to make sure they’re getting sunlight, exercise. You don’t even have to go out –– if you see that they’re isolating themselves, don’t let them … in the nicest way, force (yourself) into their lives so they have someone to talk to.”
For Jones, her space is created when people sit down and listen to her story without trying to relate or respond.
“If we choose to open up about (depression), listen,” Jones said. “And then have a follow up question like, ‘Well why did you feel like that?’ Just show interest and get us to elaborate on that, because I feel like a lot of us find healing in being able to voice how we’re feeling and feel safe voicing it.”
According to Galyan, society has begun to show more interest in mental health and has begun to praise people like Kemp and Jones who have been proactive in their mental health.
“Things are changing in our field, and more and more people think about coming to the therapist like they think about coming to the gym,” Galyan said. “Healthy people come for therapy, the mentally ill suffer in silence.”