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Are you “just stressed” or depressed?

Look into it sis… you may genuinely need professional help

BY Naledi K

Jun 15, 2021, 02:02 PM

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Someone said to me the other day, “I don’t think there’s a Black person in this country who isn’t depressed.” I kept quiet not wanting to disturb his train of thought. Then he reasoned, “We have simply gone through too much trauma and still go through so much as Black people, that there’s just no way we aren’t somehow mentally affected.”

I understood his statement but still kept my thoughts to myself. It was too big and too general a statement to make for a whole nation but it wasn't necessarily untrue.

Thinking about it days later, I don’t think he meant depression alone, I think he wanted to say that there’s a lot of Black people suffering from mental illnesses and some don’t even know it.
I thought about this chat again when someone on my Whatsapp wrote a status saying: “I’m stressed all the time… at what point does it become depression?” 
I think it becomes particularly tough for us to know which is which because, yes we experience stressful situations like everyone else in life but beneath the surface, there’s a lot going on. Most of us have “hidden” issues that may exacerbate what would have otherwise been a “normal” amount of stress…

These issues include but not limited to traumatic past experiences never addressed, being abused, being overwhelmed by life and all it brings, or being biologically predisposed to mental illness. 

A lot of us just aren’t sure if we are past the point of “just being stressed”. 

Here’s help

Stress can be loosely defined as any type of change that causes physical, emotional, or psychological strain. Stress is your body's response to anything that requires attention or action. There are different types of stress. However, it is worth remembering that the biggest differentiating factor when comparing stress to depression is that stress is often is situational. That is, it is triggered by situations because perhaps you are under pressure, anxious, or eager to perform well, etc. Hence, sometimes a person has good stress as opposed to there only been bad stress.

Depression is a mental illness and a whole different book. Clinical psychologist Hunadi Maleka explains that depression is a bit more multi-faceted as a mental illness. 
“The thing with depression is that it's complex but the main thing that differentiates it from just being stressed, is the persistent sadness/emptiness despite how life is going - so whether a person is in a good or bad place, a depressed person would just feel sad or empty.”
Another myth to slay is the one that has everyone thinking that depressed people “look the same” and they all spot the “persistently sad” look. That’s simply not true because anyone can be depressed. Yes, even your high-functioning, get sh*t done type of people.

The symptoms of depression vary from person to person.

“In today's dynamic world these symptoms may also include; eating too much or binging, constantly filling your time with unproductive activities e.g. scrolling on social media for a long time even when you have other productive things to do. Yes, being consumed by sadness is a symptom, but other people also become numb to pain or feelings - they would just say I feel empty or feel nothing. The face and behaviour of depression have shifted dramatically with this fast-paced world. The other thing we also miss to talk about is depression suffered by high functioning individuals which is very different from other types of people. Hence I say the big distinction is the persistent low mood/sadness/emptiness that's often a common symptom of depression across all human complexities.”

Hunadi shared the steps to take once you come to the realisation that you may be more “just stressed”.
“With the internet frenzy- please don't take quick online quizzes to self diagnose,  we don't even know who wrote those things,” Hunadi warned.
Hunadi adds: “Stress is situational and almost unavoidable but when unchecked, stress often leads to depression, so keep your stress levels in check, be aware of which situations stress you out and why. Try to manage situations that leave you feeling stressed - are you able to delegate more? Manage your time better? Keep to a schedule?  Find ways to destress, rest, do some physical activity, watch comedies or laugh with some friends. But rest is key. Our generation doesn't sleep enough.”

Finally, Hunadi advises, “If the feelings of sadness/emptiness still persist, seek professional help.”