Depression…sounds like a scary word doesn’t it? It makes you think of lonely people, dark rooms and black and white images of sad families. Fifteen years ago, that is exactly the way that I used to see depression. A ‘condition’ that might affect other people, in other families, far away from my picture perfect home. At that time I had no idea was I was in for.
My experience with depression is a very different one; because it wasn’t me that was suffering with this disease…it was my mother. Being of South Asian background, where depression is often stigmatized and rarely taken seriously, this was a scary little secret that my mother and I kept deep in our hearts. It started off with something that I can only describe as small bouts of sadness, and eventually grew into something much bigger and harder for a 15 year old girl to understand. It was always worst during the night when my dad was at work and the world around us seemed to have disappeared. I would try to comfort her, talk to her about why she felt the way she did, if there was anything that I could do to help…but the answer was always the same, ‘ I don’t know’.
I tried so hard to convince my mom to talk to somebody, my dad, my brother, a doctor, a friend…anybody that may be able to help. But the answer was always the same. She was absolutely terrified of anybody finding out about her depression. She thought that people would judge her, think that she was weak, or worse, not understand or care at all. I remember us at family get togethers where she would be trying so hard to act happy, smile and laugh like everything was just fine…those nights were the hardest…for both of us. This lasted for quite some time, and there were days where I thought that she was actually getting better, but she wasn’t. It wasn’t until I walked in on her one night, sitting in a corner with tear swollen eyes that I decided…we decided, something needed to be done. It was her own decision to finally start seeing a therapist (secretly of course), and after many failed attempts, finally found a medication that really seemed to work. Over a period of a few months I started to see a strong improvement in my mother’s mental health, and I was slowly starting to get my mother back.
At this point you may be wondering why I decided to share this part of my life…other than totally outing my mother’s personal experience. That time in my life was very difficult, seeing my mother suffering and not being able to do anything about it was really hard…but what made it so much harder was the fact that we had to hide her illness like a dirty little secret. There is so much strength and resilience in the South Asian community, but if one is unable to talk openly about issues as important as mental health, without fear of being stigmatized, then there is still a lot of work to be done. It is said that 20% of Canadians will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime…this disease is no longer affecting other people, in other families…it is affecting friends and family members all around us. I am always encouraging my mom to talk to others about her experience…and share with them that although depression may never really disappear completely, there is help…nobody should have to go through this alone.