Recently I’ve helped a friend who is going through a case of depression, anxiety and sleep deprivation. It’s an exhausting experience, and one that is worth noting.
Depression is more than just a low mood – it’s a serious illness. While we all feel sad, moody or low from time to time, some people experience these feelings intensely, for long periods of time and often without reason. People with depression find it hard to function every day and may be reluctant to participate in activities they once enjoyed.
Depression is one of the most common of all mental health problems. One in five people experience depression at some stage of their lives.
Depression start in stages, and the problem that I had was, I couldn’t tell if my friend is having a depression, or simply just worrying about trivial things too much. Perhaps one of the most dangerous thing is to underestimate what depression is, and how damaging it could be.
Depression is closely related to other symptoms of mental stress, such as delusion and paranoia. In short, if a person’s sanity level is a bit off for an extended period, even if it’s only a bit off from where his/her sanity level would normally be, don’t hesitate and try to work out if he is experiencing a case of depression, mental stress, paranoia, or other disorder.
This is because, any one state could trigger a vicious cycle that sucks this person into a downward spiral. I have never witnessed one before, and seeing this unfolding is a very scary thing. For lack of a better term, and since I’m not a professional on this area, I’ll just call this the progressive “slide down” towards a worse mental state.
The Down Slide
For example: from over-anxiety, a mentally stressed person might develop deep paranoia that prevents him/her from sleeping, and with lack of sleep the brain is in overdrive, which is VERY taxing for the body and adds on to the anxiety, which increases the paranoia, and reduces the amount of sleep even further. This could even leads to sleep deprivation, which would accelerate the downslide further.
Also, this downslide from when a person is experiencing light symptoms, or just merely acting weird, to the point where his sanity level seems nonexistant is NON LINEAR. What this means is, at the beginning, the person may seem only a ‘bit weird’ but as the cycle continues, he could get worse BY THE HOUR. Which means once this slide is triggered, within 24 hour this person could be in real danger, but none of his friends would have realized the ture extend of the danger because on the previous day, he seemed fine (just a bit weird).
Depending on the person’s mental and physical state, the downslide COULD accelerate.
Things to watch out for
- Unable to maintain focus, ‘spacing out’.
- Distorted perceptions of reality – experiencing a “waking dream” (could be from sleep deprivation too)
- Paranoia / over-anxiety – if it started to impact on daily perfomance, or when it start altering the person’s behavior, probably should pay closer attention.
- Physical signs: such as worsening skin complexion, baggy eyes
- Change in behavior: such as becoming less talkative, etc.
Breaking the DownSlide
We tried various approach, but the one that seems to work is:
- Provide sincere care, and win the trust of the person
Someone, a friend, or a family member should really commit to sacrifice time and energy to provide sincere care and support, and establish a deep trusting relationship with the person. I did this early on without really realizing what I did, and as my friend’s condition worsen, the trusting relationship that has been established over time proves to be the ONE window to communicate helpful message. This is especially important if the person developed symptomps of paranoia, because he would be afraid of even trusting other people, and would perceive help as threat to his wellbeing, when the opposite is actually true.
A deep trust can be eroded by the mental stress, but is not completely wiped out.
- Persuade the person to see a psychiatrist,
… and make sure you find a good one (seek references).because a psychiatirst is well equiped to tackle this problem than anyone else could. Don’t wait until the state worsen, the earlier the better. If the symptoms worsen, or if you detect the person entering a downslide definitely try to get him/her to see a psychiatrist ASAP. It may look like its going to recover later, but what if it doesn’t get better? So don’t hope for the best, but rather prepare for the worst.
- Persuade the person to take on some kind of spiritual practice
This could be meditation, this could be daily chant / prayer, but spritiual practice enhances one’s faith in oneself and others. The thing about depression, mental stress or the like is that it is a very deep, very scary form of darkness. A person trapped in this can easily focus their effort in “countermeasures” against these dark aspects. For example, to counter a particular fear of being ‘spied upon’ for example, the person might try to be overly alert, and stick out his perception into overdrive, causing more anxiety and more fear.
Instead of focusing on how to “counter the darkness” we should help the person to “strengthen the light”. Spiritual practice can help in strengthening one’s compassion, faith. Instead of focusing on reading what others are doing to spy on the person, he/she could focus on his wellbeing and lifestyle. If he/she has been an upright character, what is there to fear on being spied on? and with more trust in one’s life and environment, how likely it is for him/her to be spied on?
Remember that light and darkness are two aspect of the same thing. When there is MORE light in the same space/room, AUTOMATICALLY the darkness is reduced. A room can’t be both dark and light at the same time, so in this way by focusing more on how to “strengthen the light” the person can kick off an upward climb instead.
- If it gets too hard to shake off, take medication
Antidepressant, or other type of “chill pill” could reduce the level of stress and anxiety. Sleeping pill could also help with getting sleep, if the person’s down slide include sleep deprivation (which feeds the level of anxiety, paranoia and delusion as the brain will be more and more overworked!). For this reason, seeing a psychiatrist is VERY important, because the good doctor could prescribe an appropriate medication. I’d say, self-medication in this sort of situation is quite dangerous.
- Basically, try to kick off the upward climb
As mentioned, definitely do your best in helping the person to break the downslide. But the way forward is not in providing countermeasure to all the fear, all the anxiety and the mental stress, because they are all not real. A large majority of them are triggered because of the stressed mind, a stressed and overworked body, so healing the body and mind, and entering an upward climb / cycle is the key to reduce the anxiety.
Do not RELY on medication, but rather use the medication to temporarily ignore the darkness, and then start the climb up. Once a momentum is going, keep pushing. Eventually the table will flips, and once the upward momentum accelerate, it will become self-sustaining.