By Kaelanne Jordan, firstname.lastname@example.org
In our daily living, we encounter challenges such as a fight with our spouse, worry about our children or difficulties at work. Sometimes these challenges can trigger feelings of sadness.
For some, these feelings subside as they become more and more involved in their day-to-day activities. Others, however, may experience persistent sadness that lasts throughout most of the day over an extended period.
For those who have experienced the transient feelings, it can be quite difficult to connect with the seriousness of depression, since we can all identify with its primary symptom of sadness. This, is the “deceitful” face of depression, according to marital and family therapist, Sharon Bermudez.
“We begin to believe that if we can ‘throw it over our shoulders’, then why can’t they? Is it just that they are weak, or they don’t want to? And that is when we begin to judge and find fault at the person who doesn’t seem to be able to just snap out of it.”
Bermudez has 20 years of clinical experience dealing with a range of issues [including depression] that affect individuals, couples and families. She holds certification in suicide prevention, intervention and postvention. Bermudez has also provided peer counselling and training as part of the initiative spearheaded by the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission (AFLC) and provides support to the work of the Vocations Recruitment Team.
In an interview with Catholic News via email, Bermudez affirmed that depression is one of the most insidious illnesses, that when it grows in strength has the capacity to derail a person’s ability to function and enjoy all aspects of life.
Common signs of depression include difficulties falling, staying asleep or oversleeping; significant weight loss that cannot be attributed to dieting, or weight gain; persistent tiredness or loss of energy; distinct loss of interest and/or pleasure in normal activities; diminished concentration and decision making and feelings of worthlessness, thoughts of death or excessive or inappropriate guilt .
Another symptom of depression, Bermudez highlighted, is recurrent thoughts of death. Sometimes the person does not have a specific thought of self-harm. “An example … is ‘I can die now’, or ‘Death would be a relief’. At other times, it may include self-harm thoughts, such as ‘I wish I could kill myself.’…In the presence of suicidal thinking and planning, some persons have made one or multiple previous suicide attempts. Such a person, or an individual who comes from a family that has a history of suicide, may be at higher risks.”
It is important to remember that this is not a reflection on a person’s moral character or their strength; but simply part of the illness.
Bermudez stressed that one “shining light” around this dark cloud that many people miss is that when suicidal thoughts, planning and attempts are the outcome of depression, successful treatment of the illness increases the likelihood that these symptoms will weaken and eventually abate.
“What puts people at the highest degree of risk is when they do not seek treatment. In its absence, the frequency, intensity and duration of the symptoms may worsen over time.”
While research online suggests that men and women experience depression in different ways, Bermudez warned that it is important to value and use research as an appropriate tool that enables effective treatment and recovery without falling into the “trap” of using it to reinforce one’s own stereotype about the differences between males and females.
“…Research points us to a probability not to an absolute. It identifies degrees of likelihood.” For instance, she explained, it is not “accurate” to say that a suicidal male will abuse alcohol and other substances.
“The research just shows that it is more likely that they will engage in alcohol/ substance abuse than a female counterpart. Even with our understanding of the research, there is still a need for curiosity and openness to the individual stories that may defy the patterns,” she said.
Bermudez has provided counselling services within the male-dominated energy sector, in her work with PEAPSL Consultancy Limited, a full-service provider of Employee Assistance, Corporate Training, Human Resource and Industrial Relations Consultancy Services to all sectors of the local economy.
In her experience with her male clients, as well as her ministry support to young men within the Church, she emphasises that contrary to stereotypes, “men can cry and are deeply affected by the state of their family and work relations.”
“In counselling, we speak about ‘normalising the problem’, which has good therapeutic value. When I can say to someone that “you’re not crazy or weak. I know you think that others don’t experience this problem, but in fact you are describing…” and I can name the issue and help them to understand that it is ‘normal’ (meaning statistically probable) and others have struggled, it breaks through barriers of stigma and shame and sets the foundation for us to work.”