by Amber Helsel

This Mental Health Awareness Month, I want to have a candid moment about dealing with depression in the hope of helping others who may be struggling. I also want to share the power of therapy in helping me cope. This is part 1 of a 2-part series focused on mental health and the power of therapy.

Near the end of my first year of college at the University of Mississippi, I experienced my first bout of major depression. Since I had a single dorm room, I was lonely for most of the year. The loneliness didn’t bother me until I started dealing with issues that cropped up in my personal relationships. I cried for about two weeks straight near the end of the school year, and up until a few years ago, I didn’t understand why.

The second time I dealt with major depression, I had no idea what was going on. Unlike the first time, I wasn’t crying all the time, and I felt mostly okay. I was still going to work. I was hanging out with friends and volunteering at my old church. I was doing all the things I was supposed to do. But when all that was said and done, I’d lay in bed for hours, ignoring all my hobbies and things I loved (even my cats), and watch anime or play a video game until I fell asleep. 

In my first therapy session, my therapist assessed me for depression. I remember when I took her assessment, some of my answers seemed normal to me. I assumed depression would be like it was the first time, where I’d be crying a lot and incredibly unhappy. But this bout of depression just came with numbness. I didn’t want to do anything. I wasn’t interested in anything. Once we did that assessment, we began to explore the root causes of my depression. 

Therapy helped me understand a lot about myself, particularly the nuances of my own mental health. It taught me that depression doesn’t always manifest in the same way, and that it’s not just about intense sadness or crying spells. I learned that depression can also show up as numbness, disinterest, and a lack of motivation. Through therapy, I gained insight into the underlying issues contributing to my depression and learned coping mechanisms to better manage it. Additionally, therapy provided a safe space for me to explore my thoughts and emotions without judgment, essentially giving me an objective sounding board. 

It allowed me to gradually unravel the complexities of my mental health and work toward healing and self-improvement. Overall, therapy was instrumental in helping me navigate my struggles with depression and develop a greater sense of self-awareness and resilience.

These days, I’m mostly okay. In fact, other than a few things in my life that I’d like to see change, I’m in a pretty good place. Of course, that doesn’t mean the depression is gone. Depression never leaves, and I have to be vigilant and watch for the warning signs. When it happens, I just tell my therapist what I noticed, and we go from there.

My story is only one story. Depression looks different for everyone. I encourage you to seek help if you need it. There is no shame in that, and the more we talk about mental health, the less stigma there will be.

This Mental Health Awareness Month, prioritize your mental well-being and explore available resources. Organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Mental Health America offer toolkits, support groups, and helplines. Don’t hesitate to reach out—you deserve to feel your best. Also, find community resources and services here. Keep up with our trainings and sign up for a future Mental Health First Aid training here

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