How To Help an "Unhappy" Person?
Updated: Nov 6
"I'm my own worst enemy", "I'm completely lonely, please don't judge me" are confessions explicit in the latest musical record by Lady Gaga. Oftentimes, when someone falls down into such a negative state of mind, she is reminded to be resilient, but how do you become resilient? Is there a switch? A pill?
Boris Cyrulnik is a french neuropsychiatrist who was separated from his parents at the age of five during World War II, and the writer of the book #Resilience. When asked about how can we be more resilient, Cyrulnik replied that when something is really uncomfortable and hurtful, it's best to express it through music, poetry, storytelling, or any kind of art. In fact, either making or experiencing art in a mindful way develops neuroplasticity, which is the ability of our brains to adapt to change, and recover from trauma. In other words, to be resilient.
Gaga, who has been struggling with mental health issues for several years, opened the conversation about these types of diseases, that are constantly stigmatized and underestimated. The singer did what everyone who feels either stuck, depressed, or unhappy should be doing: Vent it out.
Although most of us are not artists, we have the power to express ourselves in a subtle way, by only understanding the disease, scratching off the guilt, and acknowledging the cure is on the other side of shame.
While there are several mental illnesses, I am gonna focus on depression because it is the most studied psychiatric condition.
Worldwide, at least 264 million people suffer a type of depression;
Suicide (triggered by a depressive state) is the second leading cause of death within 15 and 29 year-olds.
Close to 800,000 people die of suicide every year according to the World Health Organization, and most of those deaths are highly preventable.
Research about depression suggest that the illness is caused by a depletion of neurotransmitters (chemicals/hormones allowing cell communication) such as serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine in the brain, which play an important role on mood regulation (Healthy Brain, Happy Life by Wendy Suzuki).
Hormones such as estrogens and progesterone condition brain functions because they interact with neurotransmitters GABA (aminobutyric acid), glutamate, dopamine, and serotonin (Transforma Tu Salud by Xavi Verdaguer). Previous studies showed that lower levels of these chemicals negatively influence memory, attention, and tolerance to deal with stress (Healthy Brain, Happy Life by Wendy Suzuki).
When depression is not treated, somatization occurs. Headaches, chest pain, nausea and other physical symptoms appear without organic explanation.
In pandemic times when the healthcare systems are collapsing worldwide, somatization emphasizes the importance of building an empathetic supporting society towards mental health. "Pop a 911" repeats Lady Gaga in the 8th song of her album #Chromatica, which official video shows a scene where she is the victim of an accident she appears to feel guilty of causing. Being the singer the least hurt, while others in the scene have died. My musical conspiracy theory tells me, Gaga empathizes with those undergoing a higher range of suffering; however, in order to be able to become the hero and not the victim, she needed to acknowledge her disease, get medical treatment and account on the people who surrounds her. As prove of that, she helped organized the World Citizen Virtual Concert One World: Together at Home raising financial aid for the World Health Organization's COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.
How can you identify if somebody suffers from depression?
Although sadness is the most visible symptom, it is sadly a late side effect. Sadness comes as a consequence of the following symptoms and its implications.
Lack of concentration leading to poor performance at work or school.
Headaches and other body aches that do not respond to medical treatment and increase in intensity, eventually interfering with the person's routine.
Lack of energy; some people tend to fight this by over self demanding until driving themselves to extreme exhaustion.
Lack of interest and no-joy towards things she used to love or enjoy.
Insomnia which worsens the other symptoms, and adds irritability and hormonal imbalances.
Increased or decreased appetite. Excessive crave for carbohydrates and highly processed food.
Overreacting when scared or faced with a situation that carries tension or requires certain care.
In the long-term, depression affects cognitive ability, which is a skill required to solve problems, take decisions, solve numerical equations, communicate, interact properly with others to name a few.
Self-isolation that becomes a cycle. Socializing for the depressed becomes a task charged with anxiety and energy depletion; therefore, it is normal to avoid any type of socialization. The people around her tend to judge and get away.
All those symptoms lead to what the world perceives as #unhappiness, which is nothing but the tip of an iceberg against which the person has already crashed hard, but you could avoid her from sinking if you extend your hand with an empathetic open heart.
How to help a person who suffers from depression?
Depression is a disease that can be cured with zero to little financial burden, and it can make you and the ill person more connected as you develop and improve both of yourselves emotional intelligence.
You can encourage the person to find diagnosis from a registered psychologist, or take an online test for a preliminary assessment if the person is either reluctant to seek therapy or lacks the financial help to do so
Invite her to workout together
Invite her to a Zumba Class
Encourage her to sing your hearts out
Promote a healthy diet rich in macronutrients (healthy carbs, proteins, and healthy fatty acids) and micronutrients (food rich in vitamins and minerals)
It's important to take small steps on nutrition habits, you may start by adding food high on complex B vitamins, magnesium and Omega-3. Find out some here.
Suggest her to listen to a podcast or watch a movie in a foreign language
Teach her words and phrases in a new language
Take her for a walk to a different neighbourhood
Play classical music
Turn any moment into a sensorial experience. Remember the spaghetti scene from Eat, Pray, and Love based on the book by Elizabeth Gilbert? Julia Robert (Elizabeth) debores a pasta and a glass of red wine in a Roman terrace, the entire scene is filled with colours, -I can guess- aromas and she is visually savoring the moment. We don't need to travel to Italy, but we can make any meal special by being present and grateful of the resources present everywhere.
The last but the most important thing is to take care of yourself, and don't take anything personal. Living and/or caring for someone with a mental illness can be wearing, and it can challenge your emotional intelligence. People suffering from an invisible disease sometimes feel misunderstood and confused. She may believe you'll be better without her, which is not true, but if you work together, you will come out of this stronger and more connected.