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Finding Light and Hope in the Darkness of Depression

Many people don’t know that telling someone who is depressed, to just get over it, and get going, can be just like telling another person with two broken legs to climb a set of stairs. Depression has been described as, “drowning, even though you know how to swim”, and compared to being “run over by a bus” and having the “huge weight of the bus” pin you to the ground, so that you “couldn’t move”, or “get out”. Anjani Amladi, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist, says it’s so much more than being sad. According to Amladi, “depression robs people of things they once loved, and for many people, they feel like nothing will bring them joy again.”    

Nearly 60% of American teenage girls report feelings of “persistent sadness and hopelessness”, with 30% saying that they have seriously considered suicide. Depression now affects more than 1/3 of all US children of all races and ethnicities. The numbers are the worst among LGBTQ, Native American, and Alaska Native youth as half of these kids report depression and unrelenting sadness. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10-24, and has been increasing every year since 2007. Suicide rates and loneliness are also at all time highs across most age groups. What are we doing? If this isn’t an indictment of capitalism, and our culture of greed, materialism, violence, and constant wars, then I don’t know what to say. 

I learned many years ago that the biggest concern for most teenagers is how they are viewed by their peers. I have read, and it has been my experience, that in terms of importance, the opinions of a child’s friends and classmates trump everything and everyone (including parents and teachers). I know of 12-14 year old children (both well off & poor) who desperately pleaded for Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Yeezy products. I have also known loving parents who encouraged their kids to volunteer, not for the experience, but because it would look great on their college applications. A high percentage of the children I taught in low income communities were instilled with the belief that there is great value in “things”, such as the latest fashion, and brand names. Many of these kids would not think twice about nagging their parents, guardians, or grandparents into buying them a $450 pair of retro Air Jordan sneakers (some of these families lived in shelters). The few teachers I knew who were “sneakerheads” mostly supported the superficial practice, and rightfully explained that it was simply a way for the kids who had so little, to feel valued and important. Heartbreaking stuff. Although the teachers had the best intentions, they were unwittingly setting the majority of these kids up for failure, while also perpetuating capitalism’s “greed is good” mantra. What does it say about the priorities of the United States, the wealthiest country in the world, when so many of its children remain hungry, live in shelters, and have to turn to “things” to feel valued and loved? Poverty is a public policy issue for sure, but it is also a failure of our culture.   

There can be many causes for childhood depression, but bullying of any kind seems to always be near the top of the list. According to a study published by JAMA, “young people exposed to cyberbullying are at a 50% increased risk of suicidal thoughts than their peers. Another recent study showed that children and young adults who experience cyberbullying are more than twice as likely to harm themselves and display suicidal behavior.” 

And we only need to look in the mirror to understand where kids get the idea that it is perfectly fine to bully, beat, and terrorize other children!  

Here are ten reasons why none of us should really be surprised that our children, and so many others, are suffering from mental illness and desperately need our help:
1. The Standard American Diet (SAD): Our Food system is based on violence and suffering, and is also the leading cause of death & disease, and likely the biggest contributor to the climate crisis. 
2. Wars: Ongoing US wars that are profitable to the wealthiest few have killed millions of innocent people (now with the real possibility of nuclear annihilation), and have cost US taxpayers trillions of dollars in the last two decades alone. 
3. Climate Crisis: The climate crisis may be the defining issue of our lifetime, and is a major threat to international peace and security. According to Oxford University, “a vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth.” But most Americans don’t care.
4. Anti-Women’s Rights Groups: The US regulates women more than it regulates guns, as Roe vs. Wade was overturned, while gun laws were relaxed. According to Amnesty International, “Events in 2021 and in the early months of 2022 have conspired to crush the rights and dignity of millions of women and girls.” 
5. Anti-Gay & Anti-LGBTQ Movements: Florida passed a “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which will cause untold damage to children as they will no longer be allowed to express themselves freely in the classroom (or in public). When LGBTQ kids are given access to spaces that affirm their gender identity, they report lower rates of suicide attempts. There is a war on LGBTQ people in general as over 300 anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ bills have been proposed in state legislatures just in 2022, and over 20 new anti-trans bills have become law in recent years.
6. Poverty: The US is the wealthiest country in the world, yet 1 in 4 US households were food insecure in 2020. Over 140 million Americans are living at or below poverty, and are just one emergency away from financial ruin. 
7. Racism: Black Americans are 3.5 times more likely than white Americans to be killed by police, and are three times more likely to be jailed if arrested. Median household income for Black people is 37 percent less than that of white people, and the national all-cause mortality rate among Blacks was 24% higher than among whites. In the US, Black mothers and their babies are also twice as likely to die as white mothers and their babies.
8. Police Killings: According to The Lancet, More than half of police killings in the USA are unreported. The US government failed to accurately classify and report more than 17,000 deaths that were caused by police violence during a 40-year study period (1980-2018).

9. Mass Shootings: We are a little over 50 days into the new year, and according to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 80 mass shootings in the United States since January 1. If my math is correct, that means that so far in 2023, the US is averaging 1.6 mass shootings per day. Each day 12 children die from gun violence in America, while another 32 are shot and injured. Guns are also the leading cause of death among American children and teens.
10. Speciesism: “Speciesism” is the human-held belief that all other animal species are inferior. Speciesist thinking involves considering animals—who have their own desires, needs, and complex lives—as means to human ends. This supremacist line of “reasoning” is used to defend treating other living, feeling beings as property, objects, or even ingredients. It’s a bias rooted in denying others their own agency, interests, and self-worth, often for personal gain.” – PETA 

*Honorable mentions: Attacks on whistleblowers, a broken healthcare (sick-care) system where 500,000 Americans lost their homes due to medical debts in 2021, Social services programs being cut while up to 90 million Americans are underinsured or have no health insurance, corrupt/broken judicial and political systems, billionaire thievery, union busting, Citizens United…well, you get the idea.  

I was depressed in high school and to some degree at other times as well, and as a result, I thought that this might be a good time to share a few of the lessons that I learned from my experiences. As most of us know, finding joy, love, and peace can be such a unique and personal journey, and what resonates with me, may not be helpful for anyone else. I remain a work in progress, and there are no guarantees for any of us, but there are many reasons for hope. 🙂

Of course, parents and guardians know what is best for their children, but if you know a young person or anyone who is struggling with depression, here are a few suggestions and thoughts (my two cents) that may be helpful:

Nutrition: In addition to being the only course of action that has been scientifically proven to reverse heart disease, early stage prostate cancer, and type 2 diabetes, adopting a healthy plant-based diet can also alleviate the symptoms of depression (I grew up on the Standard American Diet (SAD), which was a major contributor to my depression).
Hence, just another reason why Plant-Based Diets Rock!
Click here to learn more about the connection between diet and depression from Forks Over Knives.
Click here to learn more from the British Medical Journal on how plant-based diets can alleviate symptoms of depression.
Click here to learn more from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine on how plant-based diets help fight the blues.
Click here to learn more from the Center for Nutrition Studies on how plant-based diets are effective in fighting depression. 

Click here to learn how plant-based nutrition is the moral imperative of the medical profession. 

Buddhist Quote & Teaching: “Nothing is permanent in this world, not even our troubles.” This simple perspective was really helpful for me. 

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” – Helen Keller

There is no Shame in Feeling Down or Off:  Think of our culture and the world we live in, and the 10+ reasons listed above for why so many people are not well. On top of all that, most Americans worship celebrities, while capitalism breeds greed, superficiality, and consumerism. What a country!  How could anyone not feel down at times? For those who may be feeling too blue (especially young people): Please don’t ever beat yourself up. Sometimes we are much tougher on ourselves, than we are on our closest friends. Consider treating yourself the way you treat your best friend. It is okay to feel down, and not want to “engage”. In fact, I am always surprised to hear that some people never feel that way. If I had a student who was depressed, it would just tell me that he or she was really smart and aware, and likely just had a broken heart for whatever reasons. Check out a few therapists, if you don’t click with the first one, try, try, again! It took me 3 attempts before I got it right, and I had the same therapist off and on for about 15-20 years. She was pretty awesome. But as we know, therapy isn’t for everyone either. I strongly recommend it, but again, what works for some, may not work for others.  

Discover New Sources for Joy: The great Jamaican singer-songwriter Bob Marley once said that the one good thing about music is that “when it hits you, you feel no pain.” I was a depressed and semi-suicidal kid in high school, and although I was lucky and blessed in many ways, I was a bit of a lost soul. It wasn’t until I randomly picked up a copy of Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I, that I had a moment of clarity. I kept playing the record over and over, and it somehow provided a cool, soothing relief. The only other time that I felt that way was when I had unrelenting nausea and vomiting due to a burst appendix, and I was given the drug demerol (a painkiller that is no longer on the market due in part to its high risk of abuse because of its pleasurable mood altering effects). I remember thinking that if music can make me feel joy, perhaps there were other things in life that could do the same. In other words, music and the genius of Stevie Wonder, relieved my pain, and gave me hope. Who knew? But it can be anything that surprises us and gives us joy, and it doesn’t have to involve music or the arts. 

Find your Tribe: Who is your tribe? It can be really tough to figure out for all of us, but especially when we are younger. Sexuality? Heterosexual? Homosexual? Bisexual? Transgender? Drag Queen? Drag King? LGBTQ? Two Spirit? Try to not only accept who you are, but embrace it too. As long as it’s consensual and everyone is age appropriate, keep it safe, have fun, and don’t be ashamed! Ideals? I was a corporate person for many years but I was never really proud of my work. It just wasn’t me. I was older before I went back to school, and had a job that made me proud, which was teaching! Things got even better years later when I landed a gig with a non-profit organization that has done amazing work. For those who may be feeling too blue: Volunteer with different organizations and find out what you like and don’t like. Just volunteering will be its own reward. I would suggest hooking up with an animal rescue organization or animal sanctuary. We all love animals to varying degrees (vegans love all animals), and animals can offer love, friendship, inspiration, and tremendous joy and healing! Think of your passions, and what you love to do. And then try to figure out a way to turn it into a job. If you really love it, chances are you will be great at it, and people will pay you well for what you would already do for free! If you do find a gig that you love, you will never have to work a day in your life!

“Travel is fatal to prejudice” – Mark Twain

Travel: I have lived in a studio or one bedroom apartment for over 25 years, and I have been lucky enough to have traveled more than just about anyone I know. Again, what works for someone else may not work for me, and vice versa. For those who may be feeling too blue: Be yourself, and be true to yourself (which is not always easy). Think of a place on our planet that excites you, read a book or two on that part of the world, and Go! It has worked for me every time (although I have started to become more aware of travelling’s carbon footprint). 🙂  Travelling opened up my mind and heart, and is always humbling, and awesome! Nearly 70% of Americans don’t have passports. Be bold, life is short. Go meet new people and experience new cultures. You will NEVER regret it, I promise. You will likely discover how beautiful, kind, and loving people can be, including yourself. 🙂

Activism: Activism and Advocacy have given me an added sense of purpose, and help when I am feeling down, even though they sometimes bring me down too. I was lucky, privileged and spoiled in many ways growing up, and I never went to bed hungry. I am forever humbled and grateful for being so fortunate. These factors motivate me even more to fight the good fight. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere”.  

“When we’re children, we laugh seventy-five times a day, and when we’re adults, we only laugh seven times per day, so have as many good laughs as you can each day! Laughing feels good and is good medicine!” – Marlo Thomas

Laughter: Laugh, and be silly. Watch a favorite comedy every few months, find funny authors, go to comedy clubs. Heck, write funny books and stories. Be creative. Be goofy. We all need more laughter in our lives! I know I do. 🙂 I recently watched the movie Bridesmaids for the 4th or 5th time, and I laughed just as hard as I did when it was first released. Older films like Airplane and Blazing Saddles are just as brilliant today, and still crack me up too.
Click here to learn how laughter can be a Fool Proof Prescription from Loma Linda University. 

Click here to learn how humor can save the world from Karyn Buxman. 
Click here to learn more about the importance of smiling and laughing freely.
Click here to learn more from Mel Brooks and others on how to face injustice with humor, rather than anger.

“Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Thich Nhat Hanh: Thich Nhat Hanh continues to be a big source of inspiration. His book, “The Miracle of Mindfulness”, has helped me out more than a few times. 🙂
Click here to learn more about Thich Nhat Hanh. 

Exercise: Adopting a healthy plant-based diet is the biggest thing that anyone can do to improve their health. Exercise can be huge too, although it may be nearly impossible, especially in the beginning, for someone suffering from depression. As per Dr. Dean Ornish, “Even a single bout of exercise increases beneficial hormones that cause your arteries to dilate, bringing more blood flow to your brain (and everywhere else) and reducing biomarkers of inflammation…Even small amounts of exercise make you happier. A 2018 review of twenty-three studies with 500,000 people ranging in age from adolescents to the very old and covering a broad range of ethnic and socioeconomic groups found that exercise was strongly linked to happiness. Every one of these studies showed a beneficial relationship between being physically active and being happy.” 

Undo It: Dr. Dean Ornish & Anne Ornish’s wonderful book, Undo It!, How Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Most Chronic Diseases, is a terrific resource that is scientifically based on the following four pillars for optimal health and wellness: Eat Well (plant-based diet), Move More (exercise), Stress Less (through meditation or other means), Love More (family, friends, animals, significant others, Mother Earth, etc.). I love this book. 

Here are a few excerpts from Undo It!: “Love and Intimacy Are Healing, Loneliness and Isolation Are Deadly…The need for authentic connection and community is primal, as fundamental to our health and well-being as the need for air, water, and food. In 1998, I wrote a book, Love and Survival, that reviewed what were then hundreds of research studies (and now there are tens of thousands) showing that people who feel lonely, depressed, and isolated are three to ten times more likely to get sick and die prematurely from virtually all causes when compared to those who have strong feelings of love, connection, and community…There is an epidemic of loneliness, isolation, and alienation in our culture. One-third of people in industrialized countries are lonely, and 40 percent of adults in the United States report feeling that way. Suicide rates have increased by 25 percent in the past twenty years…In another sign of the times, Prime Minister Theresa May recently appointed the first “minister of loneliness” in the United Kingdom…Although it is often done alone, meditation and other techniques help quiet down the mind and body, paradoxically enabling us to directly experience a greater sense of interconnectedness with each other and with ourselves. For example, a randomized controlled trial showed that just eight weeks of meditation decreases loneliness and, with it, markers of inflammation…Facebook has over 2 billion users, but unfortunately it doesn’t really meet the need for authentic intimacy. Most people usually show only the best parts of their lives on Facebook, and if you’re not careful to remind yourself of this, it can feel like everyone else has an amazingly better life than yours. The technology that was supposed to bring us together often isolates us even further…One classic randomized controlled trial found that women with metastatic breast cancer who attended a support group once a week for one year lived twice as long as those who did not, even though they had the same conventional treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy in both groups. A skeptic might say, “Talking about my feelings is going to help me live longer if I have cancer? Oh, please! That sounds so touchy-feely!” Well, it is empathic and compassionate, that’s why it works so well! We are creatures of community. Learning to listen to our inner voice while taking care of each other has enabled us to survive as a species. We are hardwired to love and be loved…Only close, authentic, loving relationships can support and meet your primal need to be seen, to be heard, to love, and to be loved. “Our supportive connections are sufficient when we can answer ‘Yes’ to questions such as: Do you have anyone who really cares for you? Who feels close to you? Who loves you? Who wants to help you? In whom you can confide and be vulnerable?” If you cannot answer yes to any of these questions, you may have a three to ten times higher risk of premature death and diseases from all causes. In addition to supporting our physical health, loving relationships provide our lives with meaning while promoting a deep sense of comfort, companionship, and security.” 
Click here for a link to Undo It: How Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Most Chronic Diseases.

“Kindness, I have discovered, is everything in life” – Isaac Bashevis Singer

Kindness:  Finding peace and joy can be an ongoing battle for all of us. So, try to be kind, as often as you can. I am learning that kindness and love may trump everything.  🙂

Again, I don’t know if any of this will be helpful, but there you have it. 

Until next time…

“I told my psychiatrist that everyone hates me. He said I was being ridiculous – everyone hasn’t met me yet.” – Rodney Dangerfield

Click here for the 20 habits for a healthier and happier life from The Blue Zones. 
Click here to learn more about how US teen girls are in crisis with an unprecedented rise in suicidal behavior.
Click here to learn about the six ways social media negatively affects your mental health. 
Click here to learn more about youth suicide rates even before the pandemic.
Click here to learn more about the impact of bullying on teens from McLean Hospital.

Click here to hear more people describe depression to those who have never had it. 
Click here to learn more about depression from Dr. Amladi.
Click here to learn about online risk factors for suicidal behaviors in youth from JAMA.
Click here to learn more about the deterioration of women’s rights from Amnesty International.
Click here to learn more about the war that is being waged against the LGBTQ community from the ACLU.
Click here to learn more about the atrocious “Don’t Say Gay” laws in Florida.
Click here to learn more about how Black mothers and their babies are twice as likely to die as White mothers and their babies.
Click here to learn more about racism in the United States.
Click here to learn more about how Black people are 3 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter.

Click here to learn more about unreported police killings in the US. 
Click here to learn more US gun violence statistics from Sandy Hook Promise.
Click here to learn more about the efficacy of resistance exercise on depressive symptoms.
Click here to learn more about sneakerheads.
Click here to learn more about Speciesism from PETA.
Click here to learn about the artist behind the main image of this post, Gemma Correll.
Click here to learn more about Gemma Correll’s background and talent on her website.
Click here to learn more about the ongoing wars of the US and how they relate to our violent and unsustainable food system.
Click here to learn more about the dangers of capitalism. 
Click here to learn more about our broken healthcare (sick-care) system.
Click here if you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide. Speak with someone any time, day or night at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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