Tips for Supporting Someone Experiencing Depression

After I shared a list of the tools helping me handle depression, I started to think about what my experience has taught me about helping other people.

Do you know someone suffering from depression? If you do, it can feel difficult to know what to say or what to do. Based on what I’ve learnt so far, here are my tips for supporting someone you care about.

Dont…

…tell them to toughen up. Believe me, they are already trying their best. Being told to “fight back” or “be stronger” only makes you feel much, much worse. It is difficult to trust someone who clearly believes that you are not trying hard enough or that you are just ‘pretending’ to be miserable.

…judge them for taking medication. You can be sure that they have discussed doing so with professionals and made an informed decision. They don’t need you to decide whether or not their pain is ‘important’ enough. Someone once shouted at me and said she didn’t think I could be ‘unwell enough’ to need pills. Luckily for her, she was not in my head, so she could not feel my pain. None of us can really know what is best for someone else. 

…force them to go out, party or cheer up. Some days, it is simply impossible to fake it. So, unless you want to see them break down in tears in front of everyone at the party, drop it. Let them choose to hide for a while, be gentle. Just show them you are listening to them and there for them no matter what.

Do…

…be patient. Accept that they will have bad days, that their mood might change, and that they might refuse to tell you anything for now.

…pay attention and ask questions – gently. Check if their appetite has gone up or down, ask them about their sleep – a lot of symptoms are invisible. No one around me could ever even imagine that I have had suicidal thoughts, but I have. Try not to make assumptions about your friends, some people are really positive and enthusiastic, but it doesn’t mean they are at peace within themselves. Some of us have become masters at hiding pain.

…remind your friends to take some ‘self-care’ time and do it with them. Sometimes watching a movie, sharing nice food and going to bed at 9pm with your friend is just perfect.

…encourage them. Congratulate on every little step. Sometimes getting up in the morning is so hard. Opening up about their pain and feelings is hard. So if they trust you enough to open up to you, be grateful and proud of them.

…remember you don’t have to say anything. It’s very hard to find the right words to comfort someone. Sometimes it can be ok just to listen and be present.

…break the stigma. Every time you hear any of the followings, please speak up. For the sake of everyone, let’s make these false statements stop: “people who are depressed are weak”, “depression is a white person’s problem”, “you must experience difficult or traumatic external conditions for your depression to be valid”

One final point – remember to check on the men and boys around you. They feel pain too but gender norms and inequalities might be making it very difficult for them to open up about it!

Opinions and experiences published on girlsglobe.org are not medical advice. If you are struggling with your mental health, please seek professional help from a doctor. 

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, or if you know someone who is, please reach out for help immediately. Suicide Stop has a list of suicide hotlines worldwide, which you can find here

Women are our Best Support Group

The other day I overheard a group of women talking about something they’d seen on social media. A woman they all knew had reported a sexual assault she had suffered earlier that night on her Facebook page.  She had claimed a man, who the group of women were all acquainted with, had inappropriately grabbed her in a local night club.

Immediately, the women started accusing the girl of being intoxicated, because she had posted her message early in the morning. They said that because of this she had no credibility, and they claimed the encounter she described was not even remotely close to what they considered to be sexual assault. They also criticized the fact that she was willing to humiliate the man through social media.

While I sat there listening to their unbelievable lack of empathy, I started thinking about gender congruence amongst women in Mexico. 

One out of three women worldwide will experience some sort of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. I want to emphasize how important this issue is; these numbers are rising as I write. So, if you read the event I described at the beginning of this article and felt it to be unimportant, please think again.

Historically, women have had to fight for equality and basic human rights. I want to write about this issue because, to my astonishment, there are women in my country who are bothered by all of the women who are fighting for social development and gender equality.

The first step is to try not to let your culturally-absorbed presumptions drive you. These presumptions are not our fault, but as Eliezer Yudkowksy said: “you are personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society you grew up in.”  Instead of judging a woman who has recently gone through an abortion, who better than other women to understand and acknowledge our body is our own and nobody else’s?  Stop judging your next door neighbor if she wants to express her sexuality to the fullest, stop name-calling your classmate because of her bold clothing. If anything like this has ever crossed your mind, I encourage you to rethink how these ‘harmless thoughts’ are affecting the struggle we are all up against.

This is for all my Latin-American women, and any other women or girl who can relate: let’s put aside our religious or cultural views, this is about basic gender coexistence. It may sound clichéd, but is all starts with us as women – as united women. Stop looking down on women and realize that at this moment, now more than ever, we need to stop bringing each other down.

There are important and historic things happening in our time, for example, the recently enacted policy regarding the withdrawal of federal funds to non-governmental organizations related to sexual health in the United States. I want to focus on our gender’s reality today and also on the view some women still have towards other women. We mustn’t forget we are the first ones who need to support each other. Otherwise, seven white men in another country will continue to make these decisions for us, and we can’t let that happen.

Even if this doesn’t affect you directly; we need to create more awareness and demonstrate our disapproval, whether by taking part in worldwide marches, expressing ourselves through social media or signing online petitions. If you think other women are the best support group there could be, share this article and discuss it with the women in your life.

Cover photo credit: Amanda Taylor 

Surround Yourself With Feminists

In places where access to information isn’t reliable, support groups and networks can play a hugely important role.

In Mexico, as has been highlighted in previous posts, there is a gender-based problem that needs to be addressed. Among many things, such as security, access to education, sexual rights and health, access to information is one of the biggest problems for Mexico’s female population. It is inevitable to address religion when talking about women’s access to information here in Mexico – it’s the second largest Catholic population in the world, and although religion has proven to aid many people through personal or community issues, it definitely has an impact on the county’s public policy.

Although Mexico claims to be a Lay State, it has been proven in the past that the reality is quite different. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, often when more  progressive policies have been pursued the conservative population has demonstrated their rejection. So, it is normal to expect that conservative opinions have influenced a lot of the institutions that should be safe spaces for women, men, the LGBTTI community and non-binaries. In no way am I trying to attack the conservative community, I am simply stating the facts.

Fortunately, we have each other. I know that around the world there are many support groups on all sorts of issues and Mexico is no exception. A lot of NGOs exist to inform women or the LGBTTI community about their rights and options to acquire safe and up-to-date information, but often these organisations don’t have a communications strategy to reach as many women as they want to.

We also have social networks, which have allowed the creation of closed and private groups that require the authorization of moderators. I find these groups to be extremely helpful in securing the safe space everyone needs from time to time.

Among many things, these groups have made me a better woman and a better feminist. From sharing memes, art or music, we also share articles, opinions, stories or information we know might help each other. Yes, we come from many different backgrounds and tend to have very different opinions, but we always respect each other and if mistaken, we forgive or ask for forgiveness because we are chingonas. And the strangest and most wonderful thing is, we don’t even know each other in real life!

Many of the groups’ members have expressed their desire to collaborate in art exhibitions, some of them have had picnics together, and some of us have collaborated on projects like Girls Globe. Many of the experiences have been very enriching, but for me, the highlights of these groups is that they remind you that you are not alone.

The latest initiative we came up with was to fill this Buzzfeed Mexico’s post with positive comments, and one of the members came up with the idea to rephrase the question from: “what is the worst you have done to another woman” to “what is the best thing you have done to another woman or has been done to you by another woman”.

Information and support is shared frequently on safe sex, clinics, organizations, reproductive rights, reporting violence, getting out of abusive relationships, safe and legal abortions (it is believed in Mexico the only place where to get an abortion in Mexico City, but in other cities you can get a legal and safe procedure), among many other things . Discussions and debate often follows, but in a very constructive way.

Surrounding myself with feminists has made me realize that a lot of other people are fighting the same fights, struggling with the same issues, and enduring the same injustices that I am. It has also showed me my position of privilege and made me understand other perspectives from Latin American women.

It has definitely made my mornings easier, since my social networks feeds are full of positive articles and information, and it has motivated me to continue on working to achieve gender equality in Mexico.

I am certain that in your country there will be a group similar to ours, but if there isn’t I strongly encourage you to create one. If you want information on how to moderate a group like this, don’t hesitate to leave a comment and reach out to me.

Cover photo credit: Hugo Martínez Toledo, Instagram

On Motherhood and Sharing Personal Experiences

Seven months ago I had my first child. After many hormone injections (including many hormonal roller coasters) and two painful egg retrievals, I was finally pregnant!

I had an uncomplicated pregnancy, a quick and rather easy childbirth, and a good postpartum period. I have been able to breastfeed my child from the beginning and fortunately she has not yet had any complications in her life. She’s a very content and happy baby who sleeps well, eats well, and even pees and poops on the toilet.

Of course, there are days when she cannot be pleased whatever my husband or I do, and nights when she screams and keeps us awake for hours. However, this is certainly an anomaly, and I’ve realized that I’m a very fortunate mommy.

But I cannot fully settle with that. Based upon my experiences with my daughter, I’ve come to realize that it should not be a privilege to have a safe childbirth, to get adequate information regarding everything from pregnancy to the postnatal time and everything there is to it (and it’s a lot), or to have knowledgeable, caring people around who help and support whenever it’s needed.

While I was pregnant, I often thought about how I – as a public health student, a friend, a sister and a mother-to-be – could affect and make a change, because I am fully aware of the many women and children around the globe who are not as fortunate as I am.

So, I decided that I would be completely open and candid to my environment. That had to be the least I could do, right?

I could often feel the curiosity around me while the bump on my belly was growing bigger and bigger. I practically encouraged my friends to ask me questions, I told them: “Don’t be shy – I’m an open book!” And boy, did I get questions – from my fellow public health students from around the world, from friends and family, and even from strangers. Everything from: “Are you allowed to walk stairs?” to “Is it possible for you to have sex without hurting the baby?”

After the delivery, the questions kept coming. And I continued to answer as thoroughly as I possibly could, and told my anecdotes over and over again. I did (and still do) it with pleasure every time, whether if it’s regarding the peeing-and-pooping-on-the-toilet-thing or the feeling of surrendering myself into my baby girl’s eyes for the first time.

Being open has given me so much. It feels like the women in my surroundings dare to confide in me – pregnant or not, mother or not – no matter their struggles, they know I won’t judge them. We all have our battles, little or big ones, with ourselves or with others. I wish that battles regarding pregnancy and having children wouldn’t be something we harbor within ourselves, but something that we speak freely about.

My interest in maternal and infant health has amplified since becoming a mother and I want to continue on this route – to share my experience and knowledge, and hopefully what will also become my professional expertise. And then, I hope that I will be able to be part of a bigger change towards a more just and gender equal society, where every woman has access to health care and accurate information. For now, in the position I currently find myself in, I can only continue doing what I do – love, share and care, and encourage others to do the same.

Cover photo credit: Mia Ydholm (pictured with her 3 week old baby).