How to Support a Loved One Battling Depression from Someone Who Has Lived Through it

Following a series of traumatic events, she struggled to understand what was going on with her. Sure, she had experienced low moments in the past, but this time was different. This time she couldn’t shake the feeling of despair. And each day she plunged further and further into a hole so dark and deep she couldn’t find her way out.

Carolee Parkes is days away from celebrating the launch of a book she co-authored with eight other women entitled “The Struggle is Real: Confessions of a Single Mother Too”.

In many ways, her chapter in the book is symbolic of her planting a flag of victory on the same ground she once waved a white flag in defeat.

The future is bright for Parkes, but three short years ago her life was in pieces.

In March 2014, Parkes suffered a miscarriage. It was devastating, but she managed to accept the loss and remain optimistic that she would be able to conceive again and carry the baby to term.

“In October, I found out I was pregnant again,” Parkes told The Weight She Carries. “I went in for an ultrasound the following month and they told me that the baby’s heartrate was slowing. So, they were essentially preparing me for another miscarriage.”

Parkes, who had a toddler at home, left her doctor’s office that Friday and spent the whole weekend not knowing if the baby’s heartbeat would pick back up again, or continue to slow.

When she went back to see her doctor the following Monday, Parkes found out that the baby’s heartbeat had stopped.

“That sent me spiraling down,” Parkes said. “I couldn’t get enough rest, my eating habits were off, and I just couldn’t get myself together.”

Parkes went back to work six weeks later but her job performance took a hit. She was tardy often and found herself taking a lot of time off from work.

Parkes asked for a meeting with her boss to discuss her absences and her boss asked the Human Resource Manager to attend.

“I knew, based on that discussion, that my job was in jeopardy. I had been at that job for about nine years at the time,” Parkes said. “In that moment, when my job was in jeopardy and I couldn’t pull myself together, I knew I needed to go get help.”

After a series of tests, a psychiatrist determined that Parkes was severely depressed.

“Coming from a Caribbean background I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do with this?’ It made me feel weak, like I wasn’t strong enough,” Parkes said. “I’d seen my mother go through many things and she had six kids. So why couldn’t I do it with my one?”

This sent Parkes plunging even further into depression.

“My symptoms progressively got worse, and I kept fighting suicidal thoughts,” she said.

A couple months later, Parkes was diagnosed with Major Depression Disorder, which led to a more intense treatment. In the midst of this, Parkes’ father passed away, and her marriage dissolved.

“I didn’t know how I was going to do this. I had this little girl who was a toddler and she needed her mom, but her mom couldn’t find her own strength.” – Carolee Parkes

Parkes said that one of the hardest things for people to understand about someone battling depression is why that person can’t just “fight harder,” or “snap out of it.”

Roughly 16.2 million adults in America experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2016, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. That number represents 6.7 percent of the population in the U.S.

An article published by The Washington Post in 2013, stated that more than 5 percent of the population in the Middle East, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean suffered from depression.

One of the problems is that communities of colour, in particular, don’t discuss mental health enough.

“As a culture we don’t deal with that stuff. You kind of feel ‘off’, you don’t feel like yourself, something just doesn’t feel right…but who’s going to go see a counsellor? We don’t identify with that. We just think we need to be stronger or we need to just ‘get over it.’” – Carolee Parkes

Unfortunately, many people with depression don’t seek help, and those around them don’t know how to support a loved one battling depression.

As someone who has lived through it, Parkes has some words of advice for anyone supporting a loved one with depression.

1. Don’t treat them differently

“I had a friend who would talk to me like a regular person, and that helped me a lot,” Parkes said. “It’s important for people battling depression to know that they are still lovable.”

2. Continue to call, even if they don’t answer

“If you have a loved one who is depressed, reach out to them, don’t wait for them to reach out to you because they are not in that mindset,” Parkes said. “They may not always answer, but they will be glad to see that number show up and know that someone still loves them enough to call.”

3. Understand that they don’t have all the answers

“If you don’t understand something and you ask, and that person can’t explain it, they’re not trying to be difficult,” Parkes said. “They really just don’t know what’s going on with themselves, so it’s hard for them to articulate it to you. They just know that they don’t feel the same.”

4. Be patient

“No matter how hard and frustrating it is for you as a family member, the person with depression is living it. It’s twice as bad for them,” Parkes said.

5. Telling them that they just need to pray more, or go to church more often does more harm than good

While faith plays a vital role in overcoming any challenge, depression is an illness like any other illness that requires treatment.

“That was hard for many years. It made me feel like I didn’t have enough faith because God wasn’t delivering me,” Parkes said.

Through her battle, Parkes has gained some valuable insight on how strong she is.

“I have more resilience than I thought I had, and I’ve learnt to identify support. Accepting help is not a form of weakness, it’s a form of strength because it’s not easy to say, ‘I need help.’” – Carolee Parkes

Three and a half years later, Parkes can look back and appreciate just how far she has come. She is careful to note that she knows she will always be prone to relapsing, but she has learned to recognize her triggers and is intentional about self-care. She details her journey in the book and shares her testimony in hopes of encouraging someone else who is trying to get to the other side of a struggle.

“I’m coming from a place where they never expected me to go back to work; I’m coming from a place where my doctor wanted to hospitalize me and I told her, ‘No, I have a child to take care of,’” Parkes said. “I’ve learnt that I’m stronger than I thought I was.”

The book launch will be held on March 24 at 710 Humberwood Blvd, Toronto. To purchase your ticket for the event, order your copy of the book, or book her for a speaking engagement contact Carolee Parkes at caroleeparkes@outlook.com.

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