As referenced in my last post, I’m gradually recovering from depression and a resulting mental breakdown. Through what I’ve experienced and what I’ve read up on to better understand my condition, I have found some actionable tips and advice that I would have given myself if I could go back in time. I hope that anyone else suffering from depression or a mental breakdown can find something that can help you get through.
1. Spot the signs early and accept what is happening
The biggest mistake I made was to ignore the early warning signs, or to not take them seriously enough to do something about them. In the end, it cost me my marriage and my sole mate.
It’s vital that you take stock of your situation and try to understand what stage of depression you are in. If you begin to experience near-constant low mood or feel that you are not yourself, take the time to think about why. Don’t let the pressures of every day life fill up your mind so much that you cannot see the early warning signs, including:
- Low mood, often without reason
- Change of appetite (over-eating or under-eating)
- Change in behaviour and responses
- “Snapping” at people or a lack of patience
- Unusual temper, aggression or frustration
2. Talk to someone and seek help early
Getting to see an appropriate mental healthcare specialist takes time, with the waiting list for me being 6-8 weeks. If you start to feel that you’re mental state is deteriorating and you suspect depression or the early signs of a mental breakdown, see your GP as soon as possible and explain exactly how you feel. It might be that they can offer medication as a short-term solution while you wait to see someone more appropriate.
As well as medical professionals, it’s important that you share how you’re feeling with the ones closest to you, even if it seems difficult. It’s important that someone around you knows how you’re feeling and what you’re going through so that they can support you. By keeping your feelings “bottled up”, those closest to you may not even know what you’re going through until it completely boils over. Make your journey easier by being honest with yourself and others.
3. Manage anxiety by realising what you can and can’t control
Anxiety often accompanies depression and the two make for a vicious cycle of worry and sadness. When you are depressed, the worry feels so much more intense than if you were in a good state of mind, so it’s important to try and process situations to manage anxiety more effectively.
Take what you are anxious about and ask yourself “is this within my control?” If is isn’t, worrying is futile and will only make your depression worse. Tell yourself that there is no purpose in worrying about it and try to put it to one side and focus on what you can control. For the things that you can control, prioritise what requires your immediate action and what can be reviewed later.
Tackle what you can, but try to avoid worrying about the things that are yet to come, or in some cases may not come at all. Put the worry aside and change your focus of attention to something that you can control.
To help you take control of your anxiety, consider referring to “The Worry Tree“, which is essentially a visual representation of the process I described. This resource was provided to me in print format by “Steps To Wellbeing” in my initial assessment session and I’ve kept it in mind since.
4. Read up on and really understand what a Mental Breakdown is
Although 4th on my list, I feel this is incredibly important. Until I started reading about mental breakdowns and really understand what causes them, I couldn’t truly begin to recover.
There are lots of resources out there that explain what a mental breakdown is, and I’ve put together my own resource that collates my findings from reading up on the topic with my own experiences to try and help others make sense of their situation. You can read more here.
When you understand why your body and mind are behaving the way they are, you can better consider ways to turn things around. This was a huge turning point for me as it enabled me to say “OK, my mind is overloaded – I need to offload and help myself wherever I can”. This shaped the path I’ve started down completely.
5. Keep busy and stay focused
In many cases of depression, being signed off from work is actually detrimental to recovery. For me personally, my work was something I enjoyed and could keep focussed on, allowing some part of my life to go on as normal. If I’d have been signed off from work, my home life and own thoughts would have been all that was left and they were the things causing the breakdown.
Of course, if it’s the other way around and your work life is a factor in your stress, depression or a breakdown, do what you can to minimise the pressure and responsibility while you are working and fill the rest of your time with something you can focus on that doesn’t contribute to your emotional stress.
That said, make sure you talk through your options with your doctor who may identify that time off work to rest is the best solution for you. If that is the case, take the time to take stock and use the other tips I’ve listed to help you clear some head space.
6. Make a plan of action for emergencies
Depression and mental breakdowns very often come with suicidal thoughts, or the idea that you or others would be better off if you weren’t around. Don’t let these ideas consume you and make a mental, verbal or even written note of what you can do when you feel overwhelmed.
This might include talking to a friend or family member, seeing your GP, calling a support line or even visiting A&E. I learned recently that emergency departments (in the UK) have a mental healthcare professional working at all times, so you can walk in, explain your situation and wait to see someone if your situation is dire.
Before thinking that you have nowhere to turn, consider each of the following and think about how they can help:
- Family – parents, siblings, older children, etc.
- Friends or close colleagues
- Your partner
- Your GP
- Helplines such as The Samaritans in the UK, or search Google for others available in your country
- The NHS Helpline 111 for non-emergency support
- 999 or the emergency department for urgent support
Make sure you know that if your mind does take you to a dark place, you have other options to choose.
7. Lower your expectations to make happiness more achievable
I read a really thought-provoking statement on Quora earlier (by Rohit Mehra) in response to a question regarding suicidal thoughts:
Happiness is more than anything else a state of mind. We feel unhappy when things do not go as expected or when reality does not live up to our expectations. Unhappiness usually occurs when our ideas of “ought to be” clash with what “actually is”.
The simple way out is to have low or no expectations (from people, circumstances, situations) but always be hopeful. Work towards what you desire in all earnest and keep your spirits up and your hopes high, however have no expectations.
While it is much easier said than done, by lowering your expectations of a situation or of people that have hurt you, etc. you should find it easier to find happiness.
Of course, recovering from a mental breakdown and depression is a long process and these tips don’t provide a complete solution, but if you can make small steps each day to help yourself progress, you may find yourself finding happiness sooner than you expect.
Please feel free to share your thoughts or experiences in the comments below.