A Guide to Understanding Depression and Trauma,
And Healthy Coping Behavior
I hope you’ll find the lessons I have learned in the course of my own journey, from an immigrant’s perspective, helpful.
I wrote this article as a resource for members of the African diaspora community struggling with depression, including trauma, and as a tool for those interested in helping those among us who are exhibiting signs and symptoms suggesting depression. Depression has taken a toll on many people during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a community in diaspora, we have experienced losses; several members of our community have committed suicide, with depression being a major contributor to these horrific tragedies. The struggles with depression among many of our members have been ongoing even before the pandemic hit. But the problem is at its highest level now (both at home and abroad), given the circumstances that many find themselves in, such as lacking resources and support. As a community, we have to act urgently now and come to the aid of those in need. One life lost to suicide is one too many. The loss of a loved one is so devastating, it creates a host of other stressors in life since those impacted experience financial loss, the end of a relationship, and other painful experiences. I addressed this subject in detail, including offering practical steps one can take to start healing from such devastation, in my book, LIFE AFTER LOSS: YOU CAN HEAL YOUR HEART.
This article is about depression, but we will also touch on trauma because of how closely these two (depression & trauma) are connected. People are at risk of developing anxiety or depression after experiencing traumatic events in life. I use the term events instead of an event because research shows, people don’t just experience one event (traumatic event), but, many times, they experience multiple events creating multiple traumas at different times in life.
The Journey to Better Opportunities
New experiences such as resettlement after immigrating to a new country can trigger trauma. The pursuit of a better life sometimes becomes a journey that has no breaks or stops. And even when things get better, the cost at which that happens can be too high, creating a whole new set of stressors. That by itself can be a source of trauma that leaves one feeling depressed.
TIP: Trauma is a deeply personal experience that no one can define for someone else. What might look like insignificant experience for one person can be a huge source of trauma for another person?
Members of refugee community including immigrants are likely to grieve the loss of familiar surroundings they left behind in their home countries for the promise of a better life. For the most part, this is in search of greener pastures, or safety. Not long ago, I read a post on a WhatsApp group that said, “many of us living abroad are economic refuges,” and rightly so, because many of us come from nations that are economically depressed. And so we left to seek better opportunities. The situations in our home countries were created by corruption, poor political leadership, wars, and state-sponsored tribal clashes.
TIP: Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Trauma Informed Care
Evidence based research has helped us understand more and more about the impact trauma has on people and so trauma informed care is being pushed for use as a mode of treatment in the mental health field including other systems affecting human lives. This calls on us to consider our past experiences as well as those we are undergoing right now. In your own life, you need to be aware of how you are interacting with new experiences, and how you are responding to those from the past. I highly encourage you to put effort to understand the basics of trauma informed care not just for the way it will positively change how you treat yourself (with dignity and care), but also as it relates to the way you minister to other people by being mindful of their total well-being.
What is Depression?
Depression is a serious mood disorder that causes severe symptoms that affect how one feels and thinks. It affects one’s activities such as eating, sleeping or working (source: National institute of mental health).
Depression makes a person feel trapped inside themselves. It creates (makes one feel) a sense of desperation, fear and hopelessness.
I have heard people who have experienced depression say, depression can start just like how rain starts – slowly, little by little, but quickly turn into a flash flood and completely overwhelm a person. Whether it’s a teenager or an adult struggling with depression, it is painful both emotionally and mentally.
For a number of reasons, depression can go undetected and undiagnosed, leading to devastating consequences because of lack of treatment. When you know you have depression, address it immediately. If depression lingers for two weeks or more, that can be an indication that you are suffering from clinical depression.
TIP: Clinical depression is the more-severe form of depression, also known as major depression or major depressive disorder. It isn’t the same as depression caused by a loss, such as the death of a loved one, or a medical condition, such as a thyroid disorder. (Dr. Daniel Hall-Flavin: Mayo Clinic’s experts)
What are the Tell-tale Signs of Depression?
Depression ranges in seriousness from mild, temporary cases of sadness, to severe, persistent episodes.
Many people suffering from depression may:
Feel sad, hopeless or empty.
Feel extremely tired with no explanation.
Have difficulty falling asleep, or sleeping too much.
Not getting pleasure from activities they once enjoyed.
Additional behaviors that could be signs of depression include:
Physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive problems, and pain
This list is in no way exhaustive.
Loss of both purpose and important relationships can lead to depression, which can lead to a host of other negative feelings that push people towards thinking of suicide.
Depression and Suicide
Not everyone experiencing depression thinks about death or considers suicide, but a number of people do so after being depressed for a while, especially in case of clinical depression. Some of the people who, because of depression, start having suicidal thoughts, act on those thoughts.
Don’t wait until depression overtakes you like a flood. Seek help before it’s too late.
Who is at Risk of Committing Suicide?
Those who feel trapped in their current situation right now.
Those who are depressed or have experienced depression in the past.
Those who have attempted suicide in the past.
Those experiencing hopelessness and don’t see any reason to be alive.
A person experiencing these negative feelings can quickly fall prey to suicide.
A PERSON EXPERIENCING THESE NEGATIVE FEELINGS CAN QUICKLY FALL PREY TO SUICIDE. IN FACT, RESEARCH SUPPORTS THAT OBSERVATION; LOSS OF MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS, LACK OF PURPOSE OR MEANING IN LIFE AND HOPELESSNESS IS THE #1 REASON MANY PEOPLE COMMIT SUICIDE.
If you find yourself thinking how you may hurt yourself or having thoughts of attempting suicide, get help right now!
Here in America, Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Call a suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or use its webchat on suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat and speak to someone.
Talk to a friend, a family member, a local pastor, a spiritual leader or a faith person in your community. This is important no matter how hard it may be to talk about your feelings.
About the Author
Joe’s mission is to help others become conscious of their entrapment and empower them so they can find freedom and joy in life. He is passionate about helping people cope and grow through their experiences in life-changing circumstances.