Mental Health Month: Depressive Episodes

Picture this: Scientists create some sort of device that facilitates healthy induced comas. You pick up the device, choose how long you’d like to be removed from life, and you come back without any complications. It kind of sounds like a Black Mirror episode. I imagine putting some wires on my head, then the device picks up on a lack of a will to live, an inability to see the good in life, the fatigue, the chemical imbalances and the overall shutdown of my brain. And then it calculates how long it lasts, so I can decide how long I’d like to be out for.  I dream of this device when I have depressive episodes during the semester.

Of course, never having depressive episodes would be ideal but when your academic career depends on you getting out of bed, it’s extra stressful. Depression is this nasty disease that has you feeling like nothing matters, your perspective is through this dark lens that makes everything look worse than it is.There’s no hope and there’s nothing that brings you joy.  According to Psychology Today, depression is, ‘a state of mental behavioural shutdown. It occurs when the whole system of psychological investment is “dead ended”, meaning the system cannot track or identify any positive or productive pathways of investment (or ways of being)’. Depressive episodes are a by-product of having depression, they can last for a few days, weeks or sometimes a month or two… or three. It depends on the individual and whether they have access to treatment.

You find yourself distancing yourself from the people that you love because Depression has told you that everyone is better off without you. Depression’s friend, Anxiety, makes leaving the house seem like the most difficult task and the most basic interactions drain the little energy you have out of you. As I write this I feel like I’m being dramatic, but the truth is depression is a mental illness. And this illness alters reality and you start thinking that life is meaningless, and then the dark thoughts cloud your mind. When nothing matters, how does one attempt to give a damn about DP or keeping up with school? People that don’t understand or acknowledge the severity of mental illnesses will tell you that it’s about your mindset, that you should be more… positive. As if you have chosen to exist in a dark and bleak state. Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. It is a disease and it is not something that people can decide to get rid of with motivational quotes and morning affirmations.

What do you do when you can’t get out of bed, but you have to work towards getting your degree?

  1. Therapy: if you are privileged enough to be able to afford therapy, do it. A professional can assess you, listen to you and prescribe you medication. There’s nothing wrong with medicating for depression or any other mental illness. An illness is an illness. If taking antibiotics for flu isn’t controversial, why is taking medication for a mental illness?


2. Student Wellness Center at UCT: The Wellness Center offers short-term counselling for students. Contact them on 021 650 1017.

3. South African Depression and Anxiety Group: SADAG is a non-profit organisation that has a 16-line counselling-and-referral call centre. And they also offer support groups. Contact them on 011 234 4837 or 0800 20 50 26.

4. Get help & speak to a loved one: You are loved. You are important. And your life is not meaningless. Reach out to someone about what you’re going through because they may be able to help you. I know it is daunting speaking up about mental illnesses because of the stigma surrounding them but your life matters. Reach out to someone who will recognise the reality of your situation and take things from there. If you can’t manage talking to someone, write a letter or send a message.

5. If you have lost yourself and your academic career is in trouble, apply for a leave of absence. It’s okay to take a break in order to save yourself. Prioritise your mental health.

Take things one day at a time, and remember that nothing lasts forever, so the dark days will eventually end. School is important, but you can’t let it get in the way of your health. You have to put yourself first, take care of yourself first! Get help if you need it because you matter. You are loved. You are important. And things will get better.