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Many people struggle daily with mental illness without the acknowledgment or assistance they deserve. This realization is one of the main reasons I became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in 1996. I worked with people suffering from severe mental illness the year after I graduated with my master’s degree. It was always unbelievable to me that people with physical illnesses like cancer, diabetes, or heart disease get the care they need, but if your illness is a chemical imbalance of the brain, you can be stigmatized. The fear of being misunderstood is one of the reasons people choose to suffer from mental illness in silence. Unfortunately, problems like depression and anxiety don’t usually go away by themselves. Knowing the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety is important for your well-being and the well-being of others. After knowing what to look for, the next step is knowing how to get help. Click here for the definition of clinical depression.

My Struggles with Depression

My life has thrown me lots of curveballs, and I’m not just talking about being paralyzed at nineteen years old. I have grieved the loss of many family members, many of them too young. I’m not usually prone to depression or anxiety, but multiple losses have caused depression several times in my life. Most of the time I think that I can handle depression on my own. My favorite way of coping is to bury myself in work, to put off the inevitable pain of processing grief. After delaying the grief for as long as I can, I seek help. I have been in counseling many times during my life for periods. I have also had my Primary care doctor prescribe anti-depressants. In my own experience, I find that using a combination of anti-depressants and talk therapy works very well, which is supported by research. World Psychiatry Journal published a meta-analysis in 2014 about the effects of adding psychotherapy to an antidepressant medication when treating depression and anxiety. The result showed that combined therapy is superior when treating major depression, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The effects of using both anti-depressants and talk therapy remained strong two years after treatment according to the study results.

Depression, Anxiety and How it Relates to Having a Disability

There was a study published in 2016 in the Plos Journal that reaffirmed previous research that people with disabilities are at higher risk for depression than able-bodied people. Depression is a normal part of the grieving process when a person first sustains a disability. I have written a series of blogs on the stages of grief following acquiring a disability which you can find here.  Not everyone who becomes disabled becomes depressed but there is a high percentage that will experience a period of sadness. Other reasons people with disabilities face depression is they experience more social isolation due to accessibility issues and lack of transportation. People with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed which leads to more isolation and financial problems. Employment gives people a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Acquiring a disability causes so many changes in a person's life, that depression is a common secondary condition.

Tamara-crowning-pic-2.jpgInterview with Numotion Customer, Tamara Green

Numotion customer, Tamara Green is from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She was paralyzed from the waist down in 2001 in an automobile accident. Tamara has never allowed her disability to stop her from achieving her goals. Tamara is married and has three kids. She found out she was pregnant with the youngest child while in the hospital after becoming paralyzed. Tamara owns her tax service and credit consulting business. She also enjoys advocating for people with disabilities, which is what led her to compete in the Ms. Wheelchair Louisiana Competition. Ms. Wheelchair Louisiana is part of a larger organization called Ms. Wheelchair America. Ms. Wheelchair America and its state programs are competitions based solely on your history of advocacy and ability to articulate your disability-related platform. Tamara decided to compete in the Ms. Wheelchair Louisiana competition in 2019 and won the title of Ms. Wheelchair Louisiana 2020. Tamara’s platform is bringing awareness to mental health issues that impact people living with disabilities.

KR: Why did you choose to maintain good mental health while living with a disability as your platform for Ms. Wheelchair Louisiana?

TG: Living with a disability can be difficult. In addition to a lack of accessibility in general, we might not have access to a caregiver or the equipment we need. I struggled with depression immediately after finding out I was paralyzed. I wanted to sleep all of the time and had no appetite. I did not want to see anyone, including family and friends. I withdrew from the world and even refused to do therapy the first time I was in physical rehabilitation. Eventually, with the support of friends and family, I adjusted to life with a disability. I decided that helping others with mobility impairments who are struggling with depression and anxiety was the best way to make something good out of my difficult experience. I believe helping others is one of the best ways to forget about your problems.

KR: Do you think people ignore mental health problems?

TG: People may not recognize that they are struggling with mental health issues. They might think that admitting they are depressed is a sign of weakness. If the person does want to get help the person might not know whom to see for their particular issue. When I was feeling depressed about my paralysis it took me a while to find a person to talk to that understood how I felt. My advice is don’t give up, keep looking until you find the mental health professional that is right for you. I think it’s helpful to become friends with other people who also have disabilities. Friends with disabilities might be able to recommend a counselor that has helped them in the past.

KR: Other than seeking professional help, what are some other ways that you take care of your mental health?

TG: I have a strong faith and I like to spend time alone praying and meditating. I also read books about how to resolve depression. I also enjoy spending time with other people living with disabilities. I regularly go to a spinal cord injury support group meeting in Baton Rouge. If I am having a bad day I simply try to think positive thoughts. Sometimes I just get by day-by-day, other times it's minute by minute. My family is also a great support system, especially my Mom. I also make it a point to carve out time to spend with my husband and children, which always lifts my spirits. My advice to other people with disabilities who struggle with depression is to admit that they need help. Ignoring the problem makes it worse. Many people are feeling the same way and we can all help each other when we admit there is a problem.

Conclusion

More than 264 million people in the world suffer from depression. The symptoms of depression cause a person to want to sleep and withdraw from the world. If a depressed person gives in to the desire to isolate it makes the depression worse. Getting outside, socializing, trying something new, and exercising are only a few of the things you can do to try to cure depression. It is not always possible to handle feelings of hopelessness alone. If a feeling of sadness and hopelessness doesn’t subside, it is important to seek professional help. You can go to the Substance abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) website. SAMHSA has 24 hours a day, seven days a week confidential hotline. They don’t provide counseling but will assist you in locating resources and treatment facilities and other community mental health organizations. The National Institute of Mental Health also offers a National Suicide prevention hotline, crisis text line, and a veteran’s crisis line. The counselors provide crisis intervention and referrals to a mental health professional in your local area. Seeking help for depression is a sign of strength, not weakness. If you are experiencing the symptoms of depression reach out and get the help you need and deserve.
 
 
Karen Roy, Numotion Brand Ambassador

Author

Karen Roy, Numotion Brand Ambassador

Karen Roy is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with 20 years of experience. Most of that time was spent as a Case Manager for an in-patient rehabilitation hospital. She was the victim of an armed robbery in 1987 and has been a wheelchair user for the last 31 years. She had 3 kids after her injury. Caroline, Austin and Joseph are all in currently attending college. As Ms. Wheelchair America 2019 Karen’s platform was “Stand for Life”. Her platform is about the use of standing technology and other devices that improve the health and well-being of people with disabilities.