If your arm was broken how long would you wait before you got help?
I would wait 1 second.
But when I was experiencing depression a couple of years ago, I waited about 6 months before I asked for help.
In all fairness, I didn’t realize I was depressed for most of that time. I thought my inability to concentrate, weepiness, and lack of energy was from grief (two of my pets died in 5 weeks) and finishing up grad school. And for the first couple of months, I think that grief and stress were indeed the cause.
But a few more months of feeling bad and I began to suspect it might be something more serious because it wasn’t going away, no matter how much self-care I threw at it.
It was my gynecologist that helped me see I was depressed.
She didn’t come to that conclusion during my pelvic exam (my cervix was surprisingly cheerful). We just talked. I took a simple depression screening. It was clear that I was more than sad. I had a medical condition.
With that clarity, I could stop trying to self-care my way out of it (I hear that’s not how you fix a broken arm either). I started taking an antidepressant.
This is the same gynecologist who asked me how she would know when it was time euthanize her senior dog. Crying and talking about dogs during Pap smears is our thing.
I was high functioning while I was depressed which is why I didn’t think I needed help. But when I felt better I looked back and it was clear that I hadn’t been myself for months.
Unlike having a broken arm, depression isn’t always immediately obvious. It was hard for me to accurately assess what I was experiencing. That made it tough to get the right care.
Later on, I found a great therapist. I’ll tell you about her some other time.
I’m 100% these days. I was able to get the help I needed.
But so many people never do.
Only about a third of those suffering from severe depression seek treatment from a mental health professional.
36% of people with social anxiety disorder report experiencing symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking help.
I worry that many of you aren’t getting the care you deserve.
There are so many reasons why people don’t seek help. Health insurance. Stigma. Access to services. Cultural differences. Fear.
And there’s a TON of confusion surrounding mental health care.
Plus, there’s the mental illness itself. When you’re depressed it can be really challenging to muster up the energy to make a bowl of cereal, let alone interview therapists.
This much is clear: if a woman who was raised by two therapists and has no problem talking about mental health issues (that’s me) needs some help figuring out she’s depressed so that she can get the right care, then it’s safe to say lots of us could use a little help when it comes to sorting out mental health stuff.
Very few of us feel like we know what we’re doing in this area. That’s why I always have a live Q+A with a therapist (Hi mom!) in all of my compassion fatigue classes.
People are confused:
What kind of therapy is the right fit for me? Will my boss know if I use the EAP to find a therapist? What should I do if I notice someone at work seems depressed? Can my boss hold it against me if she finds out I used the health insurance I have through work to get medication for a mental health issue? Is compassion fatigue the same thing as depression? How do I find a good therapist (my last one wasn’t so great)?
These are just a few of the questions we get asked every year.
If you work with animals or people who are suffering and traumatized, I bet you have questions like this too because the work you do takes a toll on your mental well-being. It leaves all of us wondering WTF? some days.
If you’re in a leadership role in an animal shelter or vet practice, I’ve got to ask: what’s your plan for supporting the mental health of your staff?
At a minimum, please have a staff meeting to make sure they understand how their health insurance or your EAP works. Be sure to address confidentiality issues.
It would help if we all got some training on mental health first aid, so that we better understood these issues for ourselves and felt more competent reaching out to those who need us.
I have other thoughts on this:
7 Ways We Can Support Mental Health in the Animal Welfare Community
Are You Thinking About Suicide? And Other Questions We’re Afraid To Ask
Depression and Suicide In Animal Care Professions: What Can We Do?
There’s so much to say about mental health in animal welfare, it’s hard to know where to stop.
But for now, if you’re wondering if what you’re experiencing is depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc. please take an anonymous screening today. Knowing is the first step.
And if you want to keep talking about this sort of thing, join us over in the Compassionate Badassery Collective. It’s my private FB group where asking these sort of questions is always okay.
Being a human is hard stuff. Let’s pinky swear we won’t wait 10 years to ask for help, ok?