*This article may be a trigger for some as it highlights someone’s experience with depression.
Smiles and a quiet demeanour are among the biggest masks known to man. They can effortlessly hide your pain and no one will be wiser that you are clinically depressed. Shanique Jones’* experience is testament to that.
Jones, who was diagnosed with clinical depression in 2018 is an active member of her church, works in the field of youth and community development, and is known for exuding a cheerful and positive attitude at all times.
“I hardly talk about my troubles and I generally have a pleasant demeanour. I also ensure to do what needs to be done regardless of how I feel because ‘the job must be done’. So, people just assume that I’m always okay. But, I’m often not okay, I just appear to be,” Jones said in an interview with Our Today.
A “country girl” at heart, Jones resides in central Jamaica and said she struggles with depression but still manages to lead a normal life without many people having knowledge of her diagnosis.
Clinically diagnosed in her 20s, Jones, now in her 30s, shares that though she was recently diagnosed, she had years of experience in managing her mental health. “I remember going to a child psychiatrist in my formative years but that was just for counselling sessions. My behaviour had changed for the worst after my parents separated. I went from being an outgoing and inquisitive child to one who pulled herself into a hard shell. My hair started falling out and I continuously broke out in hives whenever I got sad. So, someone suggested to my mom that she take me to the doctor,” she said.
“After counselling, my behaviour adjusted and all was well. However, as I entered adulthood, I noticed that some of my childhood symptoms resurfaced. I also struggled with my mental health and became concerned because I could not identify what exactly was wrong. So, I visited a clinical psychologist who later diagnosed me,” she shared.
DEPRESSION AND A FAMILY HISTORY
The Ministry of Health and Wellness states that depression is a common mental health illness that affects the Jamaican population. The prevalence of depression in Jamaica, as reported by the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle survey 2016/17 was 14.3 per cent or one in every seven persons.
The survey also indicated that Jamaican women experience depression at a higher rate than men do. It states that 18.5 per cent of women are depressed when compared to 9.9 per cent of men. Additionally, the survey highlights that the illness is more prevalent in urban women (19.2 per cent) than in rural men (7.3 per cent).
The Ministry highlights loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, persistent sad feelings, anxious feelings, agitation or restlessness, as among the symptoms of depression.
“Things that I used to enjoy no longer interested me and I stopped doing them. That included writing and tapping into my creativity. I had a tendency to disappear without explanation or warning and I would stay away from people for a very long time. I always kept people at arm’s length. So, no one is close enough to notice if I wasn’t as active or present. I also had prolonged feelings of extreme sadness and hopelessness. Additionally, I felt suicidal,” she said, pointing out some of her symptoms.
Jones shared that she prioritised going to the psychologist because the behaviours she displayed were reminiscent of her mother who was diagnosed with depression during Jones’ childhood. She also shared that she has other family members who live with debilitating depression.
As a child, she watched her mother go through bouts of depression. She had a mental breakdown and was taken to a mental health facility for treatment.
“My mother was institutionalised for a couple of days and was prescribed medication upon being discharged. When she was supposed to come home, she left my brother and I to go somewhere to ‘get space to get back to herself’,” said Jones.
“That situation impacted my relationship with my mother. I’ve always been an emotional caregiver to her. When she was institutionalised and took time away from us, I became much more sensitive to her emotional wellbeing. This was sometimes to my own detriment because, by right, it should have been the other way around. The parent should be the one giving that type of emotional support to the child and I did not get that,” said Jones.
A TRIANGULATED TREATMENT PLAN
After her diagnosis, Jones’ treatment plan was a mixture of psychotherapy or talk therapy along with medication. Within the space of about two months, she said she weaned herself off the medication as she was concerned she would relive what her mother went through.
“After I started my treatment plan, I felt more at ease. I was also instilling positive habits in my daily life. I did not want to get hooked on the medication. That was part of mom’s issues. So, I was adamant to not become like her. So, I implemented some positive habits that would help me not depend on medication too much,” she said.
“Some of my habits include establishing morning and night routines. So, in the morning, I would wake up early and do my devotion, practice gratitude journaling, and listen to specific playlists composed of motivational speeches and music to help me jumpstart my days. I ensured that I went to the gym and found an accountability partner who held me at my word to achieve specific health goals. I also always ensured as much as possible to eat breakfast. The evening routine would look slightly similar except it was for me winding down my days. I was also purposeful about not using my phone before eight in the morning and I didn’t use it after 8 at night,” she explained.
She admits to also no longer being in therapy. Her most recent talk therapy sessions occurred a few months ago. Instead, she has relied on the positive habits she instilled. She revealed that she plans to go back to therapy as well as recommence her course of medication.
Currently, she does not practice all her routine habits. She is hopeful that when she returns to therapy and possibly restarts her course of medication, that she will get back on track with her triangulated efforts.
“Prior to implementing the habits, I really wasn’t functioning optimally in my life, especially at work. The environment contributed to my deteriorating mental health issues. After treatment started, I found that I was able to do my work well. Certain issues that used to bother me, no longer negatively impact me,” she said.
DEPRESSED AND HIGH FUNCTIONING
She said that a counsellor classified her as being high-functioning. “I knew that I wasn’t really functioning well but I was always able to get good grades and I was still active and involved in a lot of stuff,” she said, affirming the high functionality.
“When I was just diagnosed, I was in youth development. That job required that I deliver presentations and attend a myriad of events. It also included planning events. Though I struggled being in the presence of others, somehow, I easily forged relationships with stakeholders in the parish and I was able to knock my speaking engagements out of the park. I got more involved in activities and people knew who I was. They knew which organisation I was affiliated with because I was very good at that job. No one had a clue that I was depressed,” she said.
Jones said that though she did so well in public life, she would meet her pillow at nights feeling mentally drained. Despite her high functioning and debilitating depression, she is active in church and has a fairly active social life. The few people who are aware of her diagnosis found out because she became a mental health advocate and shared bits and pieces about her story at small and intimate events after being invited.
She revealed that she is currently not as high-functioning, and from time to time slips into thoughts of hopelessness and extensive bouts of sadness. However, she still manages to do the normal things that are required of her without many people being aware of her diagnosis.
For those who are diagnosed with clinical depression or generally struggle with their mental health, Jones said: “Take it one step at a time. If we give up now, we’ll never know if we’ll make it to the other side”. For other people, she said: “Remember that folks go through situations you may never know about or understand. So, when you observe behaviour that is ‘unlike them’, please practice some grace. Lastly, don’t judge a book by its cover. There is often more to someone who has a quiet and cheerful personality.
If you are someone struggling with depression, or you know someone who is struggling with depression, contact the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Helpline at 888-NEW-LIFE (639-5433) for mental health support. You may also contact any psychologist in private practice for support.
The identity of ‘Shanique Jones’ is being withheld for the purpose of anonymity as she does not wish to be easily identified.
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