Facing clinical depression - The Theresa Benjamin story
She's an aunt, a friend, a professional. But that's what we can see.
What we can't see are the triggers, the feeling of intense emotions and the battles she has won silently. What we can't see, or choose not to see, is the 'face' of mental health issues in Jamaica.
For 36-year-old Theresa Benjamin, her journey with clinical depression has seen the growth of a support system that, to date, continues to be the cornerstone of her life.
While some individuals facing a mental health issue are, reluctant to share their story, Theresa says her journey with clinical depression is one she's willing to tell anyone that's willing to listen.
"There are far too many people who either have ridiculous misconceptions about what mental health issues are and thus say and/or do hurtful things or are suffering in silence. I need to play a part in changing both situations," Theresa said.
As a young girl, Theresa grew up in Kingston, the community of Barbican, to be exact, with her parents, both married at the time. The St Hugh's High School alumnus, who later finished her studies in Canada, said her childhood was quite normal - by society's standards.
She describes herself as a loner and someone who is very reserved.
In her early teens, her parents decided to "call it quits", opting for a divorce. Whether this accounted for her very moody behaviour as a teenager was never determined. Theresa, however, admits that in retrospect, her mood swings were early signs of depression that she attributed to a personality trait at the time.
MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS ARE MY ROCK
It wasn't until 2013, at age 31, that Theresa was officially diagnosed with clinical depression. She revealed that during that period of her life, she was very reluctant to disclose to anyone that she was clinically depressed.
"In that fog of depression, I was blaming myself and convinced something was wrong with me. As the healing process continued and I learned more about my situation and mental health issues on a whole, I became a little more comfortable talking about it, but I was still reluctant to open up about it to everyone. My open, frank discussions were limited to my close inner circle because I knew that would be a safe place for me," Theresa said.
Her family, she says, has played a huge role in her ability to cope, manage the stresses of her daily life and minimise her triggers.
"My family and friends are my rock. They have all shown me such kindness and compassion when I needed it most. They have all taken the time to try to develop an understanding of my reality and give me the support I needed, even when I was at my most self-destructive. They are just as important to the healing and recovery process as is the medication and medical intervention elements," Theresa explained.
"I don't believe anyone can truly heal and grow or recover in an institutionalised space. A key part of healing is supportive human contact. The type of human contact you can only get when in your own home space surrounded by your loved ones."
GREATER EMPATHY, KINDNESS, COMPASSION are NEEDED
An aviation safety inspector by profession, Theresa says the therapy has given her a safe place to vent, as well as it has been a resource to learn coping skills to achieve and maintain a stable day-to-day life.
"The greatest challenge for me comes when certain stresses or triggers come up. These things cannot be avoided because they are normal parts of the human experience. I try to always be aware of myself and my emotional state on a daily basis, but even more so when I'm dealing with those triggers," Theresa explained.
In trying to maintain that sense of awareness, I have to pull on the learned coping skills and try to manage the process. I try to remember to lean on my close friends and family, despite the overwhelming urge to shut down and shut everyone out. I also rely on the support/ guidance of my doctor."
When asked about how we can better address or treat individuals with a mental health condition, she said greater empathy, kindness and compassion are needed as a starting point.
"There needs to be a greater social understanding of what mental health issues are and how they affect people. There also needs to be an understanding that mental health issues do not affect only the 'weak', but can affect any human being, no matter the gender, class, etc. It's an illness just like any other that can affect the human body, and those affected are deserving of care, kindness and compassion; just like anyone else. Additionally, there needs to be improved availability of healthcare for the continuous treatment of mental health issues," Theresa explained.