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    Struggling with Depression or Thoughts of Suicide? You’re Not Alone

    By Dr. Frankie Bashan–

    With the recent high-profile suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, new attention is again being dedicated to mental health, depression and the struggle that many people suffer in silence. As a clinical psychologist serving the queer community, I treat people every day who think they’re the only ones and that no one can relate to their feelings of helplessness, loneliness and isolation. That is simply not true. My whole goal with this month’s column is to make it clear: If you or a loved one are suffering, they are not alone, they do not deserve to suffer and simple, practical treatments are available.

    Causes of Depression
    But before I talk about treatments, it’s helpful to talk about what causes depression. Depression is a complex illness. Often resulting from a chemical imbalance, depression doesn’t manifest simply by having a disproportionate amount of certain brain chemicals, research suggests. Possible triggers of depression include:
    • faulty mood regulation
    • genetic vulnerability
    • medications
    • other medical problems
    • stressful life events

    Researchers have identified that depression is a combination of biology (brain chemicals, nerve cell connections and genes) and psychology—your mindset or way of thinking. Much of these halves are beyond our control; we can’t manipulate our nerve connections, and our mindsets are frequently molded from early life traumas and experiences that we can’t extrapolate ourselves from.

    For example, many queer people come from homes that were less than supportive. If a person endures a childhood of trauma, addiction, dysfunction and situations that were less than loving and supportive, they will enter adulthood with a certain mindset that the world isn’t safe (to a certain extent) and their experiences left them vulnerable. Mix in genetics, with their ability to influence mood, and you have a vicious cycle of brain chemicals and life experiences that trap people into believing they’re destined to suffer and suicide is their only escape. This is how depression is an illness. It requires medication, professional intervention and consistent treatment that the individual cannot implement on his or her own.

    Symptoms of Depression
    It’s normal for us to feel blue, down or just generally unhappy as we go through life. While these are unpleasant, if we allow ourselves to feel our feelings and move through them, our mood and feelings will change and we will feel better.
    Depressed individuals don’t generally “feel better.” Their symptoms persist and cause them to behave in ways that are dangerous to their longevity. Mild symptoms of depression include:

    • decreased motivation
    • decreased social involvement
    • difficulty sleeping
    • less interest in activities that you were previously interested in
    • overall malaise
    • viewing all life events as negative

    Moderate to severe depression symptoms may include:
    • avoidance, not calling, texting or connecting with people
    • complete disinterest in life activities
    • no longer practicing self-care (showering, eating, maintaining one’s house)
    • beginning to discuss suicide and starting to make a plan

    Obviously, if someone is discussing suicide and how she/he is going to do it, you should immediately call the 24-hour Suicide Hotline. Non-judgmental, trained professionals can help to navigate you or your friend to help. The key to depression symptoms is to observe the person. Has their behavior drastically changed? Do they no longer want to participate in outings or activities that they once did? Or did they experience a stressful life event (death, break up or job loss, for example) and do not seem to be recovering? All of these situations are cause for concern.

    Seek professional help. I will say it again: Seek professional help. Seeking help is a sign of strength and is not a sign of weakness. You cannot fix this illness without proper intervention and your suffering can be minimized.

    A professional will likely use a combination of psychotherapy and medication (antidepressants). Antidepressants manipulate neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain), that relay messages from neuron to neuron. They tend to increase the concentration of chemicals at the synapse, the spaces between neurons. The theory is that shifting the concentration of these chemicals will support the brain in doing its job.
    Medication and psychotherapy are long-term plans. Everyone’s chemistry is different, so your doctor may experiment with dosages and classes of medication, to see what works for you. In the short-term, there are several activities you can do that can support your recovery.

    Self-Care is the number one tool you should have in your mental health toolbox. Your body and mind are complex mechanisms that require an orchestrated combination of sleep, food, exercise and human contact to function optimally. Your body wants to be healthy and it needs your help to do so. Adopting a vigilant self-care routine can go a long way towards fighting off feelings of helplessness, by keeping yourself balanced and inspired. An example of a healthy self-care routine includes:

    Sleep: No more than 8 hours. If you’re having trouble getting out of bed, schedule a friend to call you who will commit to making sure you’re out of bed before she/he hangs up.

    Exercise: 3 times a week, at least 30 mins each day. Finding a one-hour circuit training class in your neighborhood is a fantastic way to get exercise and human contact without much scheduling.

    Food: Make a point of consuming whole foods, preferably proteins and vegetables with small servings of fats and carbohydrates. Granted, there are many diets one could follow, and I encourage you to find the one that works for you, but I’ve seen clients lose weight and feel more stable when they commit to a simple protein and vegetable diet. Stay clear of fast foods and alcohol.

    Human Contact: Put yourself around people who are supportive of you. This is a hard one when you’re depressed because you don’t want to interact, but it’s the one thing that can help. Scheduling phone calls, coffee dates or simple house visits can do wonders for your state of mind. If you live in a remote place or don’t have many friends, go to online communities like Reddit or chat rooms that exist to support others who are also suffering.

    Volunteer: Studies have proved that the more people volunteer, the happier they feel. London researchers found that Americans who volunteer monthly, are 7% happier than those who don’t. The happiness level nearly doubles to 12% if you volunteer weekly. Donating your time to an organization or a group of individuals is the simplest way to feel appreciated. Start with non-profits and associations in your neighborhood and see where it goes.

    Support Groups: Find one and commit to it. A simple search for “depression support group” + your city will yield results. If you’re religious, reach out to your church leader. If you have health insurance, find out if they offer a group. Kaiser, for example, has a variety of support groups offered every season. The key is to commit to showing up to the group every session.

    The World Health Organization estimates that more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression. As the leading cause of disability, depression does not discriminate. It affects celebrities, CEO’s, white people, people of color, successful people and lots and lots of folks in between. No one is immune, but everyone deserves relief. If you or a friend are suffering, and contemplating suicide, reach out. Call 24-hour Suicide Hotline (415-781-0500) for immediate help and reach out to the resources in your community for assistance. If you’d like to reach out to me, please email me ( or call 415-990-2929.

    For more information:

    Dr. Frankie Bashan is a psychologist, matchmaker and relationship guru who has been using her psychology background combined with technology and personalized algorithms to successfully match lesbian couples nationwide. As the founder of Little Gay Book, the only exclusively lesbian/bi matchmaking agency in the U.S., she helps women in every state to find authentic, healthy, righteous, full-blown love and she knows what makes relationships tick. For more info: