mental health kit
"A Mental Health Kit is an assortment of items that can comfort, reassure and help you through mentally trying times."
Credit: Prianka Jain
Health

Dealing With Depression Is Like Making Friends With the Monsters Under My Bed

Anyone with mental illness will stumble upon their own fail-safes to help them during mental health crisis—a Mental Health Kit, so to speak. Having battled depression for 17 years, I have unknowingly put together one of my own.

With the recent upswing in conversation about mental illness, it feels like we're all living through a sudden epidemic of depression and anxiety. The truth, however, is that mental illness has always been around and some of its earliest accounts date as far back as ancient Greece. In fact, I think it's safe to assume that mental illnesses have existed for as long as we have. The only difference is that people have slowly become more open to talking about it.

Advertisement

Over time, we've taken something faceless and given it a name. We've learned to understand and identify one of nature's most widespread but least talked-about occurrences, and found solutions for it. The therapies for mental illnesses like depression and anxiety are varied, and for most people, they involve a lot of trial and error. But over time, everyone who suffers from a mental illness will eventually stumble upon fail-safes that help them during times of mental crisis: their very own Mental Health Kit.

A Mental Health Kit is an assortment of items that can comfort, reassure and help you through mentally trying times. Just like we've learned to understand and identify mental illness, we must learn how to get through the times we find difficult. And putting together a Mental Health Kit is a great way to start.

Through my 17 years living with depression, I've unknowingly put together my own Mental Health Kit, which I dip into when I have bad days.

Here's what's in it:

A Journal

1543849919157-6

"Journaling makes you more aware, helps you take control of how you feel, enables you to notice patterns, and it calms you." Illustration: Pratiksha Chauhan.

I started journaling when I was 11 years old, and once I started, I never stopped. From a young age, I used writing as a form of therapy without even realizing it. Every time my thoughts and feelings became overwhelming, I wrote about them. It wasn't a cure-all for how I was feeling, but it centered me and made my feelings seem more manageable. Numerous articles talk about the positive effect journaling has on mental health, and they all say similar things: journaling makes you more aware, helps you take control of how you feel, enables you to notice patterns, and it calms you. For me, writing has been the most powerful tool in my arsenal and has given me an eagle-eye view of the ups and downs in my life with depression, and I can't recommend it enough. I suggest keeping a journal and a pen by your bed and writing for 10-15 minutes whenever things get to be too much. Remember: journaling is not about writing well or perfectly; it's merely about transferring your thoughts onto a piece of paper.

Advertisement

A Cosy Blanket

1543849995821-5

"Weighted blankets help ‘ground’ your body and they can have a very calming effect." Illustration: Pratiksha Chauhan.

Sleep is the first victim of mental illness. I suffered from crippling insomnia that started when I was 16, and it didn't take me long to learn that the less I slept, the worse I felt. Sleep and mental health are closely connected, and a lack of sleep can wreak havoc on your mood. Most of us find immense comfort in our beds and when sleep is hard to come by it's important to make your bed as cosy and tranquil a place as possible.

A lot of mental health experts recommend using special, weighted blankets as a therapy tool. The science behind weighted blankets is called Deep Touch Pressure (DTP): the feeling of gentle, distributed weight on the body (hugging is another way to experience DTP). Weighted blankets help ‘ground’ your body and they can have a very calming effect: they help reduce anxiety and promote deep sleep. Nevertheless, having a thick, comfortable blanket will enhance feelings of safety and well-being, and ensure that you're well-rested.

A Pair of Good Running Shoes

1543850012607-1

"I have a love-hate relationship with exercise when I'm in the midst of a depressive episode, but I have never regretted pushing myself." Illustration: Pratiksha Chauhan.

There are many reasons physical activity is good for you. Not only does it keep your heart and bones healthy but it is also extremely beneficial to your mental well-being. Exercise stimulates the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain which helps alter your mood positively. Forcing yourself to be active when you're depressed and anxious can be difficult though, and exercise doesn't have to mean hours spent toiling away at the gym. Studies have shown that even as little as 10 minutes of brisk walking can markedly improve the way you feel. I have a love-hate relationship with exercise when I'm in the midst of a depressive episode, but I have never regretted pushing myself. Over time, I've realized that the times I don't want to be active are the times I need to be active the most. Invest in a good, comfortable pair of running shoes and start with short bursts of activity, working yourself up to more and more each day. Regular exercise is one of the best forms of self-love, and both your body and mind will thank you for it.

Advertisement

Sunscreen

1543850050524-2

"Sunlight triggers the release of serotonin, which is associated with boosting your mood and promoting calmness and focus." Illustration: Pratiksha Chauhan.

The sun is something we all tend to take for granted, and we rarely notice the impact sun exposure has on our physical and mental well-being. Both sunlight and darkness trigger the release of chemicals in your brain. Sunlight triggers the release of serotonin, which is associated with boosting your mood and promoting calmness and focus, while darkness triggers the release of melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep. Decreased sun exposure has been associated with a drop in serotonin levels, which directly impacts your mood. In countries that get reduced sunlight during the winter, up to 4-6 percent of the population suffers from seasonal depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder. Getting between 5-15 minutes of sunlight on your arms, arms and face can boost Vitamin D levels, and improve your mood. Healthy precautions are still necessary when going out in the sun though, and that's why you should carry a good sunscreen.

My Favorite Book

1543850117928-3

"Those books were my safe haven." Illustration: Pratiksha Chauhan.

Confession time: I'm a Potterhead. No, I mean seriously, I have a problem. I've probably read Harry Potter 20 times (no, I'm not exaggerating) and I own five different sets of the series, not including the set on my Kindle. I started reading Harry Potter when I was 11 years old, a year before depression paid me its first visit. I read Harry Potter all through the subsequent ups-and-downs; in fact, every time things got bad, I'd go back to those books because they would ground me and take me to a world where my problems did not exist. Those books were my safe haven. Using books as therapy is not new, in fact, it has a name: it's called bibliotherapy. Even Sigmund Freud used books as tools during psychotherapy sessions. Even though I'm a voracious reader, I tend to go back to the same books over and over again because through the years, I've formed a strong emotional connection with them. But reading anything that's uplifting will have the same effect. Maybe you have a fondness for a specific author or perhaps there's a genre of writing you love more than others. Whichever it is, books (in this case, books with a positive theme) are a great asset.

Advertisement

A List of Therapists, Psychiatrists, and Other Mental Health Professionals

1543850158036-7

"You don't want to be scrounging around for numbers." Illustration: Pratiksha Chauhan.

Whether you already go to therapy or not, I think it's essential to have a list of psychotherapists and psychiatrists for a mental health emergency. Think about it: most of us have the number of a doctor at hand in case we get sick and need medical intervention. Why should it be any different when it's a mental illness? Just like with regular physical illnesses, sometimes mental ailments require the attention of a professional as well, and if that's the case, you don't want to be scrounging around for numbers. If you don't know how to go about putting together a list of numbers like this, iCall, a helpline run by The Tata Institute of Social Sciences, has you covered. One of iCall's initiatives was to crowdsource a list of trustworthy mental health professionals across the country, and this is a fantastic resource if you don't know where to start.

A Trusted Loved One on Speed-dial

1543850773857-4

"Sometimes, love really is all you need." Illustration: Pratiksha Chauhan

When all else fails, fall back on a trusted family member or friend. Living with a mental illness is, by nature, a solitary and isolating experience. And sometimes, love really is all you need. While it's important to know how to care for yourself, part of caring for yourself is knowing when to lean on someone you trust for support. No battle in history was fought alone, and there's no shame in asking for help when you need it. I also believe it's important to have someone you know clued into what you're going through. Pick a non-judgmental friend to confide in when you need to. You’d be surprised how much it helps to just be able to tell someone how you really feel.

Shaheen Bhatt is the author of Never Been (Un)Happier (Penguin). Follow her on Instagram.

This article originally appeared on VICE IN.