“Why do I always feel like I want to sleep? Why am I no longer interested in the things I use to love? I am worthless and it is always my fault.  Why do I always feel nervous, short of breath, why am I panicking?”

Believe it or not, these are just a few symptoms of depression. Depression just like any other mental illness can change a person in their entirety. Without paying close attention to the symptoms, you would never know that you are facing this mental monster that is slowly eating away at your mind. Not knowing the symptoms is one thing but knowing something is wrong with you but is afraid to speak up or seek help is even worst. You are afraid of being labelled, ridiculed, laughed at, or even scorned. Depression is real just like the ground you are standing on.

Meet Kriss-Ann Haughton

She is described as a walking Disney movie, a ball of energy, and a burst of walking sunshine by friends. But silently she battled depression.

When were you diagnosed with depression?

I was first diagnosed with severe depression three years ago.

What was your reaction to your diagnosis?

I was not exactly surprised. I have always kind of known it could not have been normal to feel the way I did.

What symptoms do you experience?

Fatigue, extreme sadness, lack of motivation. There are periods where I want to hurt myself. There were periods where I could not muster the energy to get out of bed. Always a lot of self-loathing.

Since being diagnosed and looking back, tell me of a time where you were experiencing depression but did not know.

There was never a time I was experiencing it and did not know. I suppose at first, I thought it was an anger problem. One particular incident was when I was deeply sad about something that happened to me and I took up a knife and I started cutting my wrist.

Being that you were not diagnosed until three years ago what did you usually do to cope back then?

To cope, I would create a persona that would seem cheerful and that would seem happy-go-lucky or would seem like she had it all together so that when people encountered me, they would think, ‘wow this is such a happy girl’. People tend to ask less questions of happy people so I created that persona and I lived in that persona so that I would not feel like a nut case.

Okay, so let’s switch the narrative to your academic or professional life, are you currently a student or working?

I am currently not working but I am a recent graduate of The University of Technology, Jamaica with a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering.

Electrical Engineering is a demanding field, were you ever worried that you would fall into a state of depression while at University?

(laughs) I have a secret. I don’t actually want to do engineering, I want to be a writer. Crazy huh? I actually did fall into a state of depression several times during my tenure at the University of Technology. One of the times that made me say, alright, it’s time to get professional help… I do not remember exactly what, I think it was something small. After a whole week of feeling terrible and I was walking to take a taxi to go home.  There was a JUTC bus (Jamaica Urban Transit Company) that was coming up the road, I stepped into the road and at the last minute, I pulled myself back. That was when I realized I needed to get professional help.

You already answered my follow-up question. However, was there ever a time while at university you became depressed?

There were several times where I was really depressed. But as I stated before, the persona I created was a happy-go-lucky persona, so I constantly felt like I had to keep up with that persona. When it is that I was not that persona a lot of people would start to notice and ask questions and what I realized was that they were not equipped to handle any other version of myself other than the happy version. It seemed to me that they were genuinely scared and then I would have to suck it up and just try to push on through it.

How did you cope while in university with depression?

Before I got to this place of healing, I use to drink, I use to chase down frivolous relationships that would distract me from what was going on in my head. I was doing that for a while until I realized that after all these things, I was using to distract me such as parties, alcohol and all the people. After all of that, I was still so sad.  So, what I did was ask someone I know for the number to a psychologist and I got it. It took me two more weeks after that to drum up the courage to call the psychologist and book a meeting and go. When I did go, I cried the entire hour which is funny because I had an event to go to. Anyways, I just started to feel better, but I feel one of the things that people that struggle with depression fear is that if you talk to someone that they will have you committed. There are two fears: Either they will confirm that yes, you are depressed, and you need additional help. Or they will look at you and tell you there is nothing wrong with you and it is all inside your head. So, I was incredibly lucky to have met up on a nice professional who genuinely seemed like she wanted to help me get somewhere.

PR Officer for the UTech, Ja School of Engineering Representative Council. (November 2019)

Covid 19 has taken a toll on a lot of persons mental health, what do you do to ensure your mental health is taken care of in a time like this?

I am in a significantly better place today because of the actions I am about to list.

  1. I try to reprogram the way I think about myself and how I attack problems in life. I have downloaded this app called “I am”. This app gives me daily affirmations like “I am enough, I deserve love, I am worthy of love”. I have seen drastic improvements in the way I attack or view obstacles because of repeating those affirmations.
  2. Whenever I am having a sad or negative thought, I envision myself taking that thought out of my head and replacing it with a positive thought. In doing that I have seen stark improvement in the way I process problems.
  3. I also try to be kinder to myself. I treat myself to little things I like, like strawberry acai at Starbucks or get myself a chocolate. Or I save and get a pedicure. If I’m strapped for cash, I will also do a face mask or play music. I like jazz music. I also thank my body and mind for carrying me this far.

Do you think enough is being done to address mental illness?

No, I do not think enough is being done for mental illness. I understand that putting out the information using posters, social media campaigns are talking about the problem but listen, Jamaicans are stubborn and prideful, and it will take an arm and a leg to say ‘hey, something is actually wrong with me’.

The only way you are going to get people the help that they need is by going into the communities, setting up the forums, calling them out, trying to relate to them on that level. Create a safe space where they feel safe to say something is wrong with me and I need help. That is the only way you are going to get any good done. Doing the whole social media thing or tattooing a comma on your wrist is spreading social awareness and people are aware of it, most people are aware of the issue. But some people are not and the only way to get through to them is to get to them. We know our friends, we sit at the community centres, we walk with them. Start with the person next to you and work your way up.

Proud survivor of everything she thought would tear her down. (December 2020)

What advice would you give individuals who are currently battling a mental illness but are afraid to talk up and seek help?

You are not alone. I understand as Jamaicans you grew up in a culture where if you do not feel motivated to get out of bed, your parents, others, or older generation might say you are lazy or lackadaisical. But you are the person that knows yourself best and if you feel like something is wrong then something is wrong. And your feelings are validated, it’s okay not to be okay, it’s okay to admit to yourself you are not alright and it’s okay to seek help. It might be scary, and I totally understand. It took me years before I was able to say to an adult, ‘hey I’m depressed’ but I promise you someone is out there who wants to hear your story, who wants to sit and listen to you. They will love you for who you are, flaws, and all the good, bad and ugly. It is going to be okay.

Thank you for sharing your story with us Kriss-Ann.

I am sure a lot of individuals will take something from this. I hope persons will start standing up, speaking out, and seeking help. Because mental illness is no joke. “There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.” —John Green