Irritability. Difficulty concentrating. Loss of interest in hobbies. Feelings of worthlessness. Many of us, including myself, are familiar with the symptoms of depression. But sometimes we will fail to recognize them when we see them.
Last week, I discovered that my younger brother was suffering from depression. I hadn’t noticed it, hadn’t thought it was possible, and never recognized the symptoms. After hearing about it, I had to reevaluate my relationships and thoroughly question how well I knew my family and friends. At a college where social interaction is crucial for our development, a reexamination of how we relate to one another is exactly what we need.
My brother always kept to himself and never said much, likely because he was afraid of judgment. He’s a teenager and I never thought much of his behavior. It’s normal to sleep excessively, play League of Legends for seven hours straight, turn in homework late, be pessimistic about everything, and slack off in school … right?
But my mother informed me two weeks ago that he may not graduate from high school and that he isn’t determined to go to college. That seemed strange for him. She warned me about the possibility that my brother might be depressed but I waved it off, thinking it couldn’t be. I decided to ask my brother himself and he said, “Why are you only asking this now?” It was a complete slap to my face because what he was really saying was, “It’s too late.”
Slowly, I put the pieces together. My brother exhibited nearly every symptom of depression: he was moody, he could never concentrate in school, he was pessimistic about everything, he lost interest in drums, and felt unworthy of his accomplishments. How did I miss it?
All the signs, I overlooked. I subconsciously convinced myself they were normal. The reality is we tend to overlook little details about people that show us who they are and then if we notice something strange we subconsciously convince ourselves that nothing is odd, that he or she seems normal, and that all is well. That is not okay. I see many of us, including myself, neglecting our relationships. I certainly did. I dismissed my brother’s habits and convinced myself they were simply the habits of a typical teenager. I neglected our relationship by not asking him if everything was okay. When I did and he responded by saying “I’m fine,” I just went with it without knowing that he probably wanted someone to talk to but was afraid of judgment.
What is wrong with our relationships with people is the lack of intimacy. The fact that our current age is becoming more and more dependent on technology for communication exacerbates that problem. Misunderstanding over texts leads to a breakup. Friends hardly call each other on the phone to chat. It is ridiculously easy to overlook the details of a person or build a close relationship with them if much of our interaction with a person isn’t actually in person. When we do interact with people, we tend to judge anything that seems “off” as normal. Or we overlook it. Consciously or not, we do it.
After that, I decided that I not only needed to put more effort in my relationship with my brother, but with everyone else. We all need to do the same. I am not claiming that we all need to fix our relationships, merely reevaluate. I am claiming that we are often too caught up in our own lives that we forget about others and that is unacceptable on our part. It is unacceptable that I was unaware of my own brother suffering from depression and there could be many people out there like me who are unaware of their relatives or friends suffering.
My point, and the point of relationships, is to build it. Slowly. Cherish it. I’m not asking for us to probe our friend or relative for secrets. There may not be one. But as people, we would appreciate others trying to get to know us and occasionally asking, “Is everything alright?”
Relationships serve to help us and bring the best out of us. Human beings were made to be social, to build relationships. In fact, it is scientifically proven that we need to have friends or people we are close to in order to be psychologically healthy.
There may not be a story behind a person at all, but there should never be a time when someone tells you it is too late to help them because then, you have failed them whether you are a friend, mother, sister, wife, boyfriend, or whatever the relationship may be. There should never be a time when you thought you knew someone but didn’t.
Kelly Cheung is a second-year public health science major. She can be reached at email@example.com.