depression in thailandFeatured Living 

Living with Depression (in Thailand)

Mental health has become quite a topic over the past few years as we have seen many people suffering from depressive disorder or other mental health issues taking their own lives (last year it was Chester Bennington of Linkin’ Park as most ‘famous’ example). Even though the news talked about it for a while, by now it’s almost all completely forgotten again and nobody seems to care anymore.

Here in Thailand old traditional values and thought processes are still being valued and held high and therefore ‘modern’ diseases such as mental health issues are very often not taken serious. Current statistics state that more than one million Thai teens suffer from depression (source: Khaosod English, Dec. 2017) but parents, teachers and extended families often still ignore the existence and urgency mental health treatment often requires. Instead of supporting people who suffer from depression, they tell them to ‘go pray’, ‘man up’ or ‘smile more’ to ‘make it go away’.

In order to raise some more awareness in this regard I talked and interviewed a few people who suffer from depression. I will, obviously, not state the names here but they all are between 18 and 30 years of age, of Thai & international nationality and university educated.

I also sat down with one University student who suffers from depression who agreed to talk about it in our vlog / podcast which you can see at the end of this article.

If you aren’t sure if you’re depressed or have the feeling something isn’t right, don’t hesitate to call the department of mental health for help, they’re always willing to talk and help. Simply call 1323.

What follows now are four questions asked to everyone who agreed to talk to me. Everyone was given as much time and space as they wanted. See all the answers below.

How did you realize you suffer from some form of depression? Did anything in particular happen? When did it happen?

Answer 1: Looking back at it, I remember being sad for a long time. But from whenever it started until it was almost too late, I didn’t know that it was “depression”. If I were to say when, I would say it started when I was about 12 when I had the biggest existential crisis a twelve-year-old could have.  I didn’t have a loving and happy relationship with my mother and I managed to convince myself that I was some sort of a burden for her (she is a single mother, you see). The space between me and my mom grew bigger, I felt pressured, cornered and controlled – that was when I decided to come to Bangkok for high school.  There were many dramatic thoughts and late night crying what I realized later that it was because of the depression.

It got so much worse when I was about 17 –starting to lose focus and purpose in live. I didn’t feel loved. And like many other long-term depressed people, I started doubting myself and self-harming to the point of planning my suicide. I realized later that the chemical substances in my body caused me to over-dramatize everything. I couldn’t get used to the sadness and had the idea that if I’d die, all the thoughts would stopped as well.

Answer 2: I started to realize that depression happened when I couldn’t sleep and my emotions were unstable. I started to overthink even the little things. It has been like 2-3 months that’s when I realized that I need to go to see the doctor. He said like it did not just happen but it has been piling up from long time ago and then it exploded. When there’s a trigger, I’m easily depressed. For example, friends, family, boyfriend… when they say something that they might think is a joke but for me it’s not and it effected me a lot.

Answer 3: I didn’t realize myself. To be fair, it was grade 7 that started to keep distance from people. I had know idea whatsoever. I knew that I loved to be alone and I found happiness when i’m alone. I didn’t know what depression was back then. In fact, this disorder was just another nonsense mentality disorder. Thai society back then had very negative attitudes toward depression. I didn’t want to be hated and critisized. So I kept quiet. I started cutting my hands for every time when I couldn’t express my try feeling to others. I weirdly found happiness at doing that. I didn’t want to attempt suicide. I just wanted to get hurt. I wanted to know that I still have feeling after all the crap people talked. Sadly, my high school society wasn’t that good. People didn’t understand me and why I did such things and I couldn’t be bothered to explain because I wouldn’t be understood anyway.

I moved to England when I was 16. I still kept distance from friends and right then also my family. I’m that kind of person who doesn’t like to talk. I preferred to keep everything inside because I do want to hurt people by words. I still cut myself when i was in uk. It was the time that I was the most quiet I could ever be. The nurse at my GSCE noticed me and she asked me to meet her. She examined my arms and my legs. I didn’t understand why she did that I had never felt more alienated. Of course she saw my scars and she asked me to come and see her more often. Well, I didn’t go. And at this point I sort of faded away from everyone. I hated being in spotlight. When I turned 18 everything got worse. I stopped eating and turned to alcohol. I rented a flat alone and I shut myself from the world. My depression got worse so much so that I planned my own dead and funeral. I know how am I gonna be gone and in what way. I actually wrote it down in detail and I still have that paper with me.

Answer 4: I realized I was depressed when I was confronted by my then class mentor who demanded to see me or else he’d end up calling the police because its been months since he or my classmates have heard from me. I knew I was sad, but I didn’t figure I was depressed. It never matched the commercials on prescription pills for depression. It was always older people and they were always depicted with a dark cloud over their heads. I knew that wasn’t me. It just didn’t fit the image. The reason I got depressed was because I moved from home (Aruba) to The Netherlands almost against my wishes, but my parents wanted that for me. They wanted me to study medicine etc. but I was never “smart” in subjects like, biology etc. I just didn’t do well in high school because I was forced to take subjects that would help me get into medical school.

I was already introverted from a very young age and I cried a lot. I was told to stop crying and stop being shy. I excelled in the arts in school from a young age and after school activities. Sadly, I was never taken seriously enough to study anything art/creativity related. This prompted my mom to choose my first major in nutrition and I stopped going to school because I was not feeling it at all. The disappointment from my mom was hard for me to take. I thought maybe if I can find a balance and choose something that I like, and she likes, and it’ll be fine. It was a bad idea because I picked something based on one subject I liked, and they only taught that class a few times in the first year and never again. I felt myself slowly slipping away. And I stopped going to school after 3 months.

I stayed home and slept all day and night. I cut off all contact with friends, family and classmates. My classmates would try to visit me, but I never answered the door. I made sure to leave the house an hour before the supermarket closed at night, so I wouldn’t be spotted by anyone that knows me. My eating habits were terrible and consisted mostly of anything sugary and diabetes inducing. It got so bad that I stopped taking care of myself in a hygienic way. I just slept and slept. Because of the sugary food I had terrible teeth issues. Luckily nothing bad happened but my gums are not as strong as they used to be, and I need to be wary of how much artificial sugar I take in. I hid behind a fan page I made for a small American boyband that was popular at the time and slept all day and would work on the page and update it from midnight until 6AM and would sleep until 9PM. Get up and sneak off to get food and come back and go to sleep and wake up later in the late hours of the night. I did it for months. Until I got the email threatening to call the police.

I suddenly couldn’t be low key anymore and would have to confront my class mentor about it. When I showed up to school the following day almost missing my meeting because my sleep schedule was bad. I didn’t shower or brush my teeth. I was a hot mess. We sat down, and he asked me “so, what’s going on?” and I broke down. I knew I wasn’t just sad.

global depression statistics

How did your friends / family react? Many times we hear that they would say ‘don’t act emotional’ or something like that. How was that in your case?

Answer 1: My friends were very supportive of me. They did not say it openly but I know they tried to keep me from spending too much time alone –especially my dorm mates. After my first suicidal thought, I decided to seek help and my friends helped researching and even accompanied me to the hospital.  But not everyone was supportive and understanding though. Many of my close friends in class were ignoring it and never mentioned my unhappy signs openly – not with me.

I told my mother about my unhappiness even before my treatment. But there was no change. About half a year after I received my treatment, I decided to tell her (due to the psychiatrist’s advice to solve the problem at the root cause.) But my mother is quite conservative about medicine (she doesn’t like me to take a lot of pills). Anyway, I asked her to help me emotionally and the result is she has to call me every other day and tell me she love me… until now.

Answer 2: At first, I didn’t tell them that I’m facing Major Depressive Disorder. They thought that I’m too emotional, I’m weak, I can’t bear anything. Why would I be stress over such a little thing. All of that made me feel so bad. I feel worthless like I’m not good enough and I’m trouble for everyone. Many times, I don’t want to live anymore because of what they say. All I want to hear is positive thing to make my life goes on but some people just love to say negative thing to push me more pressure to go on but it doesn’t work with me. I feel more terrible.

However, after I’ve seen the doctor and felt bad about how people treating me. I started to tell my family, close friend and boyfriend that I’m facing MDD. At first, I don’t want to tell them because they might think I’m crazy or they need to treat me differently but at some point, I can’t stand it and I need to tell them. They seem to understand me more but they don’t spoil me. That’s all I need. Someone who feel free to listen to me and don’t act like I’m crazy just be normal.

Answer 3: When my mum found out she cried. She didn’t understand why I did that. She never asked me though, but she asked me to never do it again. My depression is a secret to my father. As for friends, they said that they do understand but I don’t really think that they do. They still listen and base everything on their own thoughts. How can they truly understand the suffered person like me. I never heard someone saying “don’t act emotional”, in my case, people called me “crazy, psycho and nonsense” that were my nickname in Thai high school. I knew that they didn’t have intentions to hurt me but it did.

Answer 4: My dad started contacting my friends and none of them heard back from me. So, he found out I was using twitter and he went through my followers and tweeted each and every one of them asking about me and what’s going on. Some replied back and contacted me but I never responded. That was going on for weeks before my meeting with my mentor. After that meeting I messaged my mom and I asked her if she could call me. I finally decided to reach out and she called, and I cried, and she sort of knew. I think they always knew I was sensitive but because I used to perform on stage, dance, model, act etc. they thought it was just a phase.

They didn’t think I had anxiety way before from a very young age and then to find me isolating myself from everyone was definitely a shock. My mom was afraid I’d end up hurting myself or because someone hurt me I was reacting by being distant when that wasn’t the case. I think they finally understood my social anxiety/depression when I became very vocal about it on the internet. I have friends who never knew and some who still don’t know because they assume I’m this star child living la vida fabulous when in fact I struggle too and some of that struggle is of the mental health kind.

Luckily, the more I spoke out about it the more I had old friends and acquaintances reach out to me privately telling me they felt the same or worse and didn’t know how to go about it. My dad still reacted strangely. I come from a background where mental health issues meant you’re “crazy” and whatever it is you’re going through you should just “pray it away”. So, it took him up until 2016/2017 to realize this is serious because I had several panic attacks at my internship/job, at home in Aruba when I was visiting and when I had to start my thesis.

I literally became depressed again because of my thesis and delayed my graduation for a whole year. He started to come around and he educated himself on it. He doesn’t fictitiously wave the bible at me when discussing my mental health.

depression statistics

Did you feel comfortable seeking help? If you got help, what kind of help? With doctors? Counselors?

Answer 1: I was feeling that I might have depression for quite a while, but when I was in high school, the symptoms got worse. At first, I tried calling the call-center but it was not that effective. So I search the hospital options. I found that there’s a psychiatric ward at Ramathibodi Hospital which is very close to the dorm. My dorm mates went there with me for the first time and most of the appointments too. At first, I thought it’s weird for a teenager like me to go there alone (without the parent) but the staffs, nurses and doctors treated me like I was a normal patient. That made me realize ‘so this is normal’.. something like that. I was not scared since I watched a lot of movies and know that getting treatment for mental illness is necessary.  I went to the floor specialized in child and teen, most patients are children suffering from ADHD.

My treatment consisted of both counseling with the psychiatrist and medication. The medicine I got prescribed with was Clonazepam and Prozac. I continue the treatment for about a year and stopped going to the hospital on my own after I graduated high school. During the first summer class before starting college, I completely forgot about the sadness. It might be because college life has been so busy or because all my friends insisted on hanging out all the time. After a while, the pain and sadness went away. I didn’t cry for 3-4 months for the first time in 5 years.

One thing I’m sure of is that, the medicine did not help cure the depression. It might help calm me down, balance my hormones and moods. But my depression went away because I had a change in perspective.

I figure if your brain get used to the sadness, it will release the hormone to make you feel sad all the time. But if you don’t let your brain feel sad for a long time, your brain and your body can forget the sadness and return to normal function.

Answer 2: At first, I didn’t want to because here in Thailand. They might think you’re crazy if you go to see the doctor but I can’t stand my insomnia and how overthinking I am. So, I decided to go to see the doctor. It actually help a lot when I talk with the doctor and he gave me some medicines. Sometimes, I talk with my close friend who really understand me. It helps a lot. All I want is someone who listen to me and understand me without criticism and judge.

Answer 3: I was alcoholic. I drunk myself to sleep and had sleeping pills every night. I realized that there was no room for anymore cut. My arms and legs (my tummy as well) were full of scars. I look at those scars. Since I didn’t have any room to cut I started to think about everything and wondered that am I suffered with depression? Do I really want to die? I decided to seek a doctor without telling anyone (everyone only found out that I have depressive disorder last year) Doctor said that there is something wrong with the chemicals in my brain. I didn’t really understand much. But I did know that I have problem.

Answer 4: No, I did not feel comfortable seeking help and that was partially due to my anxiety and my ignorance of thinking if I sought help it meant I was crazy. I managed to talk it out with people I trust but I am planning on getting professional help as I notice talking isn’t the issue but finding tools and ways to cope with my anxiety/depression is. I am at a stage now where I feel I need some extra help and I always encourage people to seek it out and if it’s not possible due to certain circumstances I also encourage people to talk about it. Sometimes we just need people to listen instead of trying to DIY diagnose us with their unsolicited advice.

depression statistics

Is there any way to describe how depression manifests itself? When does it come? How do you handle it in daily life?

Answer 1: This is a hard question. Not that it’s a sensitive question but it’s hard for me now to describe the me then. To be honest, I can’t remember and can’t understand why I felt and thought the way I did during that time anymore.

The sadness came to me really slowly.  ‘Slowly and all at once’

When I was about 12, I just felt neglected my mother. Then I was always mad and annoyed at her for some reason. I didn’t want to even live in the same house with her. Before I knew it, I cried every night. As the time passed, bad memories began to mountain up in my head. I used to feel the sadness only before bed. Then I felt sad all the time. I listened to sad songs –which made things worse.

It was hard to smile when I was not talking to anyone. I didn’t even understand why. It was so painful all the time. And the worst part is that the pain was unapproachable. Where could be nothing wrong at all, but I can still managed to feel down. It was quite annoying. It would be better if the pain was physical and more reasonable. I guess that’s why I started hurting myself in various ways –to see the wound, to make the pain visible.

The worst thing is the headache. Constant headache. I always wanted to sleep. I didn’t want to eat, talk or hang out. I even had symptom of anorexia. I hated myself and my shape too. I lost like 15kg.

I was happy when I was with my friends but the sadness always came back when there’s no conversation. I think I must always seemed angry because I have like 15 friends in that big high school. Still, I think I did well enough in terms of living a normal life (apart from being really lazy in studying).

Answer 2: It’s empty. Depression is not like ‘sad’ that you can cry and get over it. It’s like everything became dark and blur. Sometimes, you don’t even know why. It just happens. Sometimes, it has suicide thought which is like you’re dying inside and all you can do to escape this is killing yourself. When this thought happens, I suddenly became unconscious and when I hurt myself, it has no feeling at all. It happened to me 3 times but now I’m glad I’m still alive. Whenever I feel like suicide thought is coming, I talk to my friends. I tell them what is going on and they help me.

Answer 3: To me, depression is my alter ego. It is the strongest side of mine. Even though it is too strong. It will do what exactly you think but you don’t dare to do. I lives inside you and control your life. I tried to be more positive only to find out that it doesn’t work with me. I’m that type of person who’s always look at the worst case scenario. It is one way to prevent me from getting hurt.

Answer 4: Personally, for me it creeps on me out of nowhere, but I noticed I’m triggered by my past upbringing and my parents’ ideologies whenever I’m confronted with life’s challenges. I still feel like I need to please them or win their approval. I started meditating in early 2015 and it has improved my anxiety. When I’m calm I’m less anxious and I don’t slip into a depressive state or spiral down into my negative thought processes. I’ve also cut people out of my life who are toxic, and I speak up whenever someone triggers me. I remind myself that my mental illness does not define me and it’s a spectrum. Some people can be highly functional and still suffer while others cannot function or need medication. Either way it is all valid and it shouldn’t be romanticized or be seen as cute thing. It’s very serious and can be dangerous if left untreated

Here’s the sit down talk with Cream on her handling depression. 

Here’s the talk in podcast form on soundcloud.

Video key takeaways:

  • Listen to people who share their feelings and emotions
  • Do not treat them like crazy people – just be there, listen, respond
  • Do not tell them to ‘get over it’ or give advice such as ‘I was sad once…’ – that does not help
  • Do not tell them to think about their families, this will only make it worse.
  • Be there. Listen.
  • Do not judge. Nobody picks his or her mental illness.
  • If you think you suffer from depression, seek help. There’s nothing to be shy about. Doctors will be able to help you.
  • If you suffer from depression understand that it’s not you who is at fault. As with every disease, this can be treated. Seek help.
  • If you learn about somebody else’s depression, don’t be a dick about it.

Here’s another follow up podcast on depression

Again thank you to everybody who took the time to talk to me about their lives with depression. I hope that helps to shine a bit of a light onto this taboo topic and makes people realize that we need to be aware of it and talk openly about it. We’ll be adding more mental health related content soon. In the meantime if you need any more information feel free to leave a comment or reach out to any hospital, the department of mental health, or call 1323 for immediate counseling / help. 

Sascha Funk

Founder / Editor at My-Thai.org
Sascha is the publisher of my-thai.org and switched from an online marketing agency life in Europe to a teaching and education life in Thailand. He also writes about Teaching & Technology.

Related posts