When life gives you lemons, we’ve all heard you’re supposed to make lemonade. But sometimes, life throws curve balls that are difficult to handle. Here’s Sam Sandhu’s story about overcoming mild to moderate depression, including insights from TELUS Health MyCare Lead Clinical Counsellor Lindsay Killam.

How to identify mild to moderate depression?

Life can be hard sometimes and can take many unexpected turns. I had recently separated from my wife, and the loss of the marriage was hard for me to handle. At that time, I felt worthless and destroyed. I had no urge to be a part of anything. I moved back into my father’s house and spent a lot of time sitting by myself in my room. I didn’t want to eat or sleep. I could barely get enough energy to even take a shower. I was living in a home with family, and yet I felt completely alone. 

My father offered me a daily drink because he thought that was how to deal with the situation. His South Asian upbringing didn’t give him the tools to help me or even see my situation. The truth is, I was depressed. 

Depression can show up as struggling with motivation and not having a lot of the things that we typically look forward to or work towards. But what’s showing up for many men is a feeling of apathy, general dissatisfaction with life, and the struggle to find the energy to invest in a passion or to bring forward.

Lindsay Killam

Indian culture looks at depression as a weakness that can be overcome by just shutting it out or pushing it down. As though if you can hide the emotions, depression will go away. Being a male in a culture that sees men as strong and unemotional, I thought I couldn’t share my thoughts and feelings without having other family members view me in a certain light. So I continued to struggle through with no real help. Or I thought I had no help.

Experiencing sleep issues can be a sign of mild to moderate depression, such as consistent night waking, difficulty falling asleep, worrying and ruminating at night. Relationship conflict is another sign of depression such as when people are experiencing difficulties with communication, not feeling heard, or not getting a message across either in the family relationship or in their work relationship.

Lindsay Killam

Where to start if you think you may have mild to moderate depression?

Finding a safe place to talk is always a good starting point. This could be with a trusted family member or friend, or it could be with a clinical counsellor. 

My older male clients that I work with, they will say, ‘I am not used to this mental health stuff.’ But they’re still reaching out. They still know and understand the need for support.

Lindsay Killam

6 other ways to help reduce mild to moderate depression:

1. Exercise to help boost your mood

I started to research online to find ways to help me get out of this mood. I found articles on how exercise can help reduce the effects of depression. I also researched how to build confidence to help me get back to my normal self. I thought I had to do this alone, but I was wrong.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week which can be broken down into 10-15minute sessions. Exercise can help boost your mood by releasing feel-good chemicals that trigger positive feelings.

Want to know more about the power of movement? Trevor Linden and Simon Whitfield discuss how exercise can help mental health in this Men’s Health Month video.

2. Be Social

My sister was able to see that I wasn’t getting better, and she did small things to force me out of my comfort zone. She’d make sure we ate dinner as a family. This made me eat and interact with people in the household.

What I’d like people to hear is that loneliness is a valid reason to want to reach out. Having that connection with another human being in an authentic and safe situation is a very therapeutic and healing thing to do. You don’t have to feel like something is sort of ‘wrong’ with you to reach out and benefit from getting help.

Lindsay Killam

3. Don’t compare yourself to others

Growing up in a culture where you were judged on everything you do, I was able to play the role of normal Sam while at work, but on the inside, I was getting worse. My sister told me she was joining a challenge to walk 100km in a month, so I decided to do it with her. The first day we walked 2km, and I realized it wasn’t too bad. We continued the next day and walked 3km. Again, I realized it wasn’t too bad.

Our walks were a time where we could talk and share our thoughts. We listened to each other without any judgement and were able to help each other with everyday problems. The walks became like therapy sessions for us and allowed us to become closer as siblings. 

Once I start talking to new clients regularly, once that safety is there, other things will show up around the whole idea of vulnerability and the desire to feel connected and to feel meaning. It’s showing up as a really powerful desire for men.

Lindsay Killam

My daughter started joining us on our walks when she was with me. She enjoyed them as it was time we got to spend together with no other distractions. The walks were family time together as well as exercise. I noticed my body getting back into shape, I was sleeping better, my mood was improving, and my relationship with my daughter was improving too.

4. Create healthy habits 15 minutes at a time

South Asian man exercising

After the walking challenge was complete, I needed to give myself other goals to help create healthy habits that would keep me in a good mood and feeling self-confident. I challenged myself to do simple exercises in my room like 10 push-ups,10 sit-ups, 10 squats, and 10 lunges 3 times. It usually took about 15 minutes. 

A great tool for daily management of stress is exercise. When we look at the benefits of movement, something as simple as a 15-minute walk outside each day grounds us in our mental health. It gets our body moving and promotes health. A walk is an easy thing to add into a break at lunch hour or to break up the afternoon.”

Lindsay Killam

Gyms are open again, but you can save the entry fee and work out at home. An easy way to get started is with Tommy Europe’s everyday workout videos.

5. Focus on the positives

Once I had my body moving, I worked on getting my mind in a better place. I’d take 10-15 minutes to jot down all the positive things going on in my life or meditate on all the things I appreciated. I could go to work and not play the happy role; I was just genuinely happy. My confidence in myself was getting higher, and my mood was more positive.

Mindfulness is anything that makes you present in the moment. For some people listening to an audiobook or taking time to read a book for 20 minutes is mindful. It’s a way of slowing everything down, shutting off ruminating thoughts, and focusing for a period of time.”

Lindsay Killam

6. Be proactive

Sometimes I would feel down and feel like I was going back to where I was before. I’d get down on myself and feel unworthy. So, I created a list of tasks I needed to do. Things like cleaning the garage, getting a haircut, or simply organizing my room. When I noticed I was losing self-confidence, I would bring out this list and complete a task. Once I completed a task, I felt proud of myself, and it would instantly boost my confidence. 

When we do something small and achievable every time we complete it, we’re sending a message to the reward system of our brain that says that worked, do it again. And it reinforces making that decision over and over again until we start building the neural pathways where it just feels automatic to do it.”

Lindsay Killam

In a culture where people hide their feelings and put on a happy face, it’s hard to see that a person may need a little help. We have to notice the signs and create a safe place where they can be heard and want to seek help. 

A simple goal of wanting to walk 100km in a month helped me on my journey out of depression. There will be days that you don’t complete your goals, and that’s ok; you can always try again tomorrow.

In 10 minutes, learn your risk level for the 8 most common health conditions affecting Canadian men. Men’s Health Check is free, anonymous and backed by medical experts.

Are there things you do to boost your mood? Share them in the comments below.