Seeing the pain and suffering of others is never a good thing, but for sufferers of depression, seeing the catastrophic destruction and death in Japan after the massive 9.0 earthquake on March 11, 2011, can be devastating. As everything we watch, listen to or read affects us, seeing the news reports of the earthquake, tsunami, possible meltdown of reactors in their nuclear power plants, and possible eruption of a volcano, is simply overwhelming. It’s difficult to comprehend.
It’s terrifying to see what can happen in a matter of minutes, or even seconds. Those people were going about their daily routines, believing that they would continue to live for many years to come. They were going to work, making plans for dinner, falling in love, having children… They were living their lives, as we all do, and then what must have seemed like the end of the world happened.
As sufferers of depression, many of us dwell on the “what if,” anyway. We fear an accident, the death of loved ones, tornadoes, earthquakes, plane crashes, etc. I don’t mean fleeting thoughts-—I mean focusing and dwelling on them. But when something like the carnage in Japan happens, it begins to feel like doom is just around the corner. We become stressed and overwhelmed with fear. All of these things only serve to magnify our symptoms of depression.
I wish there were a magic “happy pill” to take away all these horrible feelings, but there isn’t one. These are things we have to try to learn to handle. Those who suffer from depression usually have poor coping skills, which compounds the problem. Though there are no “coping pills,” a licensed therapist can help you learn to cope with any issues with which you are trying to cope, including natural (or unnatural) disasters.
When something so horrible happens, we want to know the details. It’s just human nature. It’s like when we drive up on an automobile accident. We feel terrible about what happened, and we hope no one was injured, but we can’t help staring, trying to see as much as we can. It’s the same with earthquakes, hurricanes, and the like. We are drawn to the coverage, but think of how watching it makes you feel. Try to pull yourself away. Try not to watch the almost nonstop coverage of the event. The more you watch, the more you internalize what the victims are feeling. I’m particularly good at internalizing, which means that I can’t watch coverage of it or read about it without crying.
Try to distract yourself by doing something you like. Go for a walk, watch a good movie, or get together with friends. You are not required to suffer and avoid enjoyment because there are others in the world who are suffering. It's okay to laugh and have fun.
Giving money to the Red Cross, or other organizations that provide aid, will not only help those who are experiencing such great loss, but it can also decrease your feelings of helplessness. You feel as if you’re doing something to help, which is always a good thing.
Otherwise, all we can do is pray. Praying, regardless of your faith, is known to release high levels of endorphins, which are natural pain killers. Praying can help you feel better physiologically because of the endorphin rush, but also in that your prayers may be even more helpful to those who are suffering than any money or goods you could provide. We can’t all give money or jump on a ship to go and help, but we can all pray.