Prague Integration is working on a project ”My story, my mental health” where we are interviewing on weekly basis locals and expats in the Czech Republic who are diagnosed and living with different mental health conditions. 

Our intern Alexa, a Psychology and Brain Science student from California is conducting interviews with our dear expats and getting interesting and educational content, where we are trying to share awareness about mental health.

We had the pleasure of hosting Aiko, and spoke with her about her experience with Chronic Clinical Depression.

Read Aiko’s story and share awareness about mental health!

Hello, welcome Aiko! How are you doing?

Pretty good! Nice to meet you!

Please tell us a little about yourself

I have been living in Prague for 15 years, but I did not intend to be here this long. Now I am a permanent resident of the Czech Republic, but I lived in Italy, Germany, and London. I grew up mainly in Japan but spent some time in England as well. I studied cultural anthropology and gender studies, and have my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I have always been interested in social justice, and I got into human rights advocacy work. I enjoyed it, but it became extremely mentally demanding. So, I decided I needed to step away from it. After my masters in the US, I got a job in Italy teaching Japanese, and that is how my teaching career started. Now, I am teaching in Prague. 

To you, what is Chronic Clinical Depression?

I am not sure of all the technical terms, but there is a chemical element in your brain that is supposed to keep your mood balanced. If you have a chemical imbalance, it causes depression. The chronic part of depression not only comes from the chemical imbalance, it can be caused by several things: genetics, a traumatic event, etc. From my experience, I have had depression since I was very young. Of course, at the time I did not know what it was, but looking back I have always had it. I knew that I was not the usual kind of little kid. It was difficult because in Japan you don’t talk about your problems. It has gotten a little better now, but it is still difficult to get therapy and support for mental health issues there. I was always just told to “stop being difficult”. Especially as a girl growing up in Japan, I did not follow what a girl is supposed to act like. 

How did you know you had Chronic Clinical Depression? What were your first symptoms?

My sister is a nurse, and I think it was her that pointed it out to me. It is a little complicated because I never had a good relationship with my parents or my sister which I think probably contributed to my depression. My mother would always say “What should we do with Aiko?” because I wasn’t conforming to how she thought I should be. My sister was a nurse, got married, had children, and did all the right things. My sister would just believe the things my mom would say about me because she moved to the US and did not see me that often. My mom and sister sent me to a couple of therapists that did not help and would shout at me. Finally, I went to a psychiatrist that properly diagnosed me with Chronic Clinical Depression. I was given some medication, but they all had side effects that I did not enjoy. I was told everything is experimental, and I did not want to be a part of that so I decided that dealing with it on my own was the best for me. 

From your perspective, can you tell us how maintaining your mental health plays a role in living with Chronic Clinical Depression?

I think I have learned some things I have to do because I have lived with it all my life. Like I said, I am currently just dealing with it on my own and have been for a while. However, I think it was helpful that I was able to realize that I probably have had depression for most of my life and accept that. For me, I make myself go out with friends and have a fun time. Sometimes, I will write down my feelings, but not very often. I do think that the way I deal with it is still the Japanese way of just not talking about it. I am not sure if that is the best way, but it has been ok for me. I have told 2 or 3 very close friends, but they don’t really understand it. 

Do you have any advice for people living with Chronic Clinical Depression in Prague?

Try to find someone that you feel comfortable enough to confide in when you are having an especially bad wave of it. It is chronic so it is always there, but some days it is much worse than other days. It is hard to give advice because each person deals with it in their own way. My advice would be to be careful who you talk to about it. One time, I told a romantic partner and he would use it against me in fights to bring me even more down or make fun of me. For me, I reveal gradually and later on in the relationship.

What has your experience with support been like in Prague?

I think in Prague, similar to other places, some organizations are just now starting to address mental health. I think it is a recent phenomenon to have support like this, not only here but in other places as well. Again, I was raised differently so it is hard for me to deal with it in any other way. However, I do think these organizations are a good idea for people that really need help.

From your perspective, how can others support the mental health of someone with Chronic Clinical Depression?

I think the worst thing you can say to someone with depression is that everyone gets sad. For me, I get very frustrated when people say that I should go on a walk or do something to make me happy. Sometimes well-meaning people will say that, but it is extremely frustrating and makes me not want to share anymore. If you have time, I think volunteering at a place that provides help is a great way to support those with depression. 

However, the easiest and best way to support is just to listen. If you have a friend or family member with depression, or even just a stranger that wants to open up to you, keep an open mind about it. For me, it is so nice to have someone just sit there and listen to me without judgment. They don’t have to do or say anything really, just sit and listen. I think people are oftentimes sympathetic but are not willing to genuinely listen. It is also important to realize that you cannot fully understand what they are going through, but you can just be someone they can trust to tell. You also don’t want to seem like you feel sorry or pity for them, because this makes me feel even worse. It sounds like it can be tricky, but listening wholeheartedly and genuinely is the best way to support someone with Chronic Clinical Depression. 

Thank you for talking today, we really appreciate your time!