Beating The Odds: A Real Talk on Depression and the Importance of Reaching Out

The writer with his supportive colleagues — after finally recovered his depression. (Photo by author)

You might have read numerous happy, motivational articles on this platform. This is not one of those. This is a real talk, a slap to our head, a wake-up call to tell you that living and studying abroad are not always glitters and rainbows — and even if they are, what you see might not be the real condition, because depression is real and is lurking around the corner for some. Our brave survivor, Endri, shares his experience and takeaways from his struggle to remind all of us that depression is a disease, and like most diseases, there are things we can do to make it better — for ourselves and for others.

Most people visit Indonesia Mengglobal website to seek motivation and bits of advice to study abroad. It is rightly so, Indonesia Mengglobal is packed with success stories from Indonesian all over the world. I am also a regular visitor to this website. I can find excellent examples of a great essay to inspire me.

This article is different. This is a story about failures. This is a story about being fragile and vulnerable. Three years ago I attempted to take out my own life several times. The first was past midnight, just one day after my master’s degree graduation ceremony. Two Swedish police officers saved me by storming my apartment in the early morning. I did not have any academic problem. I was a bright student. I worked part-time to help first-year students on difficult courses. I also worked as a personal mentor to two students with special needs. I helped several classmates with their theses. Nevertheless, I suffered from a suicidal depression.

Depression is a disease. Depression is on a completely different level than a stress we commonly experience and complain about. Depression made me feel like I’m a failure, that nothing in this world means anything to me anymore. I felt extremely sad. I shut myself in my own apartment for weeks. I canceled any social gatherings I signed up to. I rejected all invitation to hang up. In another period, I felt numb. Nothing gave me joy anymore. Nothing. Not even a degree can make me smile.

I felt shame to reach out at that time. I was a chairman of Indonesian Student Association in Sweden. I was a cheerful bright student. Moreover, despite being a medical doctor, I didn’t know that what I experienced was a disease called depression. I thought it was just stress, or probably homesickness. I didn’t know I needed to cry for help. I didn’t know help was available. I didn’t know there is a treatment for depression. Thus, nobody knew about my pain and struggle.

One of Endri's graduation pictures in Sweden. (Photo by author)
One of Endri’s graduation pictures in Sweden. (Photo by author)

This article is not to discourage you to pursue higher education in leading universities. Instead, I’m trying to convey a message that everyone breaks at some point in their lives. It’s hard to aware of it because we are living in a social media bubble. We are so used to seeing and posting happy memories only. Social media creates biased lives. It is as if it’s forbidden to post things which depict an unhappy life. It can be even worse if your circle of friends is loaded with scholarship awardees. It seems like as if we were competing to show off our academic and career achievements to the public, while pushing aside our struggle and keep it secret from anyone.

My experience with depression opened me to the world of mental health. I discovered that mental illness such as depression is very common, in particular for students living abroad. PhD students are in the higher risk group. I have, since, talked with hundreds of Indonesian students in all over the world who suffer from mental illness. Some are fellow survivors, some are still in a war with mental illness. Some common triggers are academic problems, love issues, and cultural adaptation problems. Some were caused by the long dark coldness of winter, known as winter depression. Yes, a lack of sunshine can cause depression. Most of them choose to keep it secret because talking about mental illness is such a difficult task. Some were so brave to see a doctor in a clinic. The experience of visiting a clinic blew them away. Everyone thinks they are the only one in the world who experience depression. Yet, the mental health clinic is never quiet. So many students seek help for their mental health problems. How come then we never hear about this at all?

It’s ok to ask for help. It’s ok to visit your campus clinic for a mental problem. It’s ok to talk about your pain. It’s ok to let your friends see your fragile side of you. Learn from my mistake. Don’t wait until police bang your door. I was lucky. A friend called the police when he sensed there was something with me. My two friends were not lucky. I lost them from suicide when they were studying abroad. You can’t read it in the news. Their parents did not want anyone to know that they died of suicide.

Talking about it is hard, extremely hard. I remember the first time I shared my story about my suicide attempt in Facebook. Some people thought it was fiction. Dude! However, that was not entirely their faults. For something people never talk about, I should have written a better post so that people would not misunderstand me. At that time, only those who had through depression period understood my FB post, and they did send private messages. There were fifty of them. Fifty! Fifty people in my Facebook circle had suffered from depression!

What if someone you know is having a hard time? I know most people will try to give advice, a solution to fix the problem. However, you can’t fix mental illness. Well, not the way you imagine it. You can’t say “pull yourself together” or “snap out of it”. If one can pull oneself together on him/herself, that’s not depression. The fact that one can’t pull it together qualifies it as depression. But you can help a friend to be someone who will listen. Be someone who will keep your friend accompanied during visits to a mental health clinic. Be someone who will call the police if you think your friend is in danger of committing suicide.

I have recovered from depression. It took me more than a year. However, I prefer to say I have made peace with my depression. I will leave you with a vlog featuring my former classmate who promptly called the local police station.

Many universities have a mental health clinic. Feel free to contact the clinic to make an appointment. Reach out for help. Keep people who can help you through this darkness. Despite you may feel hopeless, you are not the only one who has had to pass through this. You are not alone. There are people who care, but you need to let them know that you need help.


SUICIDE HOTLINES (if it’s not up-to-date, please contact the author or IM admin)

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Endri Budiwan studied Master in Public Health in Lund University with LPDP scholarship in 2013. He has years of experience working in emergency disaster response, community development, and neglected tropical diseases. He has a personal blog at where he writes about his experience in battling depression. The blog is one of the first that covers depression from a survivor perspective and the blog brought him to the world of mental health. He is now actively doing campaign about mental health and is planning to start a non-profit in mental health. Never been physically active before, he now loves doing exercise such as running, biking, and swimming which he initially started as an adjunct-therapy for depression.


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