I don’t know if you have ever spoken to a so called expert and after about five minutes into the conversation in dawns on you that they don’t know what they are talking about. This week I had occasion to be in the company of professionals who work with people who have mental health issues. The conversation went something like this.
Me: “What is depression?”
Expert: “Depression is when you’re feel depressed”. No sh** Sherlock!
I tried again.
Me: “Could you tell me what is the opposite of depression?”
Expert: “Good question!” This is normally code for ‘I don’t know the answer to this one’. But experts being who they are will never let a lack of knowledge get in the way of a sermon.
Expert: “The opposite of depression is happiness”. Well clearly the opposite of depression is not happiness. The opposite of happiness is sadness. Depression is more than sadness. People who are sad probably can pinpoint a reason for their sadness. With depression there is no apparent reason. And therein lies the problem. Contrary to popular belief it can’t be shaken off. People can’t pull themselves together. People can’t just get over it.
Depression has always been an issue for human beings.
Symptoms of depression can be traced back to the bible and King Saul. Many greats such as Hippocrates and Freud have taken a stab at defining depression and failed. One consistent thing is that people with depression through the ages were treated with little to no dignity. Treatments ranged from beatings, starvation, strange diets to being burnt at the stake…holes drilled into their heads…and electric shock treatment. Not so long ago people thought that depression was linked to the activities of the moon and so people who showed behaviour that didn’t fit in with what was deemed ‘normal’ at the time were locked away in ‘lunatic’ asylums. Forever!
It stands to reason with this backdrop, people are petrified of anything to do with the mind. I see it all the time. People are so afraid of losing their mind that they lose their minds. Mental illness is as stigmatic today as it was centuries ago. People think that by talking about depression, it will appear like a genie out of a bottle. And at the same token if they don’t talk about it…it will disappear. But it will not disappear…350 million people suffer with depression worldwide. And these are the people that we know about. There are many more that suffer in silence.
I don’t supposed you have ever been inside a mental ward in a hospital. If you have then you will agree with me that it is one of the terrifying places on earth. In the circles that I move in I have had to visit mental wards from time to time. I will never forget my first time. I can remember one young woman screaming in my face. “Who are you? Who are you? I said who are you?” for what seemed like an eternity. Suddenly she stopped and announced that she was Madonna. Not the Virgin Mary the other one. I mention this to draw distinction between mental illness and mental health. Mental illness is when the person experiences disorder in their behaviour and thinking. They may lose a sense of what we call reality. Mental health is a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being. So the condition can be good or bad. Stress for example is bad. Resilience is good.
We are all too quick to lump mental illness and mental health in the same basket.
The depression quiz
1. Who suffers from depression?
Anyone… at any time…for any reason and no reason!
2. What causes depression?
Some people have a leaning towards depression. Some people learn depression because they were raised in a depressive environment. Some people have no coping strategies for live and so they get depressed. Some people wake up depressed. Some people get depressed if they lose a loved one….a job…an opportunities. Some people get depressed because of illness…age…worry…you name it!
3. Can depression be a chemical, biological or physical imbalance?
4. Is depression a social issue?
5. Do children get depressed?
Yes. One in ten children suffer from depression.
6. Do pills help depression?
Yes and no!
In some cases a person may be so far ‘removed from themselves’ that they need medication. The double bind is that pills come with side effects and one of the side effects of is depression.
Depression is a wound of the mind and soul. It is a by-product of life and living. Some people pay the price more than other. Because they are more sensitive and they feel more and so they get bruised more.
We need to stop stigmatizing depression…we need to stop being afraid…and we need to start talking about it. We should be able to talk about depression as openly as we talk about the common cold because after all it is as common as the common cold.
I suffered from a form of depression when each of my parents died. I remember walking down the street after days of being in bed… staring into space… not washing or eating and a woman said to me “cheer up it may never happen”. Outwardly I sort of smiled. Her stupid comment pissed me off beyond words.
People really don’t know what to say. The last thing you want to hear when you are depressed is “pull yourself together” or “you’ll get over it” or “time is a healer”. The worst of all is trying to pretend to be ‘Ok’ when deep down you are not! People who suffer from depression find themselves in the ridiculous situation of pretending to be fine…being concerned about what people think of them… or fearful of upsetting friends and family or being a burden to anyone… or being a party pooper. When all the want to do is scream.
Depression is real. It is a very individual thing. The symptoms are specific to the sufferer alone. No two depression are the same. It is also universal. It is a human condition and therefore it should be treated humanely. People shouldn’t be ostracised because of the way that they are. I don’t know what the cure is. But a good place to start would be to treat people who suffer from depression with dignity, love, kindness, inclusiveness and understanding.
Why? Because there but for the grace of God go you and I.