I don’t have clinical depression, but I grew up around it. My brother, my sister, my father all have–had–varying degrees and diagnosis.
I am certainly not an expert. I’m a compassionate outsider looking in.
But I hope as someone who has witnessed its aftermath, I can help bring some more understanding around it, especially to those with no experience.
First, I’d want to direct you to someone who not only has experienced it first hand, but who can say it far more eloquently than I can, Mr. Stephen Fry.
Secondly, I really need you to understand this seemingly simple concept: Depression is a disease.
I’m going to pull a page from the article I referenced earlier and I want you to imagine that we’re talking about cancer. And think about all the amazing strides we’ve made in medical science to curing it. Think of all that work and how regrettably in some cases all of that work is still not enough to save a person.
Now imagine that we didn’t take cancer seriously. Imagine for a moment that it didn’t resonate that small little ache with almost anyone who hears it. Imagine that people judged you rather than embraced you when you told them you had cancer. Imagine feeling embarrassed for just visiting your doctor or taking your medication. That people told you that you just needed to “snap out of it”, that you weren’t trying hard enough and that’s why your tumors were growing.
Gut-wrenchingly horrible, isn’t it?
This is how our society treats depression. This is also, perhaps, why the suicide rate is nearly double that of homicide.
Yesterday I talked about my brother and how important it was to take care of yourself.
I was approached by an acquaintance who, despite their good intentions, said perhaps one of the most ignorant response I’ve ever heard in reaction to suicide. “I don’t agree with his decision but I respect that it was his decision.”
First, never tell anyone that you respect their loved one’s choice to end their own life–you don’t know the situation. You also do not know THAT person’s mental state and were I far less stable in my mourning process, his words could have caused a whole new set of problems.
Please, understand that suicide is not a ‘do-not-resuscitate’ request.
Second, it was not his decision. And that is the most important thing of all to remember. My brother struggled with mental illness. When we were younger it manifested in violent fits of rage, as we grew, he turned more inward and while those fits were less common, they were more often turned on himself.
He was sick. And because he was ashamed of that, he didn’t get help–he didn’t want help. And eventually that disease ate enough of him that he became convinced he did not deserve help.
Joel was right when he said there was nothing any of us could have done to stop him. However, it would be a lie to say that means what happened could not have been prevented. And that’s why this cause is so important to me.
He wasn’t taking his medication and he refused to talk to anyone about it–friends or professionals. He had long let the disease rule him.
People deserve to have control over their lives, to be able to think clearly.
Depression doesn’t allow that. You can try to down-talk its impact on people’s lives all you want but it will not change the fact that it is a mental illness. It is a disease, a sickness, a literal imbalance of chemicals in your body. It needs to be treated with respect and above all it needs to be treated.
A person is not weak for needing medication to get through day-to-day. To feel normal.
People take medication every day for their heart, for diabetes, to keep things like HIV and cancer at bay. Why have we got it in our brains that depression is any different?
Maybe it’s that word. The fact that we use it interchangeably for simply feeling sad–for being upset by external causes.
But as someone who has watched it tear at my family for as long as I can remember, please believe me, it’s a very real disease. And it’s one I intend to fight with all my strength.
If you think you may have clinical depression, please see someone. Do not be ashamed of something you have absolutely no control of. There is no just “snapping out” of a chemical imbalance, just like you can’t snap out of having a blood disease or a brain tumor.
It’s a hard process, and it will take time to find what’s right for you. But it can and will get better. And you deserve to feel comfortable in your own skin. That voice that says you aren’t worth it? It’s a damn liar. And it could not be more wrong about you.
You, my wonderful friends, are independently awesome.