I was just informed by WordPress a few days ago that it was my 4th anniversary of blogging. When I started this blog four years ago, there was one topic I vowed to never
talk write about. That topic was depression. Because there’s this stigma associated with depression and I know it too well.
I remember my first struggles with depression came when I was in my second year of college. But I didn’t know it was depression. I thought I had a bad case of homesickness. And I was homesick, but it became much more than that. I kept it all inside though. Even after my visit to a physician and my “official diagnosis,” I kept it to myself for a long time.
I remember when my father died in 1994, my world became so dark with grief that there were times I didn’t think I would survive. This was a scary feeling for me. Especially scary because I was a new mom, having just had my second son. I felt like I was in a deep, dark hole and hard as I tried, I couldn’t emerge. In my mind, I truly felt I was going to be in that dark hole forever and that there was no way out. All I wanted to do was sleep, to turn off my brain and all thought processes. I felt worthless, shameful, and hopeless. There wasn’t much I liked about myself. I didn’t understand those dark thoughts either because after all, I was happily married to a wonderful man, had a precious, beautiful four-year old son, and a bouncing adorable little bald-headed baby boy, a nice home, a job, etc. So why was I so unhappy? I just didn’t get it. I remember FINALLY getting the nerve to discuss these feelings with my mother. I had decided at this point to seek therapy (I knew I was in a scary place and believe me, I wanted help). I. WANTED. HELP. My mother was horrified. Her reaction after I told her of my decision and my desire to see a therapist was: “Where did I go wrong with you to make you feel you need therapy? ” This only made my self-deprecating thoughts worse. To my mother, going for therapy was “airing your dirty laundry.” I’m pretty sure that’s how she was brought up to view therapy. She was dead set against it.
But I went anyway. The first thing I remember the therapist doing after our initial introductions, was to thank me for coming in. You see, she explained that coming for therapy took a lot of courage. And though, I hadn’t exactly thought of it in those terms, she was right. It did take a lot of courage, just as pushing the publish button on this post is going to take an extreme amount of courage. Another thing I learned about therapy, is that it is very hard work. Hard work, but necessary.
When I heard the news about the suicide of Robin Williams, there were just no words. I felt so very sad for this man who I didn’t even know personally and to be honest, was never really a big fan of. I became angry when I started reading that people were on social media sites spouting off cruel and insensitive things such as: “people who commit suicide are cowards,” or “people who commit suicide are so selfish.” We’re all entitled to our own opinions and I happen to not agree with either of these statements. I’ve learned people can be so mean and cruel and say things to others on social media that they would NEVER say to their face. And that right there my friends is EXACTLY why I don’t “do” social media. It’s why I deleted my Facebook account two years ago and why I’m pretty sure I’ll never get back on it. I saw that cruelty come out in people more than once. And I’d see these same people –the people spewing hatred on Facebook– on bended knee in church the following Sunday and it literally made me sick.
Depression is a medical illness. Let me repeat that. DEPRESSION IS A MEDICAL ILLNESS. Like diabetes, or cancer, or cardiovascular disease, it’s a real disease. People who are depressed do not choose to feel that way. Depression is a mood disorder with biological, psychological and interpersonal components. Because depression is an illness that causes emotional and behavioral changes, it is often regarded as a character weakness or a personality flaw. This stigma is a major barrier to patients seeking treatment for depression. What a shame, since most cases of depression can be successfully treated.
Clinical depression is more than just a feeling of sadness. Everyone periodically experiences pain, grief, and sadness at one time or another. That’s part of being human. When depression rules your life, there is a certain level of indescribable pain and misery that stays with you at all times. Depression drains you of your energy, robs you of the pleasures of life, disrupts your sleep, appetite, concentration, and interferes significantly with an individual’s ability to function and enjoy everyday life. It causes feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. Depressed people look in the mirror and never like what they see looking back. They notice only the negative and the imperfections. Nothing in life seems worthwhile. Finding the energy to get out of bed in the morning is literally a major challenge. Yet, many people who suffer from depression find the strength to do just that. They muster up the energy to get out of bed, trudge to work, put on that happy face, and succeed in hiding their illness day after day. And then there are those that can no longer do that and choose to end their life. We never know the demons others are dealing with. We never know what others are feeling or what they are going through. Therefore, it’s not right of us to judge.
All too often, people with depression are told to “snap out of it,” to “pull themselves together, “to go out and exercise,” to quit feeling sorry for themselves,” to “find a hobby that will make them happy,” or my personal favorite, “to find God.” Let me make it clear that I’m a Christian, but I don’t think being a Christian offers immunity from clinical depression anymore than it would offer immunity from kidney stones or heart attacks or cancer. Depression can not be walked, wished or willed away anymore than diabetes or cancer can be. I do believe that having a strong Christian faith and prayer can help one deal with the illness of depression a little better.
Depressed people are not crazy people. They are doctors, lawyers, teachers, pastors, artists, musicians, comedians, parents, children, grandparents, and presidents, just to name a few. Just look at Abraham Lincoln, Calvin Coolidge, Winston Churchill, Diana, Princess of Wales, Dick Clark, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Buzz Aldrin as a few examples. Depression knows no boundaries. It affects both sexes and people of all races, ages and religions.
Major depression costs our nation billions of dollars every year in medical treatments, lost productivity in the workplace, and social services. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. Therefore depression greatly affects our nation and every single person in it. It takes a horrendous toll on its victims and their families and friends. IT KILLS. Too often, untreated or inadequately treated depression ends in suicide.
It is so important to understand that if you have depression, you have a health problem that requires professional treatment. Treatment is multimodal and individualized. What works for one person, may not work for another. Treatment for depression is a little more complicated than just popping a daily Prozac.
It is my hope that we can stop hiding behind this widely misunderstood illness. It’s time to bring it out in the open and start talking about it. Families and friends of depressed people are an extremely important part of the support system, but they often don’t know where to start in bringing help to the person suffering. Help that person get a proper diagnosis by a professional so that a treatment plan can be instituted. Offer that person emotional support. Sometimes that emotional support can be as simple as a hug. It is important that the depressed person know that someone is there for them, to listen to them, to tell them that they are not alone and that they will get through it. When I was in the black hole of depression after my father’s death, the most comforting thing for me at the therapist’s office was getting that hug at the end of our session and hearing her say, “We will get you through this.” I can’t tell you how much hope those six little words gave to me! Sometimes, we have to take steps to help people recognize when it’s time to seek professional help, and above all, to convey to them that this illness can be treated. Sure, it can be difficult to be around depressed people. They can be very negative and frustrating to be around. They’re sad. They’re depressed after all. And they know it and this often keeps them from wanting to talk to anybody about how they’re feeling. When I’m in that black hole of depression, I sometimes do not want to talk to my therapist, or my priest, or my best friend, or anyone, for fear of coming across as a Debbie Downer. No one wants to be known as a negative person, and when I’m in that black hole of depression, I’m filled with negativity.
It’s time we stop hiding behind the stigma of depression. It’s time we start giving support and encouragement, and above all, it’s time to educate the world on the devastating facts of depression. One person dying from depression is one person too many.