It’s Mental Health Week here in Australia so everyone is talking about mental illness. Mostly we’re talking about depression, because so bloody many of us have it. I’d really like to see more from people suffering bipolar, or schizophrenia, but it’s much easier to find people who have depression. I’m cranky, because dwelling on depression is not what I’m supposed to be doing right now, but I can’t avoid it. Seriously, by now, we should have a fantastic understanding of depression particularly, and our society should really be doing better at helping people suffering it.
There’s a perception that depression is stigmatised. I don’t think it is, especially for us creative types. A bit of suffering goes with the territory. Among my close group of writing friends, a whole bunch of us struggle with chronic depression. Saying “I have depression” is fine. What’s NOT fine, is what depression does to you, and specifically, how it affects other people.
In my case, I thought I was recovered from the worst of my depression, and I took on a fairly important role in a community organisation. All was going well until several life stressors combined to push me back in the pit, and I totally dropped the ball. I was suicidal. I can say that now, because there is distance. But at the time I struggled to talk to anyone, because I thought no one would believe me, or think I was looking for attention. I made a plan and everything. I had no money to get help. I had no GP I trusted to talk to, as my GP had left and it’s not something you can talk about with just any GP. I survived it, though it left some deep scars. And through all this, I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing. I remain forever grateful that the people I worked with were supportive and never made me feel bad about letting them down. I ended up resigning as I knew I couldn’t fulfil my responsibilities and I needed to get myself well again.
Many months later, I find myself depressed again. Thankfully this time I have been able to reach out to people, I have a GP I can talk to, and I know I can ask for financial help if need be. That the process for getting help is as difficult as it is, angers me. That people eye-roll because I have perfectly valid reasons for wanting to avoid medication, angers me. I’m glad to see people are finally talking about why they may not want to go on meds (or why they come off them) because for so long the narrative for wellness has been *go on meds see a psych all better except for some down days*. Refusing medication isn’t wanting to stay depressed. It’s a risk / benefit analysis and it’s deeply personal.
For me, the scars are complicated. That’s why I need to speak to a professional. I don’t know how to think my way out of this. I’m wary of ever taking on certain kinds of responsibility ever again. I don’t want to drop the ball again, to let people down, because the dysfunctions that come FROM depression are stigmatised, not the depression itself (in my experience—I’m aware for men it can be harder to acknowledge).
It’s not enough to have a vague awareness of “depression”. We need to be aware of the people, and the effects. Have a friend who’s dropped out of society? Maybe send them a text to ask if they’re ok… or better, do they want to catch up? Someone seems to be doing a shit job in a volunteer role? Offer to help, ask them how they’re doing. Be aware that depression forces us to prioritise as we have limited resources, so volunteer roles tend to fall to the bottom of the heap. It’s ok to not offer to be a shoulder to cry on. One thing that makes me hesitate before reaching out is a desire to not burden people who are suffering themselves, for fear it may push them over the edge. I think we need to have a discussion about how to safeguard ourselves while still supporting others, or helping people find the help they need.
Don’t make assumptions of people’s motivations. No, it’s not always possible to see who has depression. Some of us don’t like talking about it, especially when we’re in the thick of it. But if these awareness weeks do ANYTHING, they need to make us aware that people may be suffering in silence. It’s not enough to give lip service to “awareness” without understanding what you can do to BE more aware, and what you can DO with that awareness.
Lifeline (Australia): 13 11 14