A slightly edited version article was also published by Stuff.co.nz
I lied in that title. It should really say 6 things I, someone with depression, want you to know. That’s the thing about depression or anxiety or mental illness in general; it hasn’t been studied long enough to have an exact cure. Maybe it never will. The point is, society doesn’t totally understand it. We do know that it’s a very personal thing, like your memories or personality; each person experiences it slightly differently. For some it’s completely chemical based. Your brain isn’t doing what you want it to and you fall apart. For others it’s a traumatic experience. For most it lies somewhere in between.
Media outlets have been overrun with reports of suicide in the last year,
and if the stack of deaths in the last year is anything to go by, it isn’t going to slow down anytime soon. It’s the number one killer for men under 50 in the USA while New Zealand has the second highest rate of youth suicide in the world.
Yet we are scared to write those specific words as if not saying them makes them less true. It goes unsaid in articles about Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Chester Bennington and even our own Greg Boyde. We are meant to read between the lines – If the specifics of how they died aren’t mentioned, and there is mention of depression or mental illness then it was probably suicide. It can take weeks and weeks for any mention of the word suicide to pop up on anything official.
There should be no shame in mental illness. There should be no shame is suicide. No scandal. It is tragic and horrific and sad however, it isn’t shameful. Is it shameful to die of cancer? No, of course not. Depression is a cancer of the mind and dying from it, is sadly, something that millions of people do.
Here are some things you should think about when encountering someone with depression.
Be Kind. Being unable to leave the four walls of your bedroom/house is an actual, real thing. And it sucks. Being told you’re a shit friend because you didn’t make it out that night or that you went home early is the worst thing you can say to someone struggling with depression. Doing so simply perpetuates the feelings of anxiety and guilt and lowers their sense of self worth (even though at this point, it’s probably already pretty low). Being out and around people, especially in a overwhelming situation like a bar or a party, can be one of the worst things imaginable. Don’t make it worse by laying on the guilt.
One of the best things you can do is just be there for them. Even if it’s in silence. Even if it’s just sitting there letting the person know you care and they aren’t alone. Go to them. You can’t ask someone with severe depression to make the decision to see you, they are incapable of making rash decisions at this stage. Mental Illness isn’t something you naturally share. You retreat into yourself. You cut the world off because you don’t want to be a burden. Depressed people don’t seek out support and comfort. Facebook pages about the door always being open don’t work because depressed people will not go to you, you have to go to them.
Don’t Judge someone for taking medication or seeing a Doctor/ Councillor. Weird that I even need to remind the public: but there should be no stigma about seeking help. It should be praised. I have been on anti-anxiety medication for well over five years and it’s something I don’t plan to stop anytime soon. It works well for me and it helps me function like a regular person. Remember that sometimes mental illness is a chemical imbalance and telling someone they should stop their meds and try a more ‘natural’ approach is dangerous advice. If you’re not their Doctor then don’t give unsolicited advice. Further, if you find out an acquaintance or colleague is seeking professional help – please don’t make assumptions or jump to conclusions about their situation. All it indicates is the person is mature enough to want to unpack whatever issues they may be struggling with in a safe environment. We should all be that mature. It makes me sad when friends confide they are talking to someone, as if it’s something they are ashamed about, something they will be judged for. For anyone reading this who is thinking about or is talking to a professional – you’re amazing. Taking this step shows how strong and resilient you are, and you should be proud.
You can’t save someone struggling with mental illness. If someone in your life is battling the great beast; and they seem to be losing, you probably can’t pull them out of it alone. No matter who you are to them. No matter how much you love them. Get help, get support, get a community rallied around you both so neither of you are alone in the battle. If you tackle this alone you’re more likely to get pulled in rather than pull them out.
Depressed people aren’t lazy. No one wants to stay in bed all day. feeling like you’re missing out on life while simultaneously making yourself miss out on life is one of the worst things that we can do to ourselves. The hopelessness and despair you feel at this point is often what leads toward suicide. Small things seems overwhelming such as re-registering your car, tidying up or meeting for coffee. It’s hard to understand from the outside, but simply functioning day-to-day is such an enormous task it becomes impossible.
Just because someone seems happy doesn’t mean they are. Some of the bubbliest, outgoing and kind people I have met have suffered from staggering mental illness which has landed them in and out of rehabilitation clinics. It can be difficult to see the signs of mental illness and is one of the reasons that suicide is often so shocking and unexpected. The best thing we can do is let our loved ones know that it’s OK to not be perfect or strong or happy all the time. Let them know that you’re there for them and talking to you is a safe space.
Mental Illness needs to be viewed the same as any physical illness – with no distinction. Suicide should not be taboo, it’s the final act of someone desperately fighting with a sickness they have ultimately lost the battle with. Let’s come together and openly talk about these things so depression, suicide and mental illness are all humanised and people suffering don’t feel so alone and incompetent.