Depression is an illness, just like diabetes, cancer, or heart disease. It is a brain disorder that can affect both the mind and the body. But for some reason, people who suffer from it are afraid to tell anyone about it. We are afraid of being shamed, misunderstood, and generally stigmatized.
There is so much information available to anyone to be able to learn about this illness, yet ignorance still runs rampant. So we keep it “hush hush.” We whisper it when we do talk about it, and we are very selective about the people we tell.
Sometimes when we open up about our depression, we aren’t met with ignorance, but instead, someone who seems to know exactly how we can cure ourselves. “Oh, just meditate every day and you’ll see so much better!” “Have you tried yoga or essential oils?” “Just get some meds.” And I swear to God, the next person who tells me to “just think positive” is going to get throat punched!
I mean sure, a lot of those things do help ease the symptoms of depression, for some people. But do you really think the person with depression that you’re talking to hasn’t either tried or considered these things yet? None of these things are guaranteed to work (yes, even meds) and they absolutely will not cure depression. People need to do what works for them, and if yoga doesn’t work for them, then stop pushing it! The only person who should be suggesting treatment options is their doctor. So if you’re going to encourage anything, encourage them to see their doctor about their depression.
Depression is a spectrum disorder. This means that the intensity and severity has a very wide range. Everyone sits somewhere different on the spectrum, and they can move around the spectrum as well. And yes, there is a point when it becomes life threatening. If someone is at that point on the spectrum, essential oils aren’t going to cut it.
Despite how intensely horrible a person suffering a depressive crisis will feel, they know they won’t get the same care from friends or family as they would for other illnesses.
If a loved one has a cold, a friend will bring them a bowl of soup, cough drops and tissues. When a mother has a new baby, friends and family will come over to help care for the baby and do household chores to give mama time to rest. When someone is recovering from surgery, people will come over to help with cooking meals. These are all wonderful kind gestures that are really appreciated.
But guess what? Your loved one going through a depressive episode would also appreciate these things. They are having a hard time getting out of bed, so cleaning and cooking don’t get done. Which then makes the person feel worse. If we treated depression like any other illness, we would be bringing them food, offering help, maybe even giving them some beautiful flowers in hopes of putting a smile on their face.
What actually happens though? People back away. They act as if your illness is an inconvenience to them, so they decide to just wait until you get better by yourself before talking to you again. Some people might try helping at first. But often in these cases, you don’t get better fast enough, so they give up.
This causes the person dealing with depression to build up resentment towards their friends and family. They feel unloved, unimportant, and broken hearted.
So my question is, why don’t people treat it the same as surgery, the flu, diabetes, or having a new baby? The stigma and ignorance are a huge factor here. But what it often comes down to is…
“I don’t know what to do/say.”
First of all, you don’t HAVE to say anything. You just need to show up. Bring your depressed friend food from their favourite place, and just be with them. Let them do most of the talking, allow them to direct the conversation. If they don’t feel like talking, that’s fine too. If you really really feel like you need to say something, be honest. Say “I’m so sorry, I really want to help, but I have no idea what to say or do, but just know, I’m here for you.” That would mean the world to me!
Secondly, I think in some cases, this comes from a place of ignorance. There are tons of resources out there for helping people learn what they can do for their loved ones. So when you find yourself thinking that you won’t go visit a friend in a depressive crisis because you don’t know what to say, ask yourself what you’ve done to learn about what you can say or do.
I hope someday we will live in a world where mental illness is seen as what it is, an illness. I want people to be able to say they are having a depressive episode, and for friends and family to be understanding, and offer some help and support. I want people to not be afraid to tell someone they have depression, and because of this, be able to get the help they need a lot sooner.
This starts with us. Let’s work together to end the stigma, let’s help our loved ones with depression the same way we would if they had cancer. Let’s call out ignorance, and not tolerate shaming. We can do this.