Saturday, 19 February 2011

Is Depression Your God?

I was told once that depression was my God by a so-called Christian group which I didn't consider a very compassionate, nor a Christian thing to do. What I was trying to tell them at the time, (because they asked me to), was about my life in which depression has featured. (Thankfully not all Christian groups are like that one).

A couple of things worth flagging up here...
1. Depression by it's very nature is a debilitating condition. The sufferer cannot 'snap out of it'. If they could they wouldn't be depressed. As I've mentioned before, when people are depressed they tend to become totally absorbed with and consumed by negativity sometimes to the point of nothing else existing.

When people are like this, if they talk (and often they try their best never to do so), they do so because they are looking for help. Their troubles are in the present and haven't been resolved and those troubles can have a very understandable cause such as a death, job loss, stress at work or over a loved one's well-being. These are things that any of us could encounter in our lives at any point. As much as anything depressed people need to talk as part of the solution seeking process.

2. There's a sharp distinction between someone sharing something about their past and something they are still experiencing. Recalling memories of depression I see as the equivalent of another person recalling a divorce they've been through or a rotten job they've had or even recounting happy memories of a fabulous holiday. Why shouldn't someone who has been depressed pretend it hasn't happened? Why should they deny it or hide it? Is that not part of the reason why the stigma over mental illnesses prevails? How can people become less ignorant unless sufferers share what it's really like?

There is a difference of course between wearing a past trauma on your sleeve and just talking about it when it crops up as relevant to a conversation or when asked. Using it as a source of sympathetic attention to get what we want is not, in my view, what it's about. What we really need is acknowledgement for those experiences not sympathy.

When I came out of hospital I was extremely sensitive to any reference to mental illness. I started being offended by the language people used; words like "nutter", "fruitcake", "psycho", "mental" and "bonkers" all made me cringe because for the first time in my life I knew I could and (in some instances) was being seen as a sub-class of human being, one that wasn't welcome, was never going to be accepted and therefore a reject and one which these words were hurtfully being applied to.

From there I began to look for signs of stigma whereas I perhaps would have done better to look for places and people where it doesn't exist and stuck to them like glue. The maxim 'we find what we look for' really does hold true. There are instances where I have been wrong about people simply because those individuals haven't known what words to use in their efforts to try and understand.

Then again people use potentially harmful language because they are afraid of the subject, don't want to look at it in case they find they too could become ill. I use the word 'potentially' because it is up to us to not let it harm us, to let it float over our heads. "Easier said than done" I hear you cry and yes, you're right. But just as bigots are dismissive of what they don't like and are afraid of, why should not we be dismissive of what we don't like too?

I confess that on occasion I've applied words like "nutter" to myself in defiance of those who seek to look down on me. I know isn't always a popular tactic with other sufferers, but I do it to show the would-be bullies of this world that I am unafraid and to reclaim the language. As a consequence I don't care what people call me anymore. This way of fighting the stigma really has to be a personal choice of how or indeed whether we confront it head on or not. Much depends on our confidence levels and our personalities. Be true to yourselves on this is what I recommend and don't ever feel you have to follow my, or anyone else's example.

Over here in the UK positive action is being taken to fight the stigma in a campaign called Time to Change It is currently trying to encourage sufferers of mental illness of whatever kind to speak out about their experiences. It's an attempt to give us an opportunity to have our say, to give us a voice. People will always have the choice of whether or not they make assumptions or deal in facts, on whether they remain ignorant or get informed. The campaign also highlights many of the unfairnesses that are prevalent in mainstream society concerning how sufferers are regarded and responded to.

Yep, I've signed up to it, but... I think it important to remember that mental illness is only one aspect of our experiences and who we are. Undoubtedly it has been an influential part of the development of our characters, but it is not the only factor nor the sum total of our existence. From my own experience of working with MIND I am constantly reminded of how normal, average, sensible, considerate and compassionate people can be even when ill.

To become well we capitalize on what is working ok while acknowledging what's not. To only focus on what isn't working in my opinion only serves to perpetuate and escalate the problem. Yes, we need to address whatever it is that makes us unwell, but by also looking at what is still fine, what we enjoy and like we soon come to realize that the illness is not all consuming and nor is it an absolute of who we are. As with everything there needs to be a balance for us to reach our goal of wellness.

Sadly a perception remains that if we talk about our illness then we are ill and that depression is our God. The truth is that by not talking we jeopardize our chances of recovery and part of that process includes integrating back into mainstream society.

Folks, I'm glad to say not everyone is prejudiced so look out for them. Their numbers are growing because of campaigns like Time to Change, and at long last it's happening - people are gradually beginning to twig that we wholeheartedly deserve our place in the world too and that our bouts of illness are just that and nothing to be ashamed of.


  1. This "Depression Is Your God" comment is so ignorant that I can hardly believe that the commentators have enough grey matter to enable them to speak the words. Of course it is ideal to blame the victim of something that you are afraid of or don't understand. It is also insulting, demeaning, stigmatising and cruel. I suppose that epileptics are possessed of the devil, that migraine sufferers are hypochondriacs and women who have given birth should be isolated in a hut away from men for 30 days. Yeah, that all makes as much sense as worshipping depression as a god.

  2. I agree but such is the reality of the world we live in. Some people stubbornly remain as heartless and as ignorant as that.

    To me though it indicates unaddressed problems or 'issues' within them. Would there was a law which decreed that any form of bigotry or prejudice resulted in a mandatory spell of comprehensive counselling, but there isn't.

    In truth there are decent folk about among whom there is a high level of understanding as well of those of mere good intent. Good intent if misplaced can cause harm but here we can do something about it for we have the option to speak out about what we need and what we'd prefer by way of support instead.


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