On World Mental Health Day, it’s worth noting, again, just how alone people with depression are and feel. Not everyone seems to realise this, and there is still an astonishing amount of ignorance and denial, despite a great number of awareness campaigns on depression.
Aware do incredible work in this field with their “I Am Aware” campaign, and, as their name suggests, they also encourage everyone to share the message that there is support available, that people suffering from depression need not be alone.
People are probably familiar with the great Stephen Fry’s wonderful recent quote on the symptoms of depression, and I’m sure millions ‘retweeted’ it. Still, it’s worth repeating here:
“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.
Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”
If only people were really like this. While many on the social networks are at great pains to be seen to be ‘Aware’ and supportive, the fact remains that many, many depressed individuals are deserted by their ‘friends’ whenever their condition develops into something hideous. You wonder how many of these serial re-tweeters would actually react if a friend does become depressed. In the ‘fairweather friend’ bubble of social media, I’d reckon not that many.
Depression isn’t like the sniffles, or influenza, or rabies, where symptoms are generally recognisable to almost anyone. The apparent symptoms of depression will naturally vary from person to person, individual to individual. Sometimes they take years and years to get a grip of a person. It will slowly affect every area of their lives: relationships, work, sleep, diet; they may become more extrovert, more introvert; they may appear to have too much fun or no fun at all; they may work too hard, they may not be able to face work. We’re all different.
Long term friends will notice, possibly over a protracted period, that something has changed with you, that you are acting uncharacteristically; if they are truly good friends, they won’t take it personally, they’ll sense something is wrong with you and undertake the difficult job of helping you back to health.
Fairweather friends, like those you collect on social networks, and even some fairweather family members, will, inevitably, desert you, drop you at the first sign of something that’s too much trouble to deal with. They may, in extreme circumstances, even mount a campaign against you and your ‘apparent’ evil – probably because they didn’t know you long enough to recognise any change in your mood or behaviour.
(In the real world, this is can be called bullying, of course. A lot of those who would happily mount a ‘whispering’ or gossiping campaign against you may even have experienced bullying at school – and therefore ought to know better.)
Current suicide statistics in the UK and Ireland are terrifying; suicides linked to depression (to the hopelessness that Mr Fry describes) are a major contributor to this. Suicide is extreme – and yet, so many people have died before their symptoms and feelings of hopelessness were understood. Indeed, it’s only by their deaths that many people begin exhibit signs of caring – when it’s too late.
This simple breakdown of understanding and, yes, awareness, can be avoided.
People need not be isolated, ignored, forgotten or bullied. They will generally feel ashamed, remorseful and deeply embarrassed about the ways in which this terrible illness has affected them and consequently hurt people close (or once close) to them.
Many such people will still be genuine, good people on the inside. They shouldn’t have to live the rest of their lives in shame and isolation.
Use today, and every other day, to make yourself properly ‘aware’. You could save someone’s life.