A chat about depression...
I was asked a question recently, ‘Has your son’s depression gone now? Such a terrible thing when we feel a bit down.’
As anyone who’s close to anyone who suffers from depression will know, this is a difficult question to answer. I went with:
‘Well, unfortunately it hasn’t gone, no. Depression will - to some extent - possibly always be a part of his life, but he’s much more accepting of that now and he’s much more aware of his triggers, and the things that help him best deal with those triggers. It’s a kind of never-ending war, with some battles feeling easier to win than others. He seems to be holding fort at the moment, even though he’s had some tough challenges recently. Depression is much more than feeling a bit down. But he’s doing fine just now, thanks.’
I didn’t hold the person who’d asked the question responsible for the twisting and tightening in the pit of my stomach and the clenching of my fists; the sensation I’m familiar with and recognise as my physical manifestation of frustration or anger. It came from the fact that even though depression is so very, very common, there’s still a huge lack of understanding around it, and many, many other mental health issues.
Much of that lack of understanding, of course, stems from the stigma still attached to anything ‘mental health’ related. And, much of it stems from the unforgivable lack of priority our government still gives to education around mental health, let alone to the treatments available for people who suffer from any form of mental health issue.
Like most things in life, I wouldn’t have the knowledge I do if someone close to me hadn’t been so severely affected. I try to be mindful of that, not just with issues around mental health, but with any issue. When something’s touched us personally, we have a much deeper understanding and, consequently, deeper response feelings. We sometimes can’t help feeling angry, frustrated, let down or sad when people don’t seem to ‘get’ it. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t still appreciate that they do care.
The person who’d asked the question wanted to know more, was keen to learn more. They, quite rightly, didn’t apologise for asking their question. They’d asked in good faith based on their own knowledge at that time. They cared. They just didn’t see things the way I did. And I so appreciated their curiosity and willingness to talk about it - to try to understand, to learn more.
The bubble of anger that sits in the pit of my stomach wasn’t planted by them. They’d simply innocently prodded at it.
What followed was a conversation around how little sense it makes that we don’t treat or talk about mental health in the same way that we do physical health. We talked about the vast spectrum of mental health issues and discussed the fact that just like there’s a spectrum of physical health issues, that can range from minor niggles to serious illness, the exact same goes for mental health.
We talked about how we all have a brain, and agreed that we’re all emotional and mental - just like we’re all physical - beings.
We talked about how we all know that if we don’t look after our physical health we’re more likely to become physically ill. (Though, of course, sometimes no matter how well we look after our physical health, we still become seriously ill.) It’s not so commonly known that if we don’t look after our physical health, we’re more likely to suffer from poor mental health too.
We talked about how it’s also not so commonly known that the same as above goes for mental health. If we don’t look after our mental health we’re more likely to become mentally ill. (Though, of course, sometimes no matter how well we look after our mental health, we still become seriously ill.) It’s even less commonly known that if we don’t look after our mental health, we’re more likely to suffer from poor physical health too.
And, of course, we talked about the difference between ‘feeling down’ and suffering from depression. We talked about how debilitating and difficult and overwhelming and tiring it can be to live with depression. We talked about how it’s something that many people do learn to live with, and live a full life with. And we talked about how, sadly, it’s something that still takes the lives of way, way too many people.
At the end of our conversation, we agreed that so much more should be done to change society’s attitude to mental health, and we agreed that me writing about it here is one way that I can make a contribution - in the hope that it might make even just one more person a bit more knowledgeable or a bit more curious.
If we do learn more, if we do try to understand more about why it’s vital to put mental health on a par with physical health, we’ll be better equipped to improve our own general health, and better equipped to support the people we work with, socialise with or live with - especially when they need a soldier to stand beside them as the next battle approaches…
© Jane Milne 2017