When you can’t see an illness, it’s harder to understand the effect it has on a person. Society over time has forged these preconceived ideas of what depression really is, some even denying it to be an illness at all. What people don’t realise is depression is a silent, isolating, slow-moving killer. Some who experience it will commit suicide. Over 6,700 people committed suicide in the UK in 2013, plenty more attempted, and those who don’t are terrified that they will spend their days alive, but never living. Just because you can’t see an illness, does not mean it doesn’t exist. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again…mental health disorders are life consuming, life altering and potentially life ending diseases. Yet we throw around the word depression these days without really grasping the gravitas of the disease.
So here I have outlined 7 of the biggest myths and misconceptions we relate to depression that simply are not true:
ANTIDEPRESSANTS DON'T WORK
Everyone has heard the view that antidepressants are a scam. It’s easy to have an opinion on something but unless you have actually been experienced what you are bashing, please don’t be so quick to judge. It took me over a year and a half of recovery before I finally bit the bullet and approached my doctor for some medication. Why? One simple reason: my parents. They made me believe that using medication, as a means of coping, was something to be ashamed of. Now, I am in no way holding this against them but I knew exactly how they felt- and still feel- about antidepressants. “A corporate scam”, “a waste of time”, “they do far more harm than good”, “all they do is get you hooked so you keep going back for more”, “people shouldn’t rely on popping pills to get better, they should do the work themselves”…
Ok look, first of all, no one is saying that taking antidepressants is going to wave a magic wand and miraculously ‘make you better’- they don’t work that way. In fact, I was on on antidepressants, on and off, for about 8 months and I have to say that in that time…I didn’t feel happy once! However, I wasn’t expecting to. Antidepressants don’t bring you blue skies and butterflies, no; they just lighten the fog on a rainy day. In the same way that antibiotics help you feel slightly less shit if you have VD, antidepressants have the same effect on someone dealing with mental health issues. But, in both cases, it is ultimately the person themselves- their own mind and own body that fights off the illness.
Now I am not saying that medication is the only solution, far from it in fact. Many opt for therapy of some sort instead. Some don’t use either option; they simply prefer to reply on their own strength and the support of their loved ones to get them through each day. It all about finding what is the most effective way to recover for them and many will try out a number of different methods till they find the right one for them.
One thing I also really want to address is this idea that once you’re on antidepressants, you will be for the rest of your life. This is 100% false. Antidepressants are like any other form of medication. I, for example, never intended on using medication as a long-term solution; I decided to try them only for levelling out my perspective to help me through a very stressful and triggering time in my life last year when I was juggling drama school auditions with A levels and a traumatic break up. However, on the flip side another close friend of mine swears by her medication and, at this point in her recovery, a long standing prescription is the best thing to keep her afloat right now. Really, treatment is customised differently according to the individual.
THERAPY IS THE ONLY OPTION
Sometimes therapy is the best support option for someone who is struggling with their mental health. However this is not always the answer. Many people do not respond well to therapy. For example, in my case, the ‘professional’ psychiatric treatment I received was forced upon me and, quite frankly, it did not help me one bit. In fact, it did quite the opposite. I felt I was being caged in, isolated, and this simply made me act out and spiral further down into my own black hole. Furthermore, while therapy can be good for supporting a person through their recovery, it is useless unless the person actually wants to recover.
There is no ‘one right way’ to overcome a mental health disorder. Every single person’s recovery is unique to them. People tend to shoehorn those who are mentally ill into very narrow categories and see them only as that title. In doing so they forget that every single person has a different story. I was speaking recently to a friend of mine who has been struggling with their mental health for the past year and it really took me back how, while both of our behaviour and mind set when in the thick of struggling with the disorders are the same, our stories of how we ended up in that position are polar opposites.
PEOPLE WITH DEPRESSION ARE SELFISH
I’m going to keep this one shot and sweet by saying that this misconstrued idea that people with depression do not think about how their actions effect others could not be further from the truth! I tell you for absolute certainty that those who are depressed do nothing but think of others! Isolation, self harm, suicide etc are not acts of vengeance to purposely hurt others, they genuinely believe those people would be better off with out them alive.
DEPRESSION IS ALWAYS CAUSED BY TRAUMA
While traumatic events can and do cause depression in a person, this isn’t always the case, and even when it is, the traumatic events themselves cannot take all the responsibility. While things like divorce, abuse, loss of a loved one or other devastating experiences will leave people feeling some dark and intense emotions and often do cause people to fall victim to mental health problems, a lot of the time depression is completely unexplainable and unpredictable. In fact, one of the worst things about depression is that it hits you for what seems like no reason at all…and how are you meant to tackle something that isn’t there?! Every mental health story is unique, it’s just they often end up in the same place and suffering the same consequences. Some people’s mental illness are down to genetics, some are healthy habits turned unhealthy obsessions, some are life ling insecurities that have spiraled out of control, and yes, some are results of traumatic experiences.
Mental illness does not discriminate; it preys on anyone, no matter how old, no matter where you are in life, no matter where you’ve come from so please, please, do not make someone feel ashamed for needing help. People with a mental illness already feel like a burden enough. They are already fully aware that there are so many people in the world who’s quality of life is far worse than there’s, they do not need you constantly pointing it out to them. If the only things you can say to someone struggling with their mental health are things like ‘You have people who love you and would do anything for you- you’re actually very lucky’ and ‘there are people living in poverty- just think about that!’…then why bother saying anything at all? What will that achieve? Because it sure as he’ll won’t get the person to ‘snap out of it’ and all of a sudden start loving life. All it will do will cause them to withdraw and isolate themselves even more.
Telling someone having a panic attack to ‘just calm down’ is like telling a woman in labour to ‘just hold it in’…do you understand yet? Mental illness completely takes away your control and leaves you absolutely helpless.
DEPRESSION IS AN EMOTION
While an overwhelming sense of sadness is a clear sign and effect of depression, depression and sadness are not the same thing! Sadness is an emotion, depression is not; it’s a severe mental illness. Sadness comes and goes, depression does not; it’s a constant black cloud over your head. Sadness is usually a singular emotion, depression is not; people with depression experience sadness, anxiety, emptiness, anger and many more all in one go and often all to extreme levels. Now that’s not to say that being sad is something to brush over as if unimportant, not at all. In fact, that’s partly why more are more people become depressed is because others constantly disregard their feelings when they are sad. However, until unless you experience depression yourself, please do not use the phrases “that’s so depressing” or “I’m so depressed” etc because you do not understand the effect those simple words can have on a person who is suffering or has suffered. People treating variations of the word ‘depressed’ as if a throwaway comment in much the same way that they would say “I’m hungry” is one of my biggest bugbears. Plainly cannot feel depression, you have depression.
IT'S A PHASE
This naive idea really grates at me. As a society we have treated the issue of mental health with kid gloves for so long that it instinctively feels uncomfortable to talk about. But this idea that if we ignore it, it’ll sort itself out on its own is absolutely ridiculous. It is not a phase. It’s not like a bad day at the office or an awkward first date. Mental health conditions such as depression will last a life time. They never truly go away. Once the disease grabs a hold of you, you will always have those thoughts in the back of your mind…however, with a lot of hard work and dedication, you can learn to manage to depression in a way that gives you control so that you can live your life the way you deserve. Think of depression as a thunderstorm- it will end and the sun will appear. Sure there will always be rainy days and you’ll never know when they’re coming but there will also be days of blazing sunshine and it is down to you not to sit around wasting them.
Ok, sure, when you’re at home watching the news and it’s filled with sad stories of murder, war and disease…yeah, it affects your mood and it gets you down. However, it does NOT make you depressed! I strongly believe that is impossible for something to be ‘depressing’. Depression is a clinical state, it’s something that’s always with you- a constant black cloud over hanging your head. So while something may make you feel blue for few minutes, hours or even a day, it still goes away and you go back to living your life. If something were depressing it would be there, every second of every minute of every hour of every day and night. So while I understand that it’s difficult to be around someone who is depressed and has that negativity all the time, you shan’t become depressed because of it. The most you will ever feel is great levels of sympathy towards that person or situation which is often coupled with and therefore confused with levels of sadness as well.
But in today’s world we cotton wool mental illness so much that people act as if we’ll attract depression simply by saying the word. Think of it this way, the majority of people’s struggles with mental illness go completely unnoticed by those around them. I’ve head certain people warn me to keep my disorders to myself in fear that it might jeopardise my job. I often work with children- some as young as three- and I’ve have people warn me that parents may not want their child taught by someone mentally ill. Now, I have to say, the idea that someone may think like this makes me feel genuinely ashamed of society. I mean what do they think I am going to do- give these kids a show and tell of each and every one of my scars whilst forcing them to chant pro ana mantras like it’s their national anthem? Newsflash to all you parents out there; I understand you just want to protect your child…but, honestly, you’ve got nothing to protect them from! 99% of the time, people suffering with mental illness are only ever a danger to themselves, no one else. In fact, those who haven’t experienced mental health disorders first hand are usually far less caring and compassionate than those who have.
The first step to tackling any illness- be it physical or mental- is talking about it. By talking about it we raise awareness and with awareness comes knowledge and understanding. Obviously I talk about mental health awareness more than most, but with every person you educates themselves on the reality of mental illness, the more chance we have at saving lives.