You’ve most likely noticed that yesterday was #WorldMentalHealthDay
Plenty of people are making posts about it, saying the usual “Don’t suffer alone” “Reach out” “It’s OK to talk”.
Which is nice.
Although rarely as helpful as one might think.
What? Isn’t that a tad ungrateful to say?
Allow me to explain why…
As I’ve mentioned before, I have suffered with bouts of deep clinical depression on and off for my entire adult life. (Back in 2013 I wrote more about it, living with it, my suicide attempts, tips on how to help depressed people, pointers to resources, and more when I wrote a blog on Living With Depression if you fancy a background read at some point. Incidentally, my mental health issues are not limited to bouts of depressions, over the years tests and discussions have resulted in diagnosis of a couple of other issues as well, but they are limited enough in my case as to not cause me problems, so I can’t really offer much insight on those. I merely mention it for completeness).
As of today, I am pleased to report that I have been off my Sertraline for 2 weeks and 2 days, having been on it for 2.5 years – in agreement with my doctor, I reduced my dosage to wean me off it over the past 3 months and now I’m not on it at all, which is a nice position in which to be.
I’m hopeful that this will be my last depressive bout, and at the same time I am also realistic enough to accept that another one could visit at some point in the future; if it does, I believe I have a suitable support network around me these days to spot it and to “encourage” me to go seek help if necessary. I say that because last time, I didn’t spot it until it had really taken hold, and it wasn’t until a concerned friend basically ultimatemed me into going to the doctor that I actually sought help for it.
So yeah, right now, I’m in quite a good place mentally (long may that continue!), for which I am very thankful indeed.
And it’s from this good place that I can look back on the sort of stuff I’ve been told while I was suffering from that last bout, and share it with you.
You see, I have no doubt each individual believed they were being helpful, but as you’ll hopefully see, they were absolutely NOT, they were being harmful if anything.
And I’m mentioning these because I hope it might encourage some people to reconsider their approach to their own friends who may have depression (and it will all tie in to what I said at the start, I promise, so bear with me!)
Typical stuff I got told included –
- Stop taking your meds, you don’t need them, doctors are irresponsible for prescribing them; (this is utter bollocks of course, it was those very pills which actually enabled me to function sufficiently to get through the day without constantly thinking about ways to kill myself)
- All you need to do is go for walks in the countryside, and your depression will disappear; (conveniently ignoring the fact I live on the edge of the countryside in a beautiful part of Scotland, and I indeed take daily walks through beautiful woodland – and when deeply depressed, all that happened was I would go through the woods spotting which trees would make for good trees on which to hang myself long enough to not be discovered)
- There is no such thing as mental health (yeah, seriously, someone actually screamed that at me many times)
- All I needed to do was go to 3 comedy club shows and I’d be cured (said without knowing anything about my situation or symptoms, and without considering the fact I was actually performing in pantomime and thus exposed to a lot of laughter and comedy)
- Have you tried not being depressed? (gee, I never thought of that!)
- I don’t get why you are depressed, what have you got to be sad about? (if only it did work that way; alas it doesn’t, no matter how many times you repeat the question)
- I used meditation to cure my depression so it will work for you (completely ignoring the fact that I already did meditation daily, to no effect)
The thing is, depression is not one single Thing with a single Cause and a single Cure.
It is different for different people, and what works beautifully for one person may have zero effect for another.
Which is something we would all do well to recognise when rushing to attempt to force the person to adopt our pet preferred remedy.
Because all the while we are trying to force them down what worked for us, we are ignoring them and their situation and are not helping in the slightest; indeed, we are merely risking making them even worse.
Well, if you keep telling someone that “all you need to do to conquer your depression is go for a walk in the country each day”, and they go for those daily walks but it does nothing to reduce their depression, how do you suppose they are going to feel?
You’ve told them something will work, they do it and get no benefit – I can tell you from experience that the sort of thoughts which result are along the lines of “I’m utterly useless – I can’t even do a walk properly, I’m even more of a failure than I thought”.
Your insistence that they follow your preferred cure, rather than actually *listening* to them and understanding their situation, has made their depression even worse.
Well done you!
Which brings me to my opening point.
One day a year “we” tell everyone “Don’t suffer alone” “Reach out” “It’s OK to talk”.
But when they DO reach out, the usual response is either platitudes, barking unhelpful advice at them while completely ignoring everything they say and not bothering to listen to them, or even worse to do everything one can to distance oneself as swiftly as possible. Almost as if “It’s OK to talk” is short for “It’s OK to talk – to others, but not to me, keep away from me with that weird crap you freak”.
Now let me tell you something. When one is clinically depressed, even the thought of “reaching out” to someone rarely arises.
Because we believe there’s no point, we are worthless, the world is better off without us, there’s nothing can be done, nobody will care anyway.
And on those occasions one does reach out, the usual response is of the sort I mentioned above, which makes us feel even worse and wish we’d never bothered, so down come the shutters again and we refuse to say anything about our depression, and so everyone assumes everything is now OK.
Think it doesn’t happen? Think there’s no stigma?
Oh, it does, and there is.
Here’s an example of just how plain nasty many people are when the topic of mental health is raised.
A few months ago the politician Ruth Davidson publicly opened up about her own personal battles with her mental health, discussing what it’s like, and discussing why it limits her potential career progression options.
And pretty much immediately, Twitter and other social media were ablaze with the most vitriolic abuse being directed to her and her mental health.
Cheers, folks! That REALLY makes others suffering want to step forward and open up.
I can pretty much guarantee that every single one of those posting their nasty vile attacks will personally know someone who is suffering from some form of mental health issue. And their vitriolic posts have just made that person even less likely to speak up and get the help they need.
So, rather than one day a year saying “It’s OK to talk” or “Ask or help if you need it”, I’d like to propose something a little different.
How about EVERY day each and every one of us pay mind to our own use of language, to how we respond to people.
AND that we take a moment each day just to look around and the many people around guys (some of whom we will know very well) who may be suffering in silence, battling their own inner demons without anyone realising.
And instead of waiting for them to reach out, how about we connect with them, and see how they are doing?
“Hi Dave, I heard you are going through a tough time, fancy a beer tonight and chatting about crap like the old days?”
“I could really do with tea and some cake, Janice, you fancy joining me?”
and then LISTEN to them. No judgement, no telling them you have all the answers, no forcing them to do what your mate did to get ver their depression. LISTEN to them, let them talk (or not talk if they prefer). Just be a mate, a decent human being.
Whatever it is, let’s all just be a little kinder to each other.
I’ll leave you with a thought.
You know that shop assistant you were rude to?
You know that telephone customer support person you shouted at because you didn’t like the colour of the ink in that letter you received?
You know the pedestrian you swore at for daring to walk slightly slower than you?
You know that food server who took half a second too long to deliver your food, or forgot to bring a fork and so you felt justified in belittling them very publicly?
Each one of them is quite possibly battling their own stuff. And your pathetic and unjustified attitude didn’t help one little bit.
Let’s ALL remember we are ALL people, we are ALL doing the best we can with what we have, and MANY of us are fighting inner battles which nobody will ever know about.
So yeah today is #WorldMentalHealthDay and let’s tell people “Don’t suffer alone” “Reach out” “It’s OK to talk”.
AND let’s not lump it all on them today and then forget it all for the next 364 days.
Let’s all be just a little kinder, a little more tolerant, and listen just that little bit more, every day.
Just a thought!
PS If you know of someone suffering with depression or similar, or you are suffering yourself, and you are looking for someone who could help, I have absolutely no hesitation whatsoever in recommending you search out a good friend of mine by the name of David Heffernan who is absolutely excellent here – he is an amazing listener, and has helped a lot of suicidal people to find their way to a better future.