Mental health is important but it’s so widely misunderstood, and mental illness is so misrepresented. I know there have been campaigns recently about ending the stigma, about opening communication. And as Bob Hoskins would tell us – it’s good to talk.
I have personal experience with a number of conditions, namely depression, schizo-affective disorder and ADHD. I am not an expert on any of these illnesses and nor will I ever claim to be. This is purely based on my own observations and interactions with the people in my life.
I have had depressive episodes in my life. I have been depressed, generally for a period of one to three months and I generally don’t realize that’s what the problem is until I’m out the other side. Based on my current feelings of the universe hating me and desperate need to keep Jack & Lucy safe, I am most likely in the midst of one of these episodes which is undoubtedly brought on by stress and major change in life.
I am fortunate. I am surrounded by those who are not as fortunate. I watch my girlfriend doing battle with her mind everyday; every single day for the last 8 years she gets up and fights. I am awed by her strength, by her will to survive, her will to live.
For most, depression is a chronic condition. It is something that you live with daily. There are times when it flares up and overwhelms you. And there are times when you’re fairly functional. You can have depression and be happy at the same time. You can have depression and no one know it.
Depression isn’t just being sad. Obviously, it encompasses that, but it includes so much more. Your body slows down while the brain monkeys get to work feeding you lies and pressing all the buttons that fill you with fear and sadness and loneliness and anxiety. Depression is a hole that gets darker the deeper you fall into it. It strangles your view of the world outside as well as your view of who you really are.
Don’t expect people with depression to be able to reach out for help when it gets really bad. They can’t.
Instead, it is our responsibility, our societal contract if you will, to be the ones to check in with those we love, to not let them skate by with “I’m fine” when you know they aren’t. It doesn’t have to be a lot of work. Just reach out, remind them of your love, that you care that they exist, that you are glad they are alive and in your life. Don’t expect them to just get better, just get over it, move on, be happy, etc. It really isn’t something they can control.
For most, there is no “reason” that they are depressed, other than their brain chemistry. So put down all the platitudes and inspiration quotes. Stop assuming that if you leave them alone for a few weeks, they’ll be all better the next time you see them. Let go of the idea that all they need is a little sunshine or a walk in the woods or a day at the beach or a night out with friends. None of those things fix brain chemistry.
Do reach out to them, especially if their pattern of behaviour changes or they go radio silent unexpectedly. Don’t judge how they look (many folks with depression can not do the simple tasks of showering, brushing hair, getting dressed, etc) or the shape of their house (if they can’t clean themselves, they likely can’t clean their house). Do come over and sit with them, yes, even in the mess. Talk to them and keep talking….TO them, not AT them. Get them talking, GENTLY. Make them a meal. Help them clean (don’t do it for them, that will just reinforce what the brain monkeys are telling them about how worthless they are). Offer to take them to see a doctor. Offer to go get their meds refilled.
Above all, just check the judgemental ableist attitude at the door. And love. Love deeply, warmly and without condition.