Mental health disorders tend to face a tremendous amount of stigma and that doesn’t generally upset me. After all, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. We can agree to disagree and I will never say another word about it.
There is, however, one thing that is just extremely difficult for me to look past and that is when people claim to have an understanding of something that they have never experienced.
As an example, I recently had a member of Medium share their post with me. And while I’ll not single them out or embarrass them, I must be honest, it almost brought me to anger.
Their story began with a disclaimer that they have never been diagnosed with depression but “ like all of us, I’ve spent some time there.”
My blood immediately began to boil but I calmed myself down and managed to read through the rest of the article. Still, hours later, however, I find myself thinking back to those words.
This article was far from the first time I’ve heard of the belief that everyone suffers from depression and/or anxiety. But for some reason, this time it just really opened my eyes to the way the world sees mental health disorders. And it’s time to clear the air on a few things.
Hasn’t Everybody Been Depressed?
No. Absolutely not. Most of the time when I’ve dove deeper into a conversation along these lines I find a thought process like, “Of course everybody’s been depressed. There’s not a person on earth who hasn’t been sad before!”
I’ve also heard, “I was really depressed when my mom died. I wasn’t able to work for two days.”
Sadness is not depression.
Everyone experiences the emotion known as sadness. Each and every one of us does. And yes, people with depression do feel sad. But temporary sadness is not what defines depression.
In fact, some people with depression don’t feel sad at all. Rather, they may feel completely numb, or they may feel anger instead. People who are depressed can even experience temporary happiness. Emotions do not define mental illness.
So yes, you may certainly say everyone has been sad, but not everyone has experienced the hopeless, continued darkness known as depression.
You Just Need To Pull Yourself Up.
This one is probably one of my favorites because it’s the thing I heard my entire life from my father growing up. He didn’t understand why someone who was depressed wouldn’t just step up and “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”
He didn’t understand, until the day his own depression nearly caused him to commit suicide.
The fact is that a person cannot always just pull themselves up from the depths of despair, especially if they’ve been fighting a losing battle for a long time.
Depression has such a negative connotation to it that it is quite common for people to hide in shame, which simply makes the depression stronger. The result is the person gets weaker, and weaker, and weaker, until there just isn’t any ability to fight left in them.
When they’ve reached that point, they just don’t have the strength to pull themselves up anymore. Instead, they need others to come around them and give them a helping hand. They may need counseling, medication, or even just a better support system.
What they don’t need though is someone saying, “Just do better.” Trust me, it only makes it worse.
You Should Just Walk Away.
In the previously mentioned article, the writer claimed that after a day or two (once they’ve learned the lesson depression has wanted to teach them) they simply walk away.
True, clinical depression does not work like that. You can’t walk away from it any easier than you can walk away from a lake full of leeches. Depression attaches to your very being and clings for dear life, sucking every ounce of life out of you!
To free yourself from its clutches you have to fight and claw yourself away from it with every ounce of strength in your body, and as I mentioned already, you may find you just don’t have the strength to free yourself on your own.
Suicide Is a Permanent Solution To a Temporary Problem
While this is an easy thing to say, it isn’t always true. Some people, like me, have battled depression our entire lives. I truly do not understand the meaning of happiness.
Each and every day of my life I’ve spent battling against my depression and anxiety. I truly do not believe it will ever fully disappear. Others are faced with terminal or chronic illnesses that know that the problem is permanent.
Unless you are 100% sure of the person’s circumstances, this statement may be a very, very false one. The problem they are facing may be just as permanent as death itself. Yes, the opposite may also be true, but let’s take a step back and try to understand before we cast judgment.
Why Do These Statements Bother Me?
For one reason, and one reason only. These statements lead to suicide. Plain and simple.
I realize that may be a harsh statement, but in my experience, it is a true one.
Journey with me into the mind of a 20-year-old girl with poor self-esteem who has been battling depression for most of her life.
This girl is entirely miserable. She fights each and every day to get out of bed, brush her teeth, get dressed, and go to work. She struggles through day after day after day. And life isn’t getting better.
She has a good family, good friends, a nice home, and a good car. But for one reason or another, depression has plagued her. She feels guilty for being depressed. She’s been having some suicidal thoughts and knows she needs help but she’s afraid.
She’s afraid to reach out to anyone because others may think that she is weak. She feels that she should have done a better job managing her mental health and perhaps others will blame her for the way she feels. Perhaps she feels as though she’ll be treated as a lunatic.
Finally, after a long battle with herself, she makes the decision to reach out to her closest friend. And that friend says, “Are you serious?! Why would you be so dumb?!” The friend calms down and says, “Okay, I get it. You’re really worked up about this. But come on now, you know things are going to get better. Don’t be selfish! Just pull yourself up. Make the decision that you’re not going to be depressed anymore and just walk away.”
In that 20-year-old girl’s mind, her friend just did exactly what she was afraid she would do. She blamed her. She believed she was crazy. And she made her feel worse than she had previously.
At that moment, it is quite possible for that 20-year-old girl to say to herself, “I can’t do this on my own. I asked for help and now I just feel even worse. I am such a horrible person. I don’t deserve to live.” And their life may be over. Right then. Right there.
Depression as a whole is not a choice. I do, however, believe that many of the choices we make every day can prevent, cause, or worsen our depression. But instead of blaming someone who has perhaps made some not-so-good choices, why don’t we just offer to help them make better ones from here on out? Instead of saying, “Why did you?” let’s choose words like, “Can I help you?” instead.