Depression – The big ‘D’
I was doing one of my favourite past times yesterday. I was sitting in a coffee shop. Nothing special one might think. But it is when you think about it. You can sit in any coffee shop and you can cross the paths of people from every back ground. These people come with a wealth of experiences and knowledge.
One group of people caught my eye. They were a group of young people, in their twenties. Watching them, they were clearly happy in each other’s company. Although they could be heard laughing and sharing a range of stories, they were not imposing on the rest of us in the shop.
What struck me after several minutes was that by the number of those of whom were sitting around the table at least (statistically) two or three of them will suffer some form of mental illness at some point in their lives.
If it was suddenly revealed by any one of them around that table would the tone of the conversation have changed? Would they have alienated those individuals or embraced them?
Change in age, change in view?
Since thinking about this I have had two trains of thought. Firstly, do we now have a new generation of people who are now more accepting than any generation prior? Secondly, what if there is still no change? Perhaps we have not moved on as well as we believes society likes to think it has.
Society, in my view has moved on with regards to so many aspects of life. Men and women are considered equal (although this can be challenged). Homosexuality is no longer a crime. There are laws in place to protect those of whom suffer a physical form of disability. Yet, I struggle to see equality within mental health concerns.
I do accept that society no longer chains ‘the mad’ to the walls anymore, but there are some of whom are still subjected to medicinal chains and become restricted due to their side effects.
Movement in perception
Society is a fickle madam. It accepts concepts based on a fashion and understanding. Let me explain this better.
I recall a lecture once whilst at university. It discussed how the female form within art has changed. At one point the voluptuous female figure was seen as more desirable as extra weight was seen as healthier and wealthier. Yet magazines today (and certain elements of art) reject this in favour of the stick thin model, who perhaps shows restraint from indulgence and control over image.
Mental health has also had its ups and downs of acceptance. George Fox for example, the founder of the Quaker movement, clearly suffered schizophrenia. George Fox openly stated that he heard voices which drove him to religious compulsions. After all, how many times have we heard about the return of the new messiah. Would Jesus be accepted today or would he be locked up? Who knows, he probably has returned but we have rejected him (or her) in the name of self-protection. And he/she is buried on a mental health ward as opposed to turning water into wine.
The big ‘D’
It was during the 80s that certain things were not mentioned. AIDs was considered an illness for those of whom deserved it. Prior to that the condition of shame was cancer and was referred to as ‘The Big C’. Yet, I do feel that depression is the new leprosy.
I have been open and candid during these writings. Perhaps, too open at times. But consider this, I have suggested that it is ok to be open about this condition yet not everyone of whom I know, knows that I have it. It is easy to share comments and views over the internet or by word of mouth yet, I have been very selective about who knows any of this.
When I told someone this, they asked why. They knew the answer to this before I even opened my mouth. I am still scared of being judged. We know depression is not contagious but I fear being cast aside and perhaps being identified as; ‘Keith – the one with depression’. As opposed to ‘Keith – the one with….. the cute smile, or something.’
It’s crazy to state this but I know this is the case. Other suffers have also told me this is so.
Public views of depression
Depression has been a throw away comment used and often misused on a regular basis. I have often heard people say they are ‘depressed’ when in fact they are feeling ‘slightly down’ about a particular topic.
I can recall a time when the news columns spilling their headlines after a particular boy band split up. The media have the habit of focusing on the inconsolable teenage girl walling like a banshee stating she is ‘soooo depressed’ about the end of the band. That’s not depression, that’s you just her not understanding what depression is and using the title to defend her stupidity. It exaggerates a feeling to suggest sympathy which is not justified.
Instead of understanding depression as an illness, many people view depressed people as simply being sad or refusing to be happy to gain attention. This outlook can harm the esteem of depressed people, because these patients may begin to feel guilty for their feelings if they accept this view.
Burying the head in the sand
It has been said that depression is a western illness. I was once told that because we in the west have more leisure time so we fill it with thoughts which lead to depression. Therefore, I believe that ignorance is more damaging and leads to segregation. It is easier to turn a blind eye than accept that our brothers and sisters are the same as everyone else in every other respect.
Any form of mental illness does not indicate mad, bad or sad. And so society has no right to reject that individual. Yet it does. I have previously stated that when a crime is committed the media instantly find some connection to mental health condition. This is a tragic and dangerous conclusion. Mental health is not a prerequisite to a life of crime, but the true crime is the ignorance of people allowing the preconceptions to continue.
A big revelation
For those without depression or any other form of mental illness I want to tell you this. It might be a shock but, some of the nicest people I have ever met have depression. I have found them to be far more considerate, polite and understanding than those of whom claim they don’t suffer. People with mental illness have had to be more understanding as they can appreciate what it is like to be judged or to feel unwell. They equally value each day as it comes and take absolutely nothing and no one for granted.
I, therefore, applaud their strength by keeping their conditions hidden to avoid the shame and ridicule that is heaped upon them.
In an ideal world, I want to remove convenient labels that are placed on mentally ill people. Previous scapegoats such as homosexuality, Judaism, colour of skin or gender and so on are accepted without prejudice. Can this not be done for depression too?
So, returning to my group around the table. Are we now living in an age where those seated would reject those suffering or not? I would like to think they would accept the suffering into their arms. But alas, I am still sceptical. Society needs a scape goat and those of whom are not protected are the easy prey. Mental illness is not protected therefore, the cycle of self-protection secrecy will continue.
Depression needs to be celebrated not hidden. Many great historical people suffered with depression (Winston Churchill, Buzz Aldrin, Graham Green to name just three) but it is conveniently acceptable to forget that in honour of their greatness.