This week marks Depression Awareness Week. We have previously written an informative blog entry about depression, so please read that for more information. This time I wanted to take a different approach.
There are various conversations in the media, online and throughout society in general about the stigma of mental illness. This continues to puzzle me. Why are we so hesitant to tell others if we have suffered from some form of mental health problem? Does it make us feel weak? Does it make us feel that we won’t be accepted by the society around us? Why is it so much more acceptable to tell others that we suffer from flu or a broken leg…or even a cancer? What’s the difference? All these are related to our health.
When it comes to depression, I am pretty sure that most of us have suffered from it at some point in our lives. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 4-10% of people in England will experience depression in their lifetime. That sounds such a small percentage. I suppose it depends on how depression is defined and how many people actually do seek help and support. I always look at depression like a big umbrella, and underneath it are various forms of depression, such as clinical depression, situational depression, post-natal depression, psychotic depression, and low mood. So based on this definition, I’m sure that real percentage is much higher. And yet, we feel so uncomfortable to talk about it. Why?
First, I want to tell you about one of my favourite movies. It’s called Pay It Forward. The storyline: young Trevor McKinney, troubled by his mother's alcoholism and fears of his abusive but absent father, is caught up by an intriguing assignment from his new social studies teacher, Mr Simonet. The assignment: think of something to change the world and put it into action. Trevor conjures the notion of paying a favour not back, but forward--repaying good deeds not with payback, but with new good deeds done to three new people. Trevor's efforts to make good on his idea bring a revolution not only in the lives of himself, his mother and his physically and emotionally scarred teacher, but in those of an ever-widening circle of people completely unknown to him. The reason I wanted to mention about the film is because I really like the concept of it…pay it forward.
I have suffered from depression in the past. It was horrible. The days were so dark. Some days I just stayed in bed because I didn’t want to face the world. It felt like my life was about to end. On the days I managed to get up, by the evening I had already forgotten what I had done during the day. It felt like I was functioning and living in this invisible bubble. Everything felt like an overwhelming task. My sleeping pattern was all over the place, as was my eating. Nothing interested me, nothing mattered. I didn’t want to socialise, yet I desperately wanted and needed someone to reach out. I couldn’t tell anyone how I was feeling. I thought I was this super-nurse who can function no matter what. How wrong was I. Thankfully I finally decided to start therapy, and this helped me to work through some of my underlying issues. With time my depression lifted, and I was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Having gone through that experience, I feel wiser now. If I’m having a bad day or if I’m feeling low, I tell someone about it. I try to break the cycle before it can get worse. But I also appreciate that this isn’t always easy. Showing your own vulnerability can be painful and challenging. One very wise and very important person to me told me once that vulnerability is feeling exactly what we feel in any particular moment without addition of thought or meaning; when we are truly vulnerable, we become truly powerful – we enter a state of truth. It makes so much sense.
Having suffered from depression, and my many other life experiences, have helped me to become the therapist and the person I am today.
And here is my challenge to you. I want to break the stigma around depression and other mental health issues. I have told you that I have suffered from depression, so now I want you to tell three people if you have suffered from any type of mental health problems. And kindly ask them to pay it forward. Let’s break the shame because there is no shame. Pay it forward.
Thank you for reading, and I wish you good mental health.