12 June 2018

It is called Depression

*Trigger warning - suicide, suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety* 

My feed last week was full of people talking about Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s deaths by suicide and encouraging people who are feeling suicidal or have suicidal ideation to reach out. To ask for help.

And then people shared some fabulous articles about what living with suicide feels like. And then more people shared it.

And then people shared the numbers of Lifeline and other support agencies. And said their door was always open – so just reach out. Just ask.

And then somebody shared a meme saying people that are depressed don’t ask for help, it’s up to us to recognise that our friends are suffering and reach out.

And now we’re at the stage where people are sharing articles saying just because people look like they have a wonderful life doesn’t mean that everything is wonderful. And sharing Pooh and Piglet memes saying it is okay not to be okay.

And in about a week – we’ll be on to the next thing.

Everything that is happening is good. It’s good that we talk about mental health, especially because EVERYBODY has mental health in exactly the same way as they have physical health. And while I appreciate that we’re talking about mental health because we most certainly need to – I’d like us to start talking about mental health less generically.

If somebody dies of cancer, we don’t say they died as the result of a physical health condition. If somebody has a week off work with the flu, we don’t say it’s because they have a physical health condition.

Less than ideal mental health conditions like depression and anxiety have names. I didn’t spend time planning on removing myself from the planet in 2016 because I had a mental health condition, I did it because I was severely depressed. I was very, very sick.

And not unsurprisingly, when I got professional help, things started improving. But just like any chronic illness, it didn’t get better overnight. It took the best part of 18 months to get back to ‘normal’ and building my strength back up took some more time after that. 

I am somebody that bangs on about everything I hurt physically - broken bums, ankles, scratches. I have no filter or notion of TMI when it comes to the physical. But when it comes to mental - I rarely talk about it when it's happening because there are NO WORDS AT ALL to describe what depression feels like. Every time you try and articulate what you are thinking the words at your disposal are inadequate, weak, lacking gravitas. 

And when you get the courage to try and get responses like 'exercise more, try mindfulness, eat better, drink less, eat more broccoli' or my personal favourite - when they pretend you didn't say anything and just change the subject - you stop saying anything until it has passed and you can talk about it dispassionately and with humour, so that it's palatable for other people. 

I’m not Kate Spade and I’m not Anthony Bourdain, but what I do know is this – to reach the point where you feel so hopeless, so sad and so devoid of all perspective as to think that being dead is the answer – the good intentions of other people are not part of the equation anymore.

What we need is a sustained change in our approach to depression and anxiety in all their complexities - both on and offline.

When we talk about anxiety and depression we need to name them. We can use all the colloquialisms, we can use French words instead of English, but we need to call them by their names.

We need to go beyond asking people if they are okay and say to our friends, ‘Hey there, how’s the old Black Dog going?’, ‘Hey, I know you’ve been in a good place since you last had a depressive episode, but is it still going well’, ‘How is the old Anxiety Monster Clive doing my dear – do you need me to listen for a while?’. You can even ask as one friend recently did, ‘Look at you still alive and all – not planning on changing that are you?’

If people (like me) that live with depression and/or anxiety are ever going to feel ‘no shame’ about having these conditions, people need to stop treating it as shameful. If somebody has cancer, you’ll ask how their treatment is going. If somebody is depressed, you can, you should do the same thing.

Those little acts of care, those bon mots of kindness, will do so much more than caring and sharing for a week or two when a high-profile person dies by suicide. Looking out for each other, genuinely caring about somebody’s physical and mental wellbeing already has a name – it’s called friendship.

And you don’t need some pesky high functioning depressive with a blog to tell you how to be a good friend.

So I won’t.

But be one.

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