‘Solutions’ that people with depression are sick of hearing
Going to the gym doesn’t solve everything
Speaking out about depression, and being open with friends and loved ones, can be the first step towards conquering an illness that blights a third of University students. Unfortunately, some people haven’t got the message about responding in an appropriate manner: with patience, care, love, and understanding (it’s not rocket science). People usually mean well, but their words can be damaging.
If in doubt, read on and check this list of things people with depression are sick of hearing.
‘Just smile more! If you cheer up, things won’t seem so gloomy!’
Patronising someone with depression is a sure-fire way to induce their irritation and exasperation. Telling someone to “cheer up” is about as helpful as slapping a dead person with a fish and expecting them to wake up. Depression is far deeper and far more complex than just feeling sad. It’s all-consuming, and can feel ceaselessly bleak. If we could choose to be happy, believe me, we would. Crinkling your mouth into a smile just doesn’t quite do the trick.
‘When I was down, going to the gym really helped me – you just need to eat right and be active!’
Firstly – when did people start thinking that ‘feeling down’ and ‘being clinically depressed’ were interchangeable? Empathising and relating things to your own experiences is fine, but it does eventually reduce a mental illness to something akin to having a bad day. Secondly – while I won’t refute the importance of diet and exercise on mental wellbeing, people with depression are constantly being told that they’re not doing enough to help themselves. This slathers another layer of guilt onto someone who might find the journey to the kitchen an overwhelming task.
‘Why can’t you just get on with life like the rest of us? You don’t see people in slums making a fuss and calling for a therapist!’
Look, we know that we are not the worst off in the world (if such a thing were even possible to quantify) but a certain level of poverty or hardship is not a prerequisite for depression. Having spoken to many people with depression, I know that one of the biggest things that stops them from seeking help is feeling that they don’t deserve it, and that taking the time to heal mental health feels self-indulgent. You’d never tell a cancer patient that their chemotherapy was self-indulgent. Why are those with mental illnesses not treated with the same care and respect?
‘I just don’t really want to hang out anymore…I don’t need this negativity in my life.’
The current trend for ridding your life of ‘toxic’ people has its place, and of course, recognising unhealthy relationships is very important. However, we can be all too quick to drop those that are unhappy, and those with mental health issues. Being close to someone who is depressed is no picnic, and it is not your job to be their therapist or carer. But to drop a friend or partner who might be at their lowest ebb is callous and cruel. The person you love is still there, unchanged. It is the illness which deprives them of their former joy and passion. It takes great patience and understanding, but being available to that person may be what stops their slide into complete isolation.
‘Well whatever you do, don’t take any medication. You don’t want things messing with your head like that.’
When somebody is trying to beat depression, you ought not to judge their methods. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ fix. Anti-depressants have changed lives, they have saved lives. If you think it’s an easy way out, or not solving the root of an issue, or will make your friend a ‘zombie’, or that therapy is a ‘healthier’ approach, then you need to keep your thoughts to yourself. No, they aren’t a magic cure, but they can be instrumental in helping people to function and feel human again.
‘But you seem so happy and confident! You can’t actually be depressed, can you?’
Grit your teeth, take a deep breath, and relax. Yes, people still believe that depression works like this. When Robin Williams committed suicide, for example, the calls rang out. “Surely not! A comedian? Depressed? How could it be?” I once had a well-meaning colleague exclaim, “but you seem so confident and down to earth!” upon reading about my experiences of mental illness. Depression still allows for changes in mood – good days and bad.
On bad days it can be like a thick fog, smothering our real personalities, concealing our best traits, leaving us with numb nothingness or black despair. But there are good days, and it can fool an untrained eye into believing that the illness isn’t really there at all.
It may seem cliché, but just remember that depression, although not visible in the same way as a physical illness, can be equally as painful and debilitating. If a friend is suffering, reach out to them. Anything can help – from sending a text to let them know you’re thinking of them, to visiting them with a movie and pizza. Just be as supportive and patient as possible – things can, and do get better.