Yesterday was World Mental Health Day. I missed it, because there are so many “Day’s” these days that it’s nearly impossible to keep track of them, but I wanted to write this post anyway, because I wanted to share what I feel is one of the biggest struggles surrounding mental health, specifically depression.
There is plenty of stigma surrounding mental health, and with depression in particular one of the most frustrating reactions that I personally have had to endure is this idea of “what do you have to be depressed about?”
The unfortunate issue is that mentally-healthy people see depression as a cause-and-effect situation: something bad happens, and the victim becomes depressed. They understand depression in relation to a loved one dying, or a house burning down, or a job being lost. But when they see someone living what is considered to be a good life, they scoff at the idea of that person being depressed. “What do you have to be depressed about?”
So I want to reiterate, as someone who has dealt with it: being depressed, mentally, is not the same thing as being sad, temporarily. We all experience sadness when bad things happen to us. We may even consider ourselves to be “depressed” if it’s a particularly difficult time in our lives that we’re having a difficult time getting through. But being depressed from a mental health standpoint – from a clinical standpoint – is not nearly the same thing. Being depressed is not a cause-and-effect situation. Depression does not require a cause, does not require something to set it off. Depression simply is. Unfairly. Unreasonably. Unequivocally.
I have a good life. I know this. I have a husband who loves me and regularly tells me so. I have a beautiful, intelligent daughter who adores me. I have a huge extended family of wonderful people who support me. I’ve published two books, have a mildly-successful YouTube channel, and have good friends and lots of followers who treat me like someone to be in awe of. I have a good life. I know this.
And yet, on a startlingly regular basis, my brain tells me otherwise. It tells me that I’m useless and pathetic. It tells me that no one loves me, that my life is worthless, and that there’s not a single person out there who could possibly understand how I feel. It tells me that I haven’t got a single thing in this world to be happy about.
Unfair. Unreasonable. Unequivocal.
Depression isn’t logical. A person suffering depression can have two voices in their mind at the exact same time – one telling them how lucky they are to be alive, and the other telling them that they’d be better off dead – and whether or not they are able to press forward depends on which voice manages to shout louder at any given time.
And then there’s the third voice – the voice from the outside, asking, “What do you have to be depressed about?” And I will tell you right now, and make no mistake about it: that outside voice lends power to the depression. Pointing out that a depressed person shouldn’t be depressed, does not magically make them realize that you’re right, and that they should be all sunshine and rainbows. Pointing out that a depressed person shouldn’t be depressed helps to prove to them that their brain is broken which – listen closely now – is a really depressing realization.
I understand that it’s difficult to comprehend what could possibly be going on in another person’s mind. It’s the great divide between us all that none of us will truly be able to understand the thoughts and feelings of another. But instead of fighting that realization, I ask you to accept it. Even if it makes absolutely no sense to you, even if you can’t understand for the life of you why someone with such a good life could possibly be depressed, I ask you to simply accept the fact that you don’t know. You have zero idea what’s going on in that person’s head. You have absolutely no clue about how they are truly feeling. You can sympathize, for sure, but in the end you can not understand, not truly. We’re all trapped in our own minds, for better or for worse, and you can never truly know exactly what’s happening behind the eyes of another.
So take that reaction – that desire to ask “What do you have to be depressed about?” – and clamp your teeth on it. Shove it away, and instead simply try to understand that depression – true depression – does not only affect those who are currently in sad or unfortunate situations. Depression – true depression – does not discriminate, doesn’t play fair, doesn’t have any rhyme or reason, and is unequivocally cruel.
Be aware, be empathetic, and be an ally, because the only way to truly fight depression is to fight it together.