What’s in a Word?
I don’t know if this is going to be coherent at all. I don’t even know where I’m going with this post as I write it. So, if it’s meandering but ultimately leads nowhere, then forgive me, but so be it.
It’s just a word. A word that is bandied around regularly, and often with little understanding of what it means. People use the word to describe themselves when they’re having a bad day, or even a run of bad days. People hear the word and form opinions in their mind as to what it means, often wrongly. People who have been depressed or who have been close to someone who has been depressed are likely to understand a lot more about it.
It’s not something I had given a lot of thought to, until today when I saw some discussions around the sad death of Gary Speed. I have read people commenting that they thought he was selfish to take his own life, since he clearly did not think about those he left behind. Of course, we have no idea what he thought about, but clearly someone desperate enough to take their life in the way that he did is not in a place where they are able to think rationally about what their death will do to their loved ones.
I have no idea about his state of mind, or his mental health, so I don’t want this post to be about him, but rather about what it means to be depressed. When you have been diagnosed with depression, it is not a case that a doctor has said you’re having a bit of a rough time of it and you should snap out of it. It’s not, as I have seen suggested this evening, something you can choose to talk yourself out of. Depression is, in part, a chemical imbalance in the brain, and no amount of positive thinking alters this. There are lots of ways to treat depression of course, and not all of them involve chemicals, but “snap out of it”, “get a grip”, “stop being selfish” are not among them.
People do not choose to be depressed. I’m not talking about goth-esque glumness, I’m talking about clinical depression. The kind of depression where even when you are making good progress towards recovery, you can have an unexpected and unexplained bad day which prevents you from getting out of bed, or moving off the sofa, so heavy is the black cloud hanging over your head. And people with this kind of depression are often not aware that they are suffering from it until things get so bad that they completely stop functioning. It is in this frame of mind that decisions to take one’s own life are made. This is not a state of mind capable of considering the consequences of those left behind. And for this reason, it is not appropriate to talk of selfish behaviour; to be selfish, you’d have to consider the consequences, weigh them up, realise how awful it would be for your loved ones and think “fuck it”. This is not a thought process that happens in the depths of clinical depression, because in those depths, it becomes impossible to see how anyone else is affected by your actions.
It’s time people stopped thinking of depression as a word to tossed about when someone is a bit fed up, and realise that it is a medical condition, a mental illness. I’ve seen this denied tonight too. So let me say it, loud and clear. DEPRESSION IS A MENTAL ILLNESS. People who have depression are ill. They may be fully functioning (although this is hard work, and when it happens before treatment, inevitably leads to a deeper depression), they may be good at hiding it, or it may be very obvious that they don’t cope with day-to-day life in the same way you do. It’s because they’re ill, see?