Depression: See the person, not the diagnosis

By Dr Marwah Saeed

#BellLetsTalkDay

Depression, schizophrenia, autism, social anxiety disorders… Does reading about them, hearing about them make you uncomfortable? Do you feel that they are disgraceful, shameful secrets that shouldn’t be part of everyday life? Secrets that should be relegated to the deepest parts of our lives, akin to the skeletons in our closet. If your answer is “Yes”, ask yourselves “Why”?

Cancer survivors can proudly don pins to show what they’ve overcome, yet individuals with depression feel that they must find excuses to hide a shameful secret. #BellLetsTalk

The Canadian Medical Health Association reports that 1 in 5 Canadians will undergo a mental health problem or illness annually and about 50% of the population will have or have had a mental illness by age 40. Major depression alone affects approximately 5.4% of the Canadian population. According to WHO an estimated 280 million people suffer from depression globally essentially making it a universal crisis. And yet it is tragically misunderstood. We callously drop words like “depressed” and “depressing” in everyday conversation to describe issues, both trivial and profound, from overcast weather, the color of wallpaper, college classes to the state of feminism and world politics. Classic examples are articles published by CNBC in 2016 titled “Consumers depressed over the presidential election” or The Hollywood Reporter “Elections 2016: Hollywood Devastated, Depressed after Trump Victory”. Our casual use of these words as synonyms for “miserable”, not only relegate depression to sadness, but it also cheapens a complex mental health disorder.

Do you know what depression feels like? It’s a feeling of hopelessness and pessimism so profound that you question your self-worth. It’s days spent huddled in bed while a haunting sense of emptiness plagues you. It’s fatigue and tiredness so overpowering that your surroundings and personal hygiene suffer through self-neglect. It’s self-loathing so terrible that you become your harshest critic; it’s blackness and loneliness so acute that you chase people away thinking you are better of alone than with people who don’t care. “It’s when every thought is a battle, every breath a war and you don’t think you are winning.” Recovery is a long, messy, and arduous process. But the first step is to acknowledge that depression -mental disorders- doesn’t make you a failure. It doesn’t make you less. It just makes you human.

What can we do to help? We can challenge stigma. We can claim their battles as ours battles, until our friends, families and those around us can stand proud, until one day they too can wear badges saying “I stood strong. I fought hard. I have won. I am a survivor”. So, get up. Get off your seats and campaign to reduce stigma against mental disorders. Challenge the stereotypes shown in media, educate yourself and others, show your support, advocate for mental health reforms and don’t reduce people to a diagnosis.

In the words of Stephen Fry “If you know someone who’s depressed please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation, depression just is…. Try to understand.… Be there for them…. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it’s one of the kindest, noblest and best things you can do”.

Dr Marwah Saeed (BSc, MBBS)

References

Depression. (2021, September). Retrieved January 25, 2022, from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs369/en/

Fast Facts about Mental Health and Mental Illness. (2021, July). The Canadian Mental Health Association. Retrieved January 25, 2022, from https://cmha.ca/brochure/fast-facts-about-mental-illness/

Stephen Fry. (n.d.). Retrieved July 30, 2017, from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/507916-if-youknow-someone-who-s-depressed-please-resolve-never-to

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