Wednesday, 4 August 2010


This week, nestled in amongst advice on Breton sweaters and eating outside, is a gently effective article in the Guardian about depression. Without being melodramatic Mark Rice-Oxley recounts his experiences with serious depressive illness and his attempts to recover. It spoke deeply to me.

I have learned many things about depression in the past 6 years, none more than how hard it is to explain the depth and context of this crippling illness to someone who has never experienced it. Feeling normal unhappiness and clinical depression bear about as much resemblence to each other as a Big Mac and a fillet steak. Trying to compare your depression to someone else's life experience is like apples and oranges.

But that's not to say that because it's hard to quantify depression in different people we shouldn't talk about it. On the contrary, we should talk about it much more in order to lift remaining taboos about this illness and to educate people that depression is a many fanged beast and that not everyone's experience is the same.

This isn't to encourage competition between sufferers. I am not suggesting that anyone's depression is better or worse or more bearable or less worthy of understanding. I am simply pointing out that depression has different causes and therefore different effects, so will require different paths to recovery. Rarely do mainstream articles about the subject acknowledge this fact, preferring often to search for one cure-all, the Holy Grail of mental health and missing the wood for the trees somewhat.

Someone who has bi-polar is reliant on medication in a way that some with dysthemia may not be due to their use of mediation or exercise, while the person with depression stemming from unresolved trauma or grief may thrive with talking therapies better than the person whose brain chemistry has been inviting the black dog into their life since childhood. Unsurprisingly the ways to tackle depression are as individual as the people who suffer from them and yet in any debate I hear about depression this crucial fact is often missed by a country mile.

Maybe because depression's grasp is so all-enveloping, those who have suffered from it find it hard to see others' situations and see that their personal experience may not have that much in common. I also think some of this comes from the fact that depression inhabits a shadowy netherworld for many people where it isn't quite an illness and isn't quite a lifestyle consequence.  It can be one or the other, or a bit of both and most people don't know whether to sympathise like you would with a diabetic or offer advice on 'pulling yourself together'. But the little discussed side effect of this lack of consistency is that it creates a competitiveness amongst sufferers that I feel undermines attempts to discuss the subject.

It seems to split the camps, creating factions who swear by medication alone or had their lives saved by exercise or people who see taking anti-depressants as akin to taking crack cocaine. This divisiveness helps no one because it shifts the focus from the things that all sufferers of depression (in fact all people full stop) need; supportiveness, stability, understanding, love and kindness.

Whether medication is your answer or a ten mile run each day or if you're in the pit of black despair right this minute, a society that doesn't blame or judge you, provides economic provision for you when you're unable to work and people who care and support will make things just a little bit better when it feels like you're worth nothing and the world is a terrible place you barely cope with. I can't thank the people who've done this for me enough even if I thanked them everyday for the rest of my life.

So let's stop competing to have our voices heard, but lead by example and offer some actions that will help. That should stop the needless competition of sufferers and allow the wonderful people who help and support the depressed everyday of the year to come back from their brink to have a say and be appreciated for what they do for their loved ones and the world around them. Maybe if we've got time we could teach the world to sing in perfect harmony too?


1 comment:

  1. I know what you mean about these types of articles. I always have to steer clear of the comments section, because as you rightly say it seems they are competing with each other. Which considering the subject always seems a little sad. One thing we don't need to be doing is that.