For some reason, the way we, as a society, talk about mental health is completely different from the way we talk about physical health. There are things people feel fine saying to depressed people that they would never say to someone with a chronic physical health condition. The stigma around mental illness hurts everyone, but definitely damages the people suffering from it most of all. Those who are fighting the battle shouldn't have to suffer the additional slings and arrows of insensitive comments from those around them.
I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder at the age of 22. After almost 14 years of managing my depression, I recognize that my condition has ebbs and flows. So when my depression resurfaced a few days ago, I knew it wouldn't last forever. My beloved grandma passed away two weeks ago. I've been doing fine, but a combination of repressed grief, nightmares, a financial f*ck up, and losing that connection when I really needed to talk to my deployed husband, resulted in me face down on my unmade bed instead of heading to the grocery store as I'd planned.
I was able to pick myself up, only because experience has taught me that I will eventually feel better. That's arguably the worst part of depression — the utter surety that you will always feel like this. It makes a person desperate, and that's why untreated depression is so dangerous. Education about mental health is essential, because what people say matters and the consequences can be devastating.
If only it was that easy. My great-grandmother and my daughter's namesake always said, "You're only as happy as you make up your mind to be." There's an element of truth to that, sure, but the problem is that it trivializes a serious condition and negates the lived experience of depressed people. I can't try "not being depressed" any more than someone else can try "not being tall."
"You'd Feel Better If You Just Got Up"
Perhaps that's true, but it's not so easy. Fatigue, headaches, and impaired functioning are all symptoms of depression. Personally, depression makes me feel like I'm in a fog. Staying in bed feels better than fighting my way through the grey cloud of despair.
I just need to get up and do something, right? Well, sunshine, hobbies, and chamomile tea can fix a bad mood, but they can't cure depression. One of the major red flags for depression is that you no longer enjoy things you used to find pleasurable. That's why taking a nice long walk isn't going to work for me.
"Suck It Up"
When the previous two "encouragements" don't work, people often resort to blaming depressed people for their condition. They tell them to "get a grip" or "pull yourself up by your bootstraps." They label them self-absorbed complainers. Guess what? Being depressed already makes me feel bad about myself. I don't need any extra assistance in that department.
"You Take Medication For That?"
Newsflash: taking anti-depressants is not a moral failing. No one questions a diabetic who takes insulin or an asthmatic who uses an inhaler. So yes, I take a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor for the chemical imbalance in my brain. When I take my pill in the morning, I am treating a medical condition.
"You Don't Need Therapy"
For me, therapy is an essential component to managing my mental illness. I've learned valuable skills, such as mindfulness practice, that have made a positive impact on my quality of life. Who is anyone to say what I do or don't need?
Sometimes it just helps to talk to someone, especially if that person is objective, compassionate, and trained. Seeing a mental health professional for depression isn't any different than seeing a speech-language pathologist for a stutter.
"You Know It's Genetic, Right?"
Yeah, I actually do. I'm aware that scientists estimate that people with parents or siblings with depression are three times more likely to have the condition (although whether that's genetic, environmental, or a combination of the two is up for debate).
The insinuation is that I'm going to pass it on to my daughter. This thought already terrifies me. No one wants their kid to suffer, but I don't think it's irresponsible for me to have a child because she might be predisposed to mental illness. I believe that's what this comment really means, which is why this comment has no business even existing.
"I Feel Bad For Your Kids"
I think one of the defining characteristics of my writing is my brutal honesty. I write openly about my depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder in the hopes it will help address misunderstandings as well as encourage moms like me that they aren't alone.
Writing on an online platform means opening myself up to comments from people who use the veil of social media to say cruel things to a total stranger. I recognize that I "signed up" for this, but that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt when someone says they feel sorry for my child and pray for her wellbeing with such a so-called "obviously emotionally compromised" mother.
"Suicide Is Selfish"
In my mid-20s, after a betrayal by a woman I loved as a sister and a series of unfortunate romantic entanglements, I began to feel like I didn't want to "be here" anymore. One weekend, I took a bunch sleeping pills with a glass of chardonnay. I just wanted to go to sleep for awhile. It's the closest I've ever come to an attempt at ending my own life.
I don't have a problem with people who care about me asking if I've had thoughts of hurting myself or others if their intent is help me before something tragic happens. It's not, however, helpful to make a depressed person feel guilty for suicidal thoughts.
"You Don't Look Depressed"
People with invisible disabilities know exactly what I'm talking about (thanks to rude people who leave notes on their cars when they rightly park in the handicapped spot). You can't tell that a person is depressed just by looking.
I happen to have high-functioning depression. I have periods of happiness. I get up and go to work no matter what, and I know how to be the life of the party. But those are coping mechanisms. Inside, I'm tired, overwhelmed, worried... and hiding in plain sight.
"Everyone Gets Depressed Sometimes"
No, actually, they don't. Everyone gets sad sometimes, but they don't all have clinical depression. If you went through a difficult period and pulled yourself out of it, that's wonderful, but it doesn't make me a snowflake. Your experience doesn't negate mine. Depression is real, and I have it, so please watch what you say.
If you're struggling with depression and/or thoughts of suicide, you can reach the U.S. National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255. International hotlines can be found here.