“I’ve got so much to do today so I can’t go out tonight, it’s just so depressing.”
“It’s so depressing – Martha got kicked off the Bake Off.”
“…the most embarrassing thing ever, I could have killed myself.”
“How do you feel today?”
All mental health, not just depression, is subject to these kinds of comments. You can hear them all over the place – coffee shops, work places, bars, sermons – pretty much everywhere. I could spend this entire post trying not to rant about how much these kinds of words hurt, or how small it makes you feel, or how inconsiderate people are but I won’t – it’s hard not to get angry about it, but it won’t do much good. But talking about it will do good. Attitudes might not change quickly but we have to believe that they will eventually, because this way of thinking is so ingrained into our society, even our dictionaries, that it needs talking about:
(of a person) in a state of unhappiness or despondency.
“she felt lonely and depressed”
a serious medical condition in which a person feels very sad, hopeless, and unimportant and often is unable to live in a normal way
Just as a note: the medical definition didn’t even appear in my initial google search. I had to go into the Webster online dictionary to find that, and there it appeared second after “A state of feeling sad”.
The way we think about depression and mental health needs challenging, and challenging soon. Ranting about it won’t help, but talking about it will.
When I was at school “gay” was used pretty commonly as a term to describe things which people found annoying.
“I can’t believe you took our ball, you’re so gay.”
“It’s so gay, we got given chemistry homework for over half term.”
Now it’s barely used as an expression. Why should “I’m so depressed” be any different?
If you think about it, it’s not so unsurprising that people with depression live two different lives. Some people fear sharks, some people fear the dark, some people fear heights. For me, and for 1 in 4 people in the UK, the thing they and I fear most often is ourselves – the fear of the truth, the honesty, and the vulnerability that comes with being “real”. It’s not even a fear you can escape – it follows you around like an unwanted shadow – you can avoid shark infested water, you can keep a light on, you can stay away from tall buildings. However you can’t escape a fear of yourself.
You fear yourself because of how it makes other people think about you. Or the not you. The depressed you. The not ‘normal’ you. It’s the shame, the embarrassment, it’s the disapproving or pitying look on a friend’s face – that’s what stops people from getting help, from hiding it away. From hiding broken you and presenting happy ‘normal’ you to the world.
It’s pretty shocking really that they feel they have to hide. In fact it makes me angry that they feel they have to hide at all, that I feel I have to hide. Even though I blog about my experiences with the internet, if someone asks “How are you doing today?” regardless of how I’m actually feeling – be it that I’ve thought about killing myself at least twice in the past hour, or like I really don’t want to be out of bed at all, if ever – chances are I’ll answer “Fine, thanks, how are you?” If I was feeling like my stomach was turning inside out because I have some awful bug or like my head weighed a tonne because I’d been up all night, I wouldn’t think twice about saying so if someone asked why I didn’t look so perky today. My stomach regularly goes to contortion classes and my head decides to go weight lifting and quite often I don’t look too perky, but it’s rare that I, or any one else would say, “The depression is playing up again, just not feeling myself at the moment.” It’s odd how this is the case – part of me wants to be able to say how I’m actually feeling, but the rest of me wants to run in the opposite direction because of what the other person might think or say.
Not to long ago was World Mental Health Day – a day designed to raise awareness about mental health and challenge the stigma (and there is still stigma) attached to mental health. The statistic being quoted all over the internet was that 1 in 4 people in the UK, a whole quarter of the population, will experience some kind of mental health issue in the course of a year. Every 30 seconds someone takes their own life across the world. Compare that to the number of people who identify as gay or bisexual – 1.5% of the UK population. Or that every 60 seconds someone dies of breast cancer.
If we can change our attitude to the word “gay” surely we can change our attitude to words around mental health? If thousands run for breast cancer, why not mental health issues? Admittedly it’s hard to compare, but the numbers still stand.
This post isn’t aimed as an attack or a criticism – people slip up in all walks of life and say things that annoy people or let them down or try too hard, including me. It’s more of a signpost, a reminder to be wary of what we say. And that applies for both those who suffer and those who don’t – I’m not exempt from this – I know I’ve made flippant comments about depression and suicide to my friends which are unhelpful and potentially hurtful to those who are trying to care for me when no one else wants to be my friend. It goes both ways.
Even biblically we’re called to watch what we speak, to be careful that what comes out of our mouth isn’t damaging or hurtful.
Ephesians 4:29 Let no harmful language come from your mouth, only good words that are helpful in meeting the need, words that will benefit those who hear them.
Words can be used to harm both by accident and deliberately, but we are called to use our speech in a ways that means no one feels belittled or alienated regardless. Being loving in our speech isn’t just about being nice or evangelising every time you have a conversation, it also means recognising that everyone is made in the image of God, whatever their mental or physical health and using your words accordingly.
So that’s why I write – to remind both me and others to be loving in their speech, and so people know what being depressed is really like. Depressed is not being sad for a bit because my favourite TV character got kicked off such and such – it’s being sad for no reason at all, day after day, with very little hope it will get better. You can’t go out tonight, not because you have too much work – you can’t go out because you’re afraid and ashamed of showing your arms or legs in public because of the stares and whispers behind your back. You don’t think about killing yourself because you tripped up in front of that guy you like – you think about killing yourself because you’re not sure if the effort to keep on living is really worth all that.
So lets all think before we speak.