Wednesday, 24 June 2020

It's Good to Talk

Depression doesn't like being talked about. It doesn't like it because it dispels some of the secrecy and mystery surrounding it. Every time someone talks about depression then depression can become a little less powerful. 

As I've said before depression thrives on secrecy and invisibility. If you suddenly develop depression and have no knowledge of the illness - then it is likely to hit you harder than necessary. Men are particularly prone to suicide - more than three times more likely than women and so it is particularly important for men to talk about depression.

If you have no knowledge of depression then you are more likely to blame yourself for it. You are more likely to internalise it and, as a result, more likely to kill yourself. I always think of the football manager Gary Speed - who after appearing on the BBC's Football Focus and after watching a Newcastle V Manchester united game with his friend Alan Shearer in 2011 - apparently in good spirits - came home and killed himself.

What needs to happen is that the world needs to start having more conversations about depression. But how do we talk about depression? There is still a large stigma surrounding the illness. Many people are ashamed of having it and even more ashamed of talking about it.

Imagine that workplace water-cooler moment where somebody asks: 'How are you?' Even if you are depressed you're very unlikely to say 'You know what, I'm depressed.' Why doesn't that conversation normally happen? Well, owning up to depression is difficult. People feel ashamed that they feel depressed - even to somebody they know quite well. We are conditioned to think that depression is somehow unacceptable - somehow a weakness - even though it is a real illness. For some reason, mental health is seen as problematic - wheres physical health is OK.

We may have concerns for the other person. What if they are not OK with people talking about depression. Maybe it will find it uncomfortable? Maybe it will make them depressed? But in an ideal world we should be able to say we are depressed and in an ideal world we should get the response: 'Sorry to hear that. Anything I can do? Do you want to talk about it?' Just that acknowledgement lets in some oxygen. It breaks the seal on the bell jar; it lets in some light. 

But we need to build the confidence for people world-wide to have these conversations. We need to live in a world where it is OK to be open about depression - where it is OK to be not OK. Not talking about depression simply plays straight into its hand. Ultimately it only increases the death toll and the suffering.  If you had heart disease or diabetes or cancer there wouldn't be any stigma about talking about it. People would (normally) be sympathetic and that's where we need there to be with depression. Mental and physical health should be treated similarly; there should be no divide. It should be just health. Full stop.

So we all need to encourage dialogue about this illness - whether it is spoken or in books, or on blogs or on social media or on TV - it doesn't matter. So when that average guy - like Gary Speed maybe - who is suddenly beset by those terrible dark thoughts - doesn't think: 'Shit what's wrong with me; I feel like ending it all'  but instead: 'Hold on, isn't this depression?' I heard about it the other day and I know that it can make you think bad things.' We need to dispel the mystery and the invisibility surrounding depression.

Some of us are lucky and can open up to friends. But for others this isn't possible. If you can't talk to friends or family then try your GP or the HR where you work, or local clergy, or community workers. If necessary, pay money to have counseling. These days many many people have counseling for a whole range of issues. CBT can be a real game-changer.

But remember that you can also read about depression too. For me - reading depression memoirs was an important way of finding out about the illness. It gave me a reference point in the darkness. When I was having a particularly bad day - I knew that I wasn't alone. I knew that William Styron, and Matt Haig and Mark Rice -Oxley had been there before. That is ultimately why I wanted to write this book - to share some information - in the hope that it might help others. When you're down in the depths, it's vital to know that other people have been there too and come out the other side. That knowledge can be life saving.

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