Never roam around the internet without a stash of chocolates. You might just come across a soap box with someone standing on top of it declaring their ignorance. This morning, I went wanering and came across these words in response to dialogue about suicide:
Dying is the easy way out.
It’s not the first time I’ve come across the idea that dying is easy. Such a sentence is only spoken by someone who has never gone through the dying process, which I can assure you is usually hell. Be that as it may, it bothers me more that victim blamers inhabit the planet doling out judgement to people who have physiological illnesses. And make no mistake, depression is a physiological illness. Saying ‘suicide is cowardice’ is like saying someone who died from epilepsy took the easy way out.
Let’s clear this up once and for all. Suicide is just one of many side effects of depression. Just as a fever is a symptom of the flu, suicidal ideation is a side effect of major depression. People do not simply go through a tough year in which their jobs are lost and their partners leave and then decide to suicide because life became too hard. Suicide is not the result of personal difficulties. It is the result of an illness.
Depression can be treated and managed. However, not all patients are treatable, and some don’t manage to fight their way to the surface of their illness well enough to even get treatment because depression removes your ability to care. Calling foul on such people is like raising a red card to someone who died because they messed up their diabetes treatment.
Ableism means, “If you aren’t as able as I am, you are less.” It’s a cruel viewpoint, and it needs to be thrown out with last week’s leftovers. Ableism about depression is like a virus around these parts. Because depression’s symptoms are mood-related, able people make the mistake of thinking that it is only a mood or a difficult life. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
What Causes Depression?
Most people are informed enough to know that a chemical imbalance has something to do with depression, but this is just one of many potential sources.
- The brain can’t regulate its mood.
Every part of the brain has a bunch of jobs. The cerebellum is the sleep doctor. The occipital lobe helps you recognise faces. My seizures sometimes make me face-blind. I literally can’t tell the difference between one person and another. I am not to blame for that. I have as much control over that face-blindness as you have over your blood pressure. In exactly the same way, the limbic system in the middle of the brain can cause depression. Stress starts the domino effect, but then the hippocampus takes over. The adrenal gland is activated over and over, which can cause diabetes, high blood pressure, a heart attack, and depression. Antidepressants work for some people but not others because there are billions of different chemicals that affect mood and the way you experience your life.
Just as your genes give you blue eyes, they can also make you prone to depression. Scientists have managed to pinpoint the exact genes responsible for how a person responds to sadness and antidepressants. That is one of many reasons that some patients of depression don’t respond well to any drugs. A transporter gene that is worse at its job than is the case in ‘normals’ pushes ordinary stress over the line into depression. Abnormal DNA sequencing can also cause both bipolar and major unipolar depression.
- Nerve cells can’t communicate
The brain is always forming new connections that function like highways. The more often those roads are used, the easier they are to use in the future. A highway that is never used eventually becomes overgrown by nature and studded with potholes to such an extent that cars can no longer use it. It’s the same with nerve cells. When they can’t communicate, those ‘highways’ become overgrown. Some depression patients literally have a smaller hippocampus than is normal. It’s possible that this makes that core of the brain a bit slow at producing neurons. Glutamate, serotonin, and three other neurotransmitters are sent out of whack in depressed people.
- Bipolar disorder
People with bipolar spend their lives fighting the highs and lows of their rollercoaster moods. Bipolar has genetic origins and is almost entirely caused bymalfunctioning biology in the brain.
If you had a crap childhood, you’re more likely to suffer from depression, but this has less to do with your psychology than you might think. Suffering from loss early on in life appears to send parts of the brain into overdrive. Trauma seems to cause nerve cell damage and fluctuating neurotransmitters.
Seasonal affective disorder is caused by less sunlight exposure, which can lead to depression.
10% to 15% of depressions are caused by medications and illnesses. I once took an anticonvulsant that made me suicidal. Two weeks after I stopped taking it, I was the happiest bouncing bean on the planet.
If you aren’t as able as I am, you are less. I become quite tired of that attitude. Depression patients are exactly that: patients. They have an illness. They are not bad or weak people. Can we clear away the soapboxes and replace them with hearts and hugs?