The three types of people who write most often when I post about depression are:
- Those who are being treated.
- Those who tell us to man the fuck up and get over it.
- Those who are reluctant to get professional help.
I don’t think the fact that those last two categories coexist is a coincidence. Psychiatric illnesses come with a stigma, perpetuated not only by the assholes whose vitriol says more about them than us, but also by perfectly compassionate people who just don’t get it.
The assholes have too much inertia working against them for there to be any hope. As for the other two, a lot of them won’t accept that depression has a large physiological component. I’m no expert on what, precisely, goes down in the brain of a depression patient beyond that there is a chemical imbalance, as there is in diabetes. Few diabetes patients would go without treatment, so why should depression patients?
Psychiatry is still moving towards an absolute understanding of the causes of psych diagnoses, and I would be surprised if we one day didn’t absorb them into our medical model, and shifted them out of the DSM entirely.
News just in: the brain is a complicated thing. I have a teensy scar on my temporal lobe. As a result, I’ve moved from suicidal to ecstatic and back again in minutes. That scar also causes occasional face blindness, hallucinations, and sometimes a complete inability to understand how the world works: the fact, say, that pouring water into a glass will cause said glass to hold that water or that walking makes you move forward.
The medical world used to see those epilepsy symptoms as psychological, but mine are in remission because of anticonvulsants. The weirdest part? The medical world doesn’t even know how my drugs work. They have educated guesses, and that’s it. So I’ll say it again for those two people who were listening to Radiohead instead of me earlier: the brain is fucking complicated. We do not have a complete understanding of it yet, but we do know that many of the most stigmatised psychiatric disorders have physiological causes.
I sometimes wonder if depression sufferers who struggle to seek help think the fact that they’re not coping is an indication of their failings rather than a sign of how fucking hard depression is to cope with. Even if you’re an emotional Incredible Hulk, depression can kill you.
I’ve lived for years with symptoms seated in psychology, and those that are purely physical. I’ve done ICU time and more months in hospital than I can count, and I’d choose those over depression every day of the week. Next time you judge yourself for not making a spontaneous recovery from your psych disorder, next time you decide to go rooting around in your psyche in search of the kind of superhuman strength none of us actually have, remember that. There are no rational reasons to go it alone. None. And you deserve more kindness than that anyway.