This week, it is National Depression Awareness Week. Now I know that it's hard to keep up with the myriad of awareness days, weeks and months, but in light of the recent ill-informed and inaccurate reporting of depression in the media following the Germanwings tragedy, I would like to think that some of the media commentators who wrote the most inflammatory and inaccurate articles might take note and use this week as an opportunity to understand rather than condemn depression and inform their readership of balanced factual information.
But I suspect that they won't. The speed of digital age social media means that very few news stories have much sticking power. Leading news stories can become footnotes in history within a matter of days or even hours before the world moves on. Unfortunately the only things that do stick in the public's minds are the myths, the inaccuracies and the distorted mix of depression either being self indulgent attention seeking (see Katie Hopkins tweets ad passim) or a dangerous illness that puts the public at risk if anyone in a position of responsibility is taking antidepressant medication or has been previously treated for it (see Piers Morgan 'Depressed pilots on medication for mental illness should not be flying passenger planes. That's not insensitive - it's protecting lives' Daily Mail 27 March 2015).
So in lieu of the famous, glamorous or notable commentators explaining depression in realistic and accurate terms, I'm afraid that you'll have to put up with my mere nobody experience of depression instead. Sorry and all that.
As a mental health nurse, I never thought that depression would never happen to me and that if it did, I'd know what to do. Alas the reality was a total shock. I actually had no idea about what it would be like or what to do. Imagine a life in monochrome where the colour, light, and life has been sucked out. Imagine it hurting to breathe, hurting to move, the notion of opening one's eyes or getting up feeling utterly impossible. Imagine a shuffling grey foggy existence where the mere act of existence is a battle, where your favourite things, your passions, your memories, the best meal or piece of music or whatever floats your boat looks and feels like a lump of soggy cardboard. Imagine being trapped in a bubble where you can see and hear the world around you but you cannot connect with it. Where even the loved ones in your life feel like blurred figures on a bleak horizon. And then contemplate how you'd react to being told that you just needed to pull yourself together, that you were being self indulgent, or selfish, or in need of a kick up the arse or to get a grip. If only it was that easy eh?
Medication and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy helped but were not the only things. One of the biggest revelations to me was that the mere acceptance from my loved ones was one of the most important things in getting well. Those who treated me as usual and accepted the days when I didn't want to talk, or do things, or just cried, helped me beyond measure. They didn't nag or badger me to explain myself, spout fortune cookie motivational stuff or patronise me. They instead gave me a hug, helped with practical things, distracted me with simple pursuits that I enjoy without strident cajoling or rigid timetables and just were there reminding me of the everyday stuff. The second big revelation was the importance of pets. My previous psychiatrist encouraged me to get a dog and with some trepidation I did so. I love dogs but never realised that they are such good furry therapists. They don't judge or care about depression, they live for the moment, don't sweat the small stuff, love unconditionally, enjoy the simple pleasures of life and are extremely good at maintaining a routine that involves exercise, giving to someone else and getting out into the world again. My dog Mrs B taught me that I could recover from depression and that I was capable of giving and receiving love. When I lost her, Widget, my exceedingly cute, demanding, noisy and loving Jack Russell reinforced that lesson all over again and continues to give me hope, make me laugh, love me and keep me going in the world.
Depression is a horrible condition. It has killed friendships, relationships and my career. But it also is something that I've learned to live with and take control of when I can. All I ask of you is that during Depression Awareness Week, please take a moment to find out about the facts and realities of depression rather than swallow the soundbites from commentators who really should know better. The more we find out, the more we seek to understand and find out ways of supporting others positively. And that's something that really makes a difference believe me.
For further information, see depressionalliance.org