I have considered writing a post for Amis blog for sometime now but I was apprehensive as to what I could offer. The only way I can truthfully speak about depression and mental illness, having never suffered myself is from my perspective, a husband. Which is why I’m penning this letter more to the carers, husbands, wifes, friends and family of sufferers.
I have got a lot of things wrong so many times, and without doubt will do so in the future, I am no expert but ill happily share some of my thoughts. I would like to begin by firstly addressing some misconceptions which we all need to constantly keep making people aware.
The brain and the body are not two separate entities. The brain is an organ, like the heart, liver, lungs etc. The brain is susceptible to illness, as are other organs, sometimes things just go wrong. To tell a sufferer of depression to ‘pull themselves together’ or to ‘snap out of it’ is like telling a heart attack victim to ‘regulate their heartbeat’ or to tell a diabetic to ‘just produce more insulin’. Depression is an illness to which the sufferer has no control when symptoms spike.
Another point I’d like to address follows after reading the many comments on the passing of Robin Williams. I want to use this only as it is current, but the same question applies to anyone with mental health issues.
“how could someone who had everything do that?”
Lets be clear, Robin Williams did not die from asphyxiation, he died of depression. Asphyxiation was the only the method, his depression was the cause.
As for the question above, most sufferers of depression are fully aware how much they are loved and how lucky they are in other aspects of their lives which only adds/snowballs the feeling of hopelessness and guilt when an uncontrollable depressive episode takes control. Focusing on positive aspects of your lives is great, but using it as tool to highlight irrational behaviour due to the illness is unhelpful and more damaging.
Watching a loved one being consumed by depression is often painful and can manifest in guilt, anger and despair. Guilt is often the biggest feeling, ‘is it something Ive done’, “is there something I could have done better?”
Ninety nine times out of a hundred, no.
The biggest way to help a loved one is to simply be there. Be the shoulder to cry on, be the early warning system and support them. These ‘blips’ do pass and have no impact on living an otherwise normal fulfilling life.
One other point I would like to make is to avoid being the ‘armchair psychologist’, if you are not trained, leave it to the trained professionals. It is the most basic form of empathy to want to help someone in distress, especially a loved one. Do this though by seeking help from doctors and health professionals that practice evidence based medicine. Don’t misunderstand that statement, my point is; it is not a lesser job or a failure of your character to allow a more qualified person to help. Your job is equally as important, giving that day to day, hour to hour support when its required.
Thanks for reading this post, and I hope someone may take something from it. I am sure most of you have already read the letter below at some point, but if not its a fantastic snapshot of depression. A lady called Crystal contacted the equally fantastic Stephen Fry for advice, this was his reply;
I’m so sorry to hear that life is getting you down at the moment. Goodness knows, it can be so tough when nothing seems to fit and little seems to be fulfilling. I’m not sure there’s any specific advice I can give that will help bring life back its savour. Although they mean well, it’s sometimes quite galling to be reminded how much people love you when you don’t love yourself that much.
I’ve found that it’s of some help to think of one’s moods and feelings about the world as being similar to weather:
Here are some obvious things about the weather:
You can’t change it by wishing it away.
If it’s dark and rainy it really is dark and rainy and you can’t alter it.
It might be dark and rainy for two weeks in a row.
It will be sunny one day.
It isn’t under one’s control as to when the sun comes out, but come out it will.
It really is the same with one’s moods, I think. The wrong approach is to believe that they are illusions. They are real. Depression, anxiety, listlessness – these are as real as the weather – AND EQUALLY NOT UNDER ONE’s CONTROL. Not one’s fault.
They will pass: they really will.
In the same way that one has to accept the weather, so one has to accept how one feels about life sometimes.
‘Today’s a crap day,’ is a perfectly realistic approach. It’s all about finding a kind of mental umbrella.
‘Hey-ho, it’s raining inside: it isn’t my fault and there’s nothing I can do about it, but sit it out. But the sun may well come out tomorrow and when it does, I shall take full advantage.’
I don’t know if any of that is of any use: it may not seem it, and if so, I’m sorry. I just thought I’d drop you a line to wish you well in your search to find a little more pleasure and purpose in life.
Very best wishes