I want you to picture a person with depression. Are you seeing the dark bedroom, filthy sweatpants, empty eyes, poor health and general lack of prosperity?
You know what I see when I picture depression? A blonde, blue-eyed teenage girl. She gets awesome grades, loves to paint, go to football games, drink Starbucks, Instagram and giggle with her friends. She can quote Harry Potter, obsesses over makeup tutorials and cannot wait for college. She looks back at me every morning in the mirror.
Since I was diagnosed with depression five years ago, I have noticed a lot of stigma surrounding it. Even the image that pops into view when depression is mentioned is an inaccurate generalization. Anyone can have depression -- from celebrities, to hairstylists, to that guy next to you in algebra. It isn't just the gloomy kids. This illness is pervasive and the amount of misconception is astounding. So I am going to share some of my experiences to help clear the air.
We live in a time that demands instant gratification. We have Nyquil, cough syrup and various other insta-cures for our ailments. Unfortunately, antidepressants are not to depression as ibuprofen is to headaches. Depression is often a long journey. Medication and therapy help, but do not make it disappear. The only "cure" is to accept depression and try to make positive, healthy choices.
The worst part of a depressive episode is when someone asks questions like "Why?" "What happened?" or "Was someone mean to you?" Sometimes, there is an antecedent, but more often than not, depression just hits you. It feels like riding a bike, and in the blink of an eye, you're trying to pedal through quicksand with no tires. Moreover, it is almost impossible to explain, so trying to answer these questions makes you feel like even more of a failure. It can be frustrating as a friend or family member to read this -- advice is much easier to give when there is a definitive issue at hand. The best thing you can do when you are trying to help someone with depression is to simply be there.
I have depression, but I am one of 16 million Americans with the same diagnosis. Depression does not make me unique. What makes me unique is the fact that I talk about it. It took me four years to find a way to speak about my mental illness. The shame, weakness and hopelessness I feel when I am depressed are debilitating. These are not the kind of feelings I like to admit to having, but I know that I am not alone in my loneliness. There are millions of other people who feel just like me. I want them to know they are not alone, so I speak up. It may hurt to start the conversation, but in the end, the dark clouds overhead often lift.
The four things I would like you take away from this piece are the following:
1. There is no face of depression. It impacts every race, religion, gender, socioeconomic group and geographical area.
2. Depression has no miracle medicine or quick fix.
3. It is hard to explain depression, so it is best to just be there and not ask question.
4. Depression is painful to discuss, but it's beneficial to talk about it in the end.
The bottom line is that mental illness sucks. It's not fun to deal with personally, or to watch someone else battle it. The best thing you can do for yourself, or anyone else with a mental illness is to speak. An open dialogue is the only way that the stigma associates with mental illnesses can be eliminated.
P.S. If you believe that you are suffering from depression, I encourage you to get help. Find a counselor, pastor, parent or friend and spill your guts. You might cry, but talking about it can take away that clenched feeling in your chest that makes it hard to breathe.
Have a story about depression that you'd like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or give us a call at (860) 348-3376, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. And teens can also visit www.teenlineonline.org, call: 310-855-467 or text TEEN to 839863