Talking About Depression

Reasons why not to talk about having depression:

Embarrassment.

Shame.

People will make too big a deal of it.

People will make too little a deal of it.

People will be on eggshells, which would only decrease connection with others, which is something depressed people can’t afford to do.

People will talk.

People will judge.

People will not want themselves or their loved ones to be around you, and that may include the people on whom one depends for one’s livelihood.

It may come across as weakness.

It will reveal vulnerability.

Even the suggestion of the experience of the depths of depression could scare people off.

People will consider you overly sensitive.

People don’t take mental illness seriously.

People will resent whatever support you need, considering you selfish.

People will think what you mean is that you’re going through a period of sadness like the kind most people occasionally go through and refer to as being depressed, failing to understand that depression is something else altogether.

People will try to convince you to be more positive without realizing that depression affects one’s capacity, and even one’s will, and even one’s desire, to be positive, to appreciate things, to seek support, to accept help, to pursue wellness.

People who haven’t experienced depression cannot know what it’s like, whether simply because they may not have experienced it, or because they may misunderstand it, or because they may have biases against it.

People may feel threatened because they spend a lot of energy avoiding feelings of their own, and the very mention of depression may make their own feelings harder to ignore, and they won’t like that experience or the person they see as the cause of it.

People will feel burdened.

People will not want to help, or even if they do want to help, they won’t know how.

Surely there are many more reasons one could come up with.

Reasons to talk about having depression:

Because despite the reasons not to, it would have to be somehow a relief to be more open about it, to have less of a need to suppress oneself and pretend quite so often, and to open up more possibilities for dealing with it more effectively.

Because people may just demonstrate more understanding and acceptance rather than less.

Because if Robin Williams — someone so superlatively talented, and intelligent, and accomplished, and successful, and wealthy, and admired, and honored, and beloved by millions — and so aware of his own mental health issues, and open about them, and wiling to seek treatment for them multiple times in his life, as opposed to just ignoring them and letting them fester with no attention at all — if someone like that can suffer so badly from depression that it leads to suicide, then it really could happen to anyone at all, so if anyone suffering from depression is to have a chance of getting any better, they’d better make at least some of the effort that Robin Williams did to try to deal with it, including at least beginning to be open about it.

Because it may contribute even just a bit to making things better in general for those who suffer from mental illness.

Because what’s true is true whether we like it or not, and acknowledging it is probably, in the long run, one way or other, a good thing.

Surely there are many more reasons one could come up with.

But these should be enough.

Time for me to talk about depression.

I managed to say all this without referring to myself. Even now, I resist admitting it, and I’m definitely not yet ready to be fully open about it anywhere and everywhere. But the fact is that I’m someone who lives with depression. I was diagnosed nearly a decade ago. It seems it had been with me since childhood, it’s still with me now, and I’ve no idea if it will ever go away.

There have been many times I’ve wanted to talk about it or write about it with the hope that doing so might make a difference for myself and others. Through the days following Robin Williams’ suicide, and the many stories about it inspiring people to “come out” about their depression, I’ve just come to feel ridiculous for continuing to hold out. For what? For someone “better” to kill themselves and get the world even more riled up, so there’ll be some better bandwagon to jump on? No. I wish I’d had it in me to do this on Tuesday, or even right away on Monday evening when I first heard the news. Somehow I didn’t. So be it. A little bit late is better than waiting any longer.

I’m doing this not to make a big deal about myself. I’m not ready to make a big deal about this personally. But I am ready to turn the knob and prop the door open with my foot, at least enough to broach the subject. I do so in the hope that each new admission can be an extra drop to add to an ocean of understanding, to make a bigger deal about depression in general, and mental illness in general.

There are too many people who know they have these conditions and keep silent about it — as I’ve done until now.

There are too many people who know they have these conditions and even tell the world about it, but it still ends up being not enough — as was the case for Robin Williams.

There are too many people who have these conditions and don’t even realize it — or who maybe even refuse to consider the possibility.

We’ve simply got to get better at this. That’s got to involve the people who suffer from mental illness being more open about it and seeking more support for it. It’s got to involve everyone, whether you suffer from mental illness or not, whether you know someone who suffers from mental illness or not, it’s got to involve everyone being more open to talking about it and hearing about it. It’s got to involve eliminating the stigmas that are so unfairly and unhelpfully attached to mental illness.

Everybody’s got to die of something, but nobody should be driven to suicide. And even if one is never driven that far, nobody should have to live with the kinds of depression and other mental illnesses that this world we’ve created keeps inflicting on so many of us, sapping life so that we survive without really living.

Want to not have to talk about depression and mental illness? Help make a world where they aren’t rampant, so that there won’t be anything needing to be talked about.

Health, sanity and sustainability go hand in hand. Without them, not much else will matter in the end. Openness, awareness and understanding may not be enough, but they’re a start.

10 comments for “Talking About Depression

  1. Kat
    August 16, 2014 at 11:49 am

    We love you, Mark. And our world is better because you’re in it. Here’s to courage and sharing and creating space for everyone to be their full and authentic selves loving and being loved. You model that all so beautifully.

    • August 16, 2014 at 11:56 am

      Thanks so much, Kat. All of that means a lot, especially coming from you.

  2. Mary
    August 17, 2014 at 12:56 am

    Thanks for writing about this, Mark. It’s so important.

    I’m sorry you have to struggle with this, but I think the
    More people share, the more chance others will
    Find understanding or even help. I’ve had a hard
    Time shaking this off this week. Thanks for being
    So supportive and so helpful. You. Are. Awesome.

    • August 17, 2014 at 7:57 am

      Thanks so much. And you’re welcome. It seems weird to say both those things, but in the end I guess that’s what community is all about, and I need to keep looking harder to see that I may have more of that than I often realize.

  3. Chrystel
    August 20, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    Thanks for sharing this Mark. It is so difficult to talk about mental health issues. I applaude your courage! As an alcoholic who has also suffered from and been treated for depression and anxiety for 15 years, I was hit very hard by the loss of Robin Williams. Depression and substance abuse do not discriminate. Anyone can fall prey to these demons and so many suffer in silence. I agree that the more open and honest we can be, the more we can lesson the stigma. I have found reaching out and finding support to be a key factor in recovery. Slowly over the years, I’ve opened up to some around me, yet here we’ve known each other for a decade and we’ve hardly discussed any of this. Though I’ve grown to be quite honest about my life and past, I describe many painful situations with humor to cover up how I truly feel. I often subscribe to the “fake it til you make it” school of behavior and find that being perky and funny covers up much. Please know that you are certainly not alone.

    • August 21, 2014 at 7:23 am

      Thanks so much for reaching out, Chrystel, and for sharing all you did here. It’s truly appreciated.

  4. August 17, 2015 at 10:06 am

    Thanks so much for sharing this. Someone I loved committed suicide recently and it is exactly as you describe. He was a vibrant, talented, generous person who slipped into depression and even his clinicians in his treatment program didn’t believe that he was “that depressed.” The more we can share about this, the better.

    • August 17, 2015 at 10:21 am

      Thanks so much for writing, Ruth. I’m so sorry to hear about what happened. Absolutely, yes, the more we share, the better, so these things don’t have to happen in the future. Thanks again.

  5. Catherine Sheehy
    September 22, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    thank you for sharing this, Mark.

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