DEPRESSION is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign that you have been trying to be strong for too long. Put this as your status if you know someone who is suffering or has suffered from depression. Will you do it? Leave it on your status for at least an hour. Most people won’t, but it’s Mental Health Week and 1 in 5 of us will experience it at some point in our lives.
Does this look familiar? If you’re like me and have anything akin to a Facebook addiction, then it will. This blurb seems to make a new cameo every couple of months or so – interestingly enough, usually not in Mental Health Week, which takes place in Australia every October.
It’s a nice idea to post something like this as a show of solidarity, especially considering the kind of social stigma that depression has traditionally carried. I’ve experienced depression since about the age of thirteen, which is something I make no effort to hide. (I think that being able to unashamedly say that you have a mental illness is a very necessary step to de-stigmatising it – it shouldn’t have to be concealed.) So when I’ve seen my Facebook friends posting these words, I’ve felt touched and I’ve been reminded that I always have a support network ready to catch me. That’s important and very reassuring.
But this seemingly-immortal status update also irks and worries me a little – and here’s why. It’s true that depression is not a sign of weakness – that I 100 per cent agree with. But I doubt any accredited psychologist would attribute depression to simply being “a sign that you have been trying to be strong for too long”. In some ways, this can be true; people can develop environmentally-affected depression by going through difficult circumstances and dealing with them in maladaptive ways. But depression can also be inherited genetically, or brought about by neurobiological factors. One of the most difficult things to come to terms with when it comes to depression is that nobody can really pinpoint exactly where it comes from, what it’s due to, or how to ‘fix’ it. It’s impossible to accurately dissect that old conundrum of nature versus nurture; impossible to know what can be attributed to environment, and what can be attributed to pure science. Depression comes in many forms and has many contributing factors. It’s a little bit different for everyone who experiences it. It’s still debated over ad nauseum by those who know the most – the scientists, the researchers, the psychologists and psychiatrists.
I don’t only worry that describing depression as “a sign that you have been trying to be strong for too long” is an over-simplification; I fear it romanticises the issue. Making an illness seem like a badge, a medal or a sign of nobility just obscures what is really going on. It’s also dangerous in that it could prompt young or naive people to actually try to become depressed. At face value it sounds like such a ridiculous thing to do that nobody would dare go there, but really, what young person doesn’t feel the allure of experimentation? When you’re still finding yourself emotionally and psychologically, it makes perfect sense that you’d want to discover what’s out there – even if it’s lurking in awfully dark corners. You wouldn’t say that diabetes is a sign that that you’ve tried to be strong for too long, so why say that of depression? One condition is physical and one is mental, but both can be ongoing and have an everyday impact on peoples’ lives. Both can be gained through physical and environmental factors.
If you’ll excuse the irony of this statement, the basic fact is that depression is complex. Romanticising it and thus simplifying it is a misrepresentation, and ultimately it won’t help. But showing support and understanding does help, and it’s for this reason that when I see this status update posted by yet another friend, I brush my worries aside for a moment and I smile.
Photo of Edvard Munch’s Madonna
Alyssa Robinson has written 12 posts.
If you dissected me you'd get a lot of opinions, a lot of inconsequential stresses ("but where did the bobby pin go?"), a lot of half-baked entrepreneurial ideas that get smothered by more pressing needs like blog posts and frivolously humorous tweets, and a lot of Diet Coke (it fills the void). Oh, and I guess you'd get guts.
Follow on twitter: @thatsironical