Depression is simply a chemical imbalance. As a neuroscientist, that is what I like to tell myself. Why then, does it clamp onto my mind like a vice? That inexplicable feeling of self-degradation and self-destruction… it can be overwhelming. Friends have asked ‘what does having depression feel like?’, to which I usually reply: ‘believe me – you do not want to know’. Despite many articles and books referring to the subject, most of those on the outside cannot really conceptualise its debilitating nature, and thus cannot sympathise with those who suffer.
Worryingly, this will only increase with the impending cuts to mental health care both in the United States and in the United Kingdom. This scary possibility only emphasises the importance of being able to speak out on a public platform. Only being 24 at the time of writing, I have suffered with depression for approximately 12 years. However, I am in no way unique. Globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression – numbers aligning with the total population of the United States. In fact, 1 in 4 of us will suffer from a mental health problem at some point in our lives. Why then, do sufferers feel so isolated?
Despite progress being made in recent years, talking about mental health disorders is still often seen as a taboo subject. The problem is, when compared to “physical” ailments, “mental” illness is still fighting for acceptance. This can be a primary reason why sufferers refuse to speak out. That lack of identification, awareness and knowledge from my own friends left me isolated for a long time. Of course, they meant well, but when an individual has no previous exposure to depression, their supportive actions can be somewhat limited. When I did eventually talk to someone, as with many other sufferers, it was associated with words like ‘brave’ and ‘courageous’. Talking about depression, or any mental health disorder for that fact, shouldn’t have to be. Speaking out should be a routine occurrence, as with any kind of ‘physical’ illness. So, why is mental health so uniquely shunned? Simple answer – it shouldn’t be.
As a man, I am intimately familiar with the habit of maintaining a “stiff upper lip”, despite the problems that arise because of this cultural phenomenon. This habit also translated over to family conversations – or lack of. My mother has suffered with depression and anxiety for over 30 years. If anyone is able to provide me with insightful and positive advice, it is her. And yet, initially, I was reluctant to speak to her. A part of me wanted to avoid bothering her with what I deemed ‘idiotic personal problems.’ And in that is where problems arise – thinking little of yourself and your inner demons.
80% of people who suffer with depression are not currently seeking help, despite its clear importance. Likely due to the fear of being patronised and depreciated. However, the complicated process of going through the health care system also contributes. Potential patients are required to jump through multiple hoops, not dissimilar to a mistreated tiger in a travelling circus. Thus, reliance on numbing behaviours such as self-harm, drinking and drug abuse become more apparent, and struggles aggravated – something personally relatable.
My aim is to break down some of the psychological barriers that are preventing us from talking to each other about mental health disorders. I will, and want to do this through the expression of my own experiences dealing with self-doubt, depression and anxiety, with a focus on things that help me when I feel isolated, lost, and alone.
When you suffer for an extensive period of time without seeking help, your comfort in the familiar can be a huge setback. It is human nature to be attracted to what is familiar, with the belief that it is unlikely to cause us harm. This is why it can be so difficult for people to leave hurtful relationships, because we find comfort in the familiarity of the behaviour. But familiarity and comfort with depression in isolation? This is an environment with no positive outcome.
If I can help towards at least one person suffering with a mental health disorder to speak out, whether to friends and family, a medical professional, or someone anonymously, then my writing is a success. Never be ashamed to admit you are vulnerable. We are all vulnerable, and you are not alone. Recognising this vulnerability is the first step in reshaping your own personal life. Do not let your struggles become your personal identity. You are allowed to scream, you are allowed to shout, you are allowed to cry, but you are not allowed to give up on yourself. And even if you don’t think or believe it, you are worth far more than a reduction in brain serotonin may suggest.