Despite the growing awareness of mental health, a number of myths still stubbornly persist.
I’m struggling right now, coming off antidepressant medication after five years isn’t easy, and I know that I need to take some time to make sure I am looking after myself and getting well again. When we’re struggling, we can become hyper-aware of the myths that exist, and our brains can grab onto them and jump on us with their size 12 boots on, to give us a good kicking. Even though we know that these myths are total rubbish – fake news even – they can invade our thoughts, highlighting just how pervasive they can be.
Well, it’s about time they were laid to rest. So, let’s line them up and I’ll knock them right down, starting with…
Myth Number 1: Depression is just being sad
You know those days when you just don’t want to get out of bed? We all have them don’t we? But you just get up and get on with your day don’t you? Not like those ‘depressed’ people, laying in bed, wallowing in their sadness. If you can get up and get on with your day then why can’t they?
Because they are not sad, they have depression. Comparing depression to feeling sad is like comparing an everyday headache – you know, we all get them, pop a paracetamol, get on with our day – to a brain tumour i.e. totally insensitive and missing the point entirely.
You CANNOT feel happy when severely depressed. That wonderful feeling that makes life worth living, that lies at the root of all our desires, is gone. Gone. And you can’t choose to feel happy when you are depressed any more than you can choose to stop the room from spinning when you are drunk as a skunk.
Myth Number 2: Depression means you are a pessimist
I have so much to look forward to. I love my job, I love writing, I love speaking. I have lots of exciting new opportunities ahead of me, I have absolutely no doubt about that. And yet… I struggle with depression.
I’d like to think I’m pretty good at looking on the bright side – the darkest times of my life have led to the very best. Hell, I’ve returned to Tinder time and time and time again – if that isn’t the dictionary definition of ‘optimist’ yet, it should only be a matter of time.
Nobody is more aware than I am that there is always a silver lining to be found. Didn’t stop me from suffering with depression though.
Myth Number 3: Depression means you’re ungrateful
Since I was a child I have taken time to be thankful for the good things in my life. Every. Single. Night. And yet…drum roll please…I have still experienced horrendous bouts of depression.
I know there are people far worse off than me. I know I have countless reasons to be grateful, and, guess what – I am! It didn’t stop me from being brought to my knees by crippling depressions that led me to some of the darkest places that a mind can go to.
Oh, and counting your blessings while you are severely depressed? Try nailing jelly to a wall, see how you get on.
Myth Number 4: Depression is your fault
People get ill for all kinds of reasons, some preventable, some not. Being ill is never nice, and it can be truly, truly terrible. But in most cases, we don’t judge or blame people for their illnesses.
Even if we know that, had a person looked after themselves better then maybe they wouldn’t have had that heart attack, it doesn’t become the overarching narrative that obliterates our sympathy, care and compassion. We don’t tell people we’ve had a heart attack and expect to be met with judgement about our character.
We don’t define an entire person by their heart attack, and we certainly don’t do it after they have recovered, even if we know there is a risk it could happen again.
You get me?
Myth Number 5: Depression means you’re weak
I work in boxing. Here’s a few names for you: Frank Bruno. Ricky Hatton. Tyson Fury, Nigel Benn.
Weak? Try telling them that and let me know how you get on.
Myth Number 6: Depression is not a real illness
I’ve never had cancer. I hope I never will. But despite not having it I don’t doubt that it is a real illness. Why not?
Stupid question isn’t it? Because people suffer with and die from cancer every single day. Well, guess what…?
So take ignorance elsewhere, I choose to believe the lived experience of millions of people – myself included – over the arrogant disregard of those that can’t conceive of the idea that depression is an illness just because they haven’t experienced it themselves.
Myth Number 7: Depression can’t happen to you
You have a heart – you can have a heart attack.
You have lungs – you can get pneumonia.
You have a brain…Believe it or not the brain is an organ just like any other. And sometimes organs go wrong.
We are all made of the same stuff. Anybody can suffer with depression.
Matthew Williams is an author, blogger, speaker and coach. He lives in the North East of England with his two young children. He is passionate about positive change and turning life’s challenges into lessons for creating a better future. He hopes that by writing about his own experiences he will be able to inspire others to make positive changes in their lives. His first book, Something Changed: Stumbling Through Divorce, Dating and Depression, is available now.
Image courtesy of Ali Yahya.