Bringing you news once a week on the ongoing 60 Postcards journey (you can read a summary of the story here), and on Friday I share a story of an inspirational person, project or cause.
The issue of mental health is a very topical one right now, especially with the tragic loss of Robin Williams who was suffering from depression. It is an extremely tough subject for me to write about as I have not experienced it myself and on researching for this piece, I realised just how little I know. I want to know.
With a subject that has hit the headlines so strongly it is no surprise that the internet is swamped with thousands of articles. Every one has a slightly different angle and some report slightly different statistics. Most have a journalist’s opinion entwined. Some are helpful, others are absolutely not. But, what we must remember is that, despite the fact that it is a vitally important talking point, Robin’s family and friends are in mourning. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it must be for them to see so much written about the man they love and miss when they are in pain and shock.
One of the main points that is crystal clear from everything I have read, though, is that depression should not be simplified. It is an extremely complex condition – psychological or medical – which can be difficult to diagnose and to treat, often due to the stigma surrounding it. We need educating on the matter. We need to do more to help others. We need to encourage people to speak out.
I don’t feel that I am qualified to say much more on this. But, I do have friends who have suffered/are suffering from depression and one of them has bravely spoken out about their experience and her view of what needs to change:
“When you are physically ill, like having the flu, most people tend to let others know (or the signs are obvious). This normally results in friends and family giving comfort and making you feel better. The difficultly with depression is that the signs may not be obvious or understood by others. When going through particularly difficult stages of depression the last thing you want to do is to socialise, to talk to loved ones, it’s too hard. Therefore when someone makes the brave step of letting a friend know it can be crushing when well-meaning advice further highlights the lack of understanding surrounding this illness. ‘You’ve just had a couple of bad weeks things will get better’, ‘You should go out, it will help you snap out if it’ or, ‘Things are going really well in your life right now, how can you possibly be depressed?’. This is such a frustrating circle, you fear getting the wrong reaction, you keep quiet which leads to a lack of discussion which keeps depression a hidden issue. Once you tell someone you have suffered from depression it is very unlikely that this will be forgotten. Can you remember the last time a friend had a cold? Did it affect what you thought of them as a person? I’m pretty sure it didn’t, not sure the same can be said about depression. It is not easy to understand especially if you have never personally experienced it. If someone is strong enough to share their experiences with you, there isn’t a perfect response that will solve everything. It will be challenging, it will take time but it is crucial to keep lines of communication open and ultimately will be the best thing you can do to play your part in breaking down the stigma associated with depression.”
I am so grateful to my friend for sharing this. It can’t have been easy to write, but I was blown away. So articulate, brave and honest. Ashley James has a huge following of her highly successful blog, www.ashleylouisejames.com. I have recently become one of those followers. I enjoy the eclectic mix of posts – on beauty, lifestyle, travel, books – but recently it was a post she published for the Metro on dealing with anxiety and depression that I believe was, by far, her most powerful piece yet. Through her words, she tries to give an insight into what it feels like for a sufferer using experiences that we can all relate to, ‘Have you ever had a friend, a lover, a teacher, or a boss who constantly puts you down and makes you feel terrible? The beauty of having negative people in your life is that you can walk away from them, but when that voice is coming from your own head you can’t escape.’ Within her post she covers the frustration, just as my friend touched on, of when things may appear to be all OK to an outsider. She explains that although many would look on and say she has a fantastic life, there doesn’t have to be anything ‘wrong’ for you to suffer. The blog post has been syndicated on several sites and I smiled from afar as I saw the flurry of tweets – of deserved praise and thanks – that she was receiving on twitter for opening up. Despite my blog beginning due to a different experience to hers, I felt a connection to Ashley as she had written the post long before she published it, just as I had done with my first post about losing Mum. It’s a terrifying prospect to put yourself out there. ‘I want people to feel able to speak out’, was her closing comment and that is also a point that I have repeated on this blog and in my book. During a chat with my friend last night, we discussed that no matter what the issue may be – depression, bereavement, cancer – as much as we will continue to do everything we can to raise money for research and medication/cures, it is the preventative approach of raising awareness that we – as a society – have a huge amount of power over. Here are just a few of the many charities that offer support to those with mental health issues:
The inspirational aspect of this post today is for my friend, for Ashley and for all those who are speaking out. Together they are helping towards breaking through the barriers and squashing that unnecessary stigma. It may be, without realising, that there is someone close to us who is going through this. If we make sure we are educated and gain a better understanding on the topic, then we have more chance of helping those in need and to point them in the direction of help – towards charities such as the ones mentioned above.
Speak to you next week. Much love, Rachael x