For about 10 years, I have been having nightmares almost every night. For the last 2 years, I have been on medication for depression and anxiety. But my sharing this news didn’t happen until recently. The stigma around depression, and the lack of energy that comes with the illness, prevented me from bringing up the topic. So I was silent… until I gathered the strength to start talking: first by giving a seminar at my department, and now by writing this post.
Depression is a common mental disorder. At some point in their lives, 1 in 4 people will struggle with it. And yet, less than 50% are adequately treated. It has been described as “the family secret that everyone has”, because we all know someone with depression. And yet, it is uncommon to have an open discussion about it. Why? There is still this unspoken belief of depression being, for example, a weakness of character. No wonder depressives may prefer to hide their condition!
Depression is very complex. There are many factors combined that lead to it: genetic, biological, environmental, psychological,… Two people may go through the same things under similar circumstances, and still one of them may end having depression while the other does not. This difference is not due to a weakness in character, but to the complexity just mentioned.
When I was diagnosed, I realized I knew almost nothing about depression. So I read several books on the topic. At the end of this post you can find a few recommendations from what I read, including a link to the World Health Organization. These were the main sources for the content of the seminar that I gave at my department at the beginning of this month.
I was surprised that I had to rebook the room for the seminar, after the registration list grew longer than expected. The event was opened to all staff and students, and was targeted both at people with depression and at those who want to support depressives. We also had people who simply wanted to know more about the illness. Given the good turnout, I would argue that there is an interest in the topic that we can address more in the future by having similar initiatives (I would be glad to repeat the seminar for your department or discuss with you what other options could be done at your institution).
The content of the talk was a mixture of information on depression and my own experience with it from different perspectives, to be followed by a discussion with the audience. Regarding the information, the points brought up included: What is depression? What are available treatments? What are some resources in Sweden for people with depression and their loved ones? As for my own experience, I used it to illustrate the treatment process (how it feels going to doctors and therapists, taking the medication and its side-effects, etc.) using extracts of my online medical records. I also talked about how others who are supporting me feel about it. Finally, I talked about suicidal thoughts and how, no matter how low depression may take you, it is a matter of time that things get better if you seek help. As depression is different for everyone, I never intended to present any of this as universal truths but rather as an examples to give a better idea about depression.
After the seminar, I started a partial sick leave (25% off) while stopping medication -with my doctor’s supervision-, and I focused on gaining energy after the draining process preparing for the event (which you may have noticed by the lack of posts lately). While the seminar did take a lot of energy to prepare, it also gave me so much back. People came to talk to me afterwards, sharing their own experiences, and letting me know that it helped them combat this feeling of being alone and not understood in this fight. I wonder if they know how much they helped ME.
We need to talk more about depression. It affects not only the many people who go through it, but also all of those who support them. Part of the struggle with depression comes from the stigma and the tremendous consumption of energy that hiding this illness entails. If we can openly talk about it, and inform others, it is already an invaluable contribution.
Talking about depression:
Whether you are going through this struggle, supporting others, or just want to discuss how you could help, I would be very glad to be a discussion partner. Just contact me!
Learning more about depression:
- Smith, Laura L., and Charles H. Elliott.Depression for dummies. John Wiley & Sons, 2011.
- Solomon, Andrew.The noonday demon: An atlas of depression. Simon and Schuster, 2014.
- Novak, Jacqueline. How to Weep in Public: Feeble Offerings from One Depressive to Another. Three Rivers Press, 2016 [humor]
- Depression: The Black Dog. World Health Organization