An example of the media in it’s brutal stigmatisation of depression.
You’ve probably heard the terrible news recently about Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings co-pilot who orchestrated a terrible suicide-murder that killed everybody on his flight.
Perhaps you heard the news through a newspaper such as the Sun. The media has also heavily reported on the fact that Lubitz suffered from depression and attributed this as a large factor contributing to his actions.
Whilst it is certainly the duty of the media to report on disasters like this, headlines such as “Madman in Cockpit” do nothing but unfairly stigmatise a health condition that is already misunderstood and often awkwardly avoided in conversation. This is despite the fact that 1 out of 4 people each year will experience some form of mental health problem.
Despite how the media may make people feel, depression is nothing to be ashamed of. I personally suffer from depression and anxiety and I refuse to be shunned by society on the basis of a chemical imbalance in my brain.
In light of this I have decided to write about my own experience with depression as I believe that the only way we can break down this stigma is to be open about it rather than being ashamed of things outwith our control. I’ll start by explaining how depression affects me personally, I will then describe my experience in seeking help with my depression and I’ll finish off with how I cope now on a day-to-day basis.
This is particularly difficult for me to write as I know that my friends and family will read this, a lot of them may not even know of my depression. However this is the kind of openness that we as a society need in order to progress and give sufferers of mental illness the support that they need.
So here goes nothing, for those of you that I’ve never met, this is me:
This picture was taken 1-2 years ago. Whilst I look extremely happy (probably too happy), this was possibly one of the lowest periods I’ve had.
You’re maybe wondering what was so bad at this point in my life, and I’ll be frank, nothing.
I was studying HNC Social Sciences at Dundee College, and doing really well in all of my coursework, I had (and still have) an amazing family and I was in a relationship at the time which I was pretty happy with. There was genuinely nothing in my life that should have upset me.
Yet I was miserable.
It’s pretty hard to explain but I’m going to try and describe the feeling:
Think about the last time something upset you; perhaps the death of a cherished family pet, or you were dumped in a relationship that you were really happy with.
Well when that happens, your brain registers that something bad has happened and releases the relevant ‘sad hormones’ which then gives you the feeling of being upset.
Well that’s how depression feels, except nothing happens to trigger it. Your brain just releases these sad hormones for reasons best known to itself.
With this in mind; when something bad actually happens, even something minor, it can feel pretty damn catastrophic.
So there’s something to think about when asking why somebody is depressed, there isn’t necessarily a reason.
Contrary to what you might believe, depression isn’t just feeling sad. There are many symptoms of depression and they vary wildly between different people.
For example some people might lose their appetite and subsequently lose weight. On the other hand some people gain weight instead.
Some people, such as myself suffer from insomnia caused by their depression, I’m currently writing this at 5:30am.
Other people find that they sleep too much or can’t get out of bed due to depression, this is also a problem for me and I tend to miss a lot of lectures at university as I physically can’t move myself from my bed, sometimes I’m not even tired, I just don’t feel able to leave my safe haven to go and face the intimidating outside world that awaits me.
This brings me to another symptom of depression that has affected me greatly, apathy.
It can be very difficult to motivate myself to do things and it’s often misconstrued as laziness which is very frustrating for me.
My Dad in his well-intentioned attempts to help me do things will often say “you just lack motivation!” Well thanks Dad, I kind of know that.
He’ll often then tell me that I just need to motivate myself. Let me tell you, while he means well, that’s like telling a crippled man that he just needs to get up and walk.
It’s hard to understand depression if you’ve never experienced it yourself, it’s like trying to imagine a colour you’ve never seen before, but we need to make an effort to empathise with people suffering from mental illness, it can be just as hard for them to put it into words as they often don’t quite understand it themselves.
At some particularly low-points of my life I have resorted to self-harm. There was one night in 2013 where I felt particularly hopeless. It was like nothing I could do would ever be of any importance. I attempted to take my own life by overdosing on Co-codamol (strong painkillers).
Obviously my plan failed and I woke up the next morning feeling very ill. I spent the rest of the day violently vomiting but managed to convince my family that it was just a bug. They believed this until a few weeks later when I finally admitted what happened to my parents, this brings me to my experience in seeking professional help.
I was referred to a psychiatrist in Arbroath. When he asked me to explain to him how I felt, it was difficult to know where to begin.
Sad, apathetic, lethargic, hopeless, detatched, like I’m watching all of my actions through a TV screen but it’s not actually me that’s doing them, I’m in autopilot.
I left the appointment with the psychiatrist feeling just as confused about me as I did. He told me he was struggling to understand my problems as I didn’t seem to understand them myself. My next appointment would be in 4 months time.
After 4 months of feeling crazy because I was someone who needed a psychiatrist, yet not actually receiving the support of a psychiatrist over these months I finally had my second appointment.
In all honesty, the psychiatrist seemed disinterested in me and seemed eager to just put me on anti-depressants.
I don’t want to go on medication when the doctor doesn’t even seem to be sure of what’s wrong with me!
If I went to the GP with a weird lump, would they give me chemotherapy if they were unsure of what was wrong?!
I refused the medication and insisted on a more therapy-based approach to which the psychiatrist finally agreed.
After waiting a month I finally had my first appointment with a counselor, a lovely and friendly women who I quickly opened up to.
However it didn’t last, after my second session with her she seemed equally as confused about my feelings as the psychiatrist had been and recommended “a slightly higher level of care”.
I was then sent back to seeing the psychiatrist once every four months.
I eventually became very frustrated with the whole system, accepted the anti-depressants and then told the psychiatrist that I felt “perfect” so that I wouldn’t have to travel from Monifieth to Arbroath once every four months just to have some guy make a half-assed attempt of figuring me out, as if he was trying to solve a sudoku puzzle whilst watching the telly.
After reluctantly taking the medication, I found that it did help to ease my anxiety and panic attacks (which were a big burden to me at the time), but it did not help with my depression. It also seemed to fog my mind, it’s like it helped my anxiety by throwing a big wet blanket over my brain.
Basically, we really need to look at the treatment of mental health issues in our healthcare system as in my experience, it’s not nearly good enough.
I came off of the medication fairly recently, whilst depression is still a problem for me, I’ve managed to find some meaning in my life which has really helped me cope. I’m studying psychology at the University of St Andrews with an aim to eventually become a psychotherapist. I plan to use my experiences of depression to help me in supporting those going through similar problems.
After all, who’s better suited to save those who are lost in a sea of depression than one who is already wet?
Sadly, in the world of politics I have not seen many people working towards the better treatment of the mentally ill.
This is why I support the Liberal Democrats, the only party I have seen who are really making an effort in this area.
Thank you for reading my story, I hope it encourages other people to speak out about their own experiences with mental health issues.
If you are feeling depressed or suicidal and need to talk to someone you can call Samaritans (08457 90 90 90) or Childline (0800 1111).