With the news of actor Robin Williams’ passing my attention is drawn to the pain he must have endured. I don’t mean the physical. I mean the aching emptiness that surely consumed him as he took his own life. I’m not sure that anyone who has not experienced this type of depression can wholly understand the abyss that one can fall in.
I’m sure that as the next few days and weeks pass there will be some real dialogue about depression and suicide, and I hope that it sparks some thoughtful contemplation. My purpose of this post is not necessarily to bring attention to the issue, Robbin’s act of desperation already did that. My purpose is to try to bring some understanding and compassion to those who have never experienced this enslaving disease and therefore discount or minimize the overwhelming subjugation of depression.
Too many times I have heard people-celebrities, politicians, neighbors, and friends-place the blame solely on the sick. I’ve heard comments like “They just need to get up and stir around” or “It’s all in their head”. I’ve sat by silently as fellow Christians make comments like “They just need to turn to God” or “They are being selfish, life is not all about them. What about their family and friends?” I can promise you, readers, that depression is far more than any of these opinions grasp.
Before I address the above comments, though, let me try and create a visual analogy to help y’all better understand. To me, depression is like a sea-coast fog. Not the kind of fog that we experience here in the south that comes in the early morning morning hours, softly blanketing the fields and slowly floating across the roads. No. Depression is like the thick, clinging fog. The kind that prohibits real vision beyond a foot or two and leaves a damp footprint on everything it touches. This fog lingers for days at a time. It awakens and caresses every one of your scenes and enters you with every breath. The clarity that you once viewed life with is now hazy and blurred and no matter what you do, the fog lingers and clings on.
Imagine that instead of living in a town where this happens for a few days and then a strong wind and bright sun come along to clear the way that this fog is part of your every day life. Now imagine that your daily life is spent walking through a hazy mist, that no matter how hard you try the fog of your life wraps around you and crushes you a little at a time. If you can picture this then you might get sense of what it is like to walk through life while battling depression.
Now, let me take a moment to address those comments from earlier. I think that for some reason because depression affects one’s emotions that people don’t see it as a “real” disease and that is where the ludicrous comments originate from. Let me set that falsehood straight. Depression is as real as cancer or diabetes or even a broken bone. In an article on the Psychology Today website entitled “The Modern Mind” Dr. Liah Greenfield describes depression as being [...a real disease, severe and often fatal...]“
Would you tell a cancer patient to “just stir around” or read their Bible? While both of those probably have major benefits, they are not the solution. I know that God can heal and that keeping Him close brings comfort, but He created people and called them to disciplines so that they can continue His ministry in a physical form. Just like a cancer patient needs to go see a doctor and get on a treatment plan, those that suffer from depression need help.
When a depressed person succumbs to their disease and takes their life there is no way that any of us can know what goes through their mind. While those of us looking in from the outside may see their life as filled with wonder and love, they (obviously) did not. While we may see their death as an act of cowardice there is a good chance that they see it as the only solution or as a gift to their loved ones. When a person is in that state their view on life is warped, like a fun-house mirror. They may see their life as a complete drain on others and they may genuinely think that their family and friends would be better off in life without someone to constantly bring them down or drain them: or, their vision may be so clouded that they do not see the love and admiration that others hold and feel so alone and lost that only one solution seems viable to them.
Whatever the reason may be, remember that when a person is in “that place” they are lost in the fog and genuinely cannot find their way out. Those that suffer from depression need our sympathy and love, not our judgments and ad-libbed, sure-fire cures for whatever ails them. Depression should not be a disease that is hidden under the rug and discussed in hushed tones. It should be talked about and fought against as much as breast cancer or Parkinson’s disease. There should be marathons, bumper stickers, and ceremonies honoring those who have succumbed and survived. We, as a society, should treat those who suffer from depression with as much sympathy and dignity as we do any other person who suffers from any other disease.
I believe that until we actively remove the stigma that is attached to depression that recovery in large will always be stymied. Treatment cannot be received if people are afraid to tell others that they are suffering and people will always be afraid as long as we allow depression to be ridiculed, mocked, and dismissed. It is time for a change; a change of attitude and a change of perception. I am praying that by combining our small voices we can create a roar that echoes for centuries to come.
I am ready to fight and I will do that by refusing to be ashamed and no longer treating depression as if it is a dirty secret.
My name is Melonie and I have suffered from depression since I was twelve.
With all my love,