I am 27 years old and I have suffered from anxiety and episodes of depression, going back to childhood. I am currently receiving treatment and I'm lucky enough to have a supportive employer and friends and family around me. For a long time, I tried to hide my feelings from all but my closest friends. Recently I made the decision to talk more openly about my mental health and I've had a lot of positive responses. However, there will always be people who do not understand and say insensitive things. I am hoping that by writing this blog post I will help other people to understand a little more about how to talk about mental health in an empathetic way. In my experience, this is one of the most unhelpful things to hear when you are struggling with your mental health:
“There are a lot of people who are worse off than you are. What do you have to be sad about?”
This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of depression. Depression is not about wallowing in self-pity - self-pity assumes you believe that you are worthy of better. Depression tells you that you are worthless and deserve to be punished. It overwhelms you with feelings of guilt and shame. Personally, I feel the pain and sadness of everyone all at once and it is crushing. I have to try to put aside the thoughts of all the suffering in the world in order to be able to function. So I don't need anybody reminding me about all that sadness, or telling me that I am ungrateful for what I've got.
The argument that I'm not allowed to feel bad about my own situation because somebody else has it worse is a flawed one. I thought about this logically and concluded that if there is always somebody worse off than you who deserves sympathy more, among the seven billion humans on Earth, only one truly has it the worst, and we are only allowed to feel sorry for that one person. I don't know how you might go about identifying this person whose life is the most tragic of all. Unless you're prepared to go through the process of finding this individual, perhaps we could agree that trying to one-up somebody's problems is not productive or helpful.
What helps me is having people who are prepared to listen to what I have to say, rather than coming out with empty clichés. Dealing with depressed people can be frustrating because at times we seem to have a negative answer to every solution you pose. However, stick with us, because when we are better we will appreciate your non-judgemental support far more than tactless reprimands from other people. If you know somebody who is depressed, listen to what they have to say, don't try to argue with them if they're upset, and try to avoid saying anything that reinforces their feelings of guilt, shame or failure. Don't shy away because you're not sure what to say, just being there to listen is enough.
Depression makes me want to isolate myself, but this only lets the depression take a greater hold. It makes such a difference to be invited to spend time with friends, even though sometimes I feel anxiety at the thought of socialising. I've been amazed by how much kindness and support people have shown me since I've been more open about my struggle and I really do appreciate it.