I know exactly how my friend Samantha* feels every time we meet. It’s written all over her face. My heart sinks every time I see her gorgeous, but sad, drawn face. It’s the face that says ‘I’m not coping at the moment, I’m sad, I’m depressed’. Equally my heart lifts every time I see her positive, happy, smiling face. But I haven’t seen that face for a while. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever get to see it again.
I'm not sure where my friend has gone, but she's been replaced by an anxious, worried woman
She’d be mortified to know I am writing this blog. Not many people know she's been as ill as she has been, that she has depression. A depression so severe, she has been hospitalised several times, has been diagnosed as having a personality disorder and is becoming resistant to treatment. It's heartbreaking to see her like this. She's also had to cope with many physical illnesses that have taken their toll on her health.
Samantha and I used to do so much together. She appeared to be a confident, strong, humorous, kind and very caring woman when we first met at work six years ago. We travelled abroad together, went to concerts, restaurants, theatre, generally had great time as two single female friends enjoying life. I'm not sure where that woman has gone, but she's been replaced by a sad, anxious, worried woman. I want my old friend back.
Mental illness doesn't just affect the afflicted but all those who love and care about them
It's sometimes hard being the friend of a mentally ill person. I very much want to help her, but ultimately there's not much I can do except be a good friend, help her when she asks for it and listen to her when she wants to talk. Mental illness doesn't just affect the afflicted but all those who love and care about them. You are not alone, we feel and share your pain.
I sometimes wonder how much one person can take. Her will to keep going shows the strength of her character. If only she could see that too. She has had amazing support from all the professionals looking after her from the community support team right through to the clinicians. There is no disputing that mental health services in her borough are working. The care and collaboration between different professionals has been outstanding.
People who suffer from mental illness still face stigma
Despite the years of advertising and education about mental health, people who suffer from it still face the stigma attached to being mentally ill. That is why I have changed Samantha's name. To protect her. This vulnerable woman has already faced discrimination in the workplace when she was turned down for a job she was already doing voluntarily because she had to reveal she had been hospitalised with depression.
The truth is that depression and mental illness could happen to any one of us. It happened to me. Fortunately not to the same extent as my friend, just once when life got on top of me. I was able to pull myself through it with counselling. I fear my friend is not going to be so lucky. That her life now and for the foreseeable future is about getting better, getting well. She may not return to being the woman she was, but the woman she is supposed to be. I can only hope for her sake that it happens sooner rather than later. I hate to see her suffering.