June 2, 2015

I wanted to write this blog after I heard the coverage of the Germanwings plane crash which took the lives of 150 people.

For me, media reporting around the tragedy highlighted the stigma and negativity which still surrounds depression, with a damaging narrative being formed that it was depression which drove the pilot to commit such a terrible act.

Depression continues to be a misunderstood illness, people often view depression as a bout of sadness or simply feeling ‘down’, which means when it comes to issues of suicide or understanding someone’s behaviour or actions, it seems those who have never experienced it will never fully understand. This gives the media a great deal of power to present misleading information about the illness.  

What worries me most about this is that the stigma perpetuated by the media will prevent people who really need help from speaking honestly about their illness. I feel that as someone with personal experience of depression, I want to share my story to help change the conversation and promote better understanding.

For me, there was no specific moment where I realised I had depression. It crept up on me like a night creeps up on a day; but in my case the night lingered. It started with me declining invitations to go social occasions with friends, not speaking with someone as often as I once did. Gradually I began to detach myself from my friends. They tried to communicate and cajole me to engage with them but I just wanted to be alone.

Eventually I could no longer comprehend how others so easily carried on living their lives with such enthusiasm, not burdened by this overwhelming sense of insignificance which occupied my every thought, it all seemed absurd to me. The sounds of people talking to each other, the busyness of the streets, everything seemed so loud and unyielding; the din of everyone’s enthusiasm for life became unbearable to the point where being alone in silence was all I could take.

It wasn’t just my hobbies and other pleasurable activities which fell into the abyss, routine responsibilities, which to others are practically reflexive, fell too. The simple task of getting out of bed was beyond my capacity, I could no longer eat regularly or healthily, brushing my teeth and other general healthy practices fell by the wayside.

This way of life became a habit which only reinforced my feelings of hopelessness. It wasn’t sadness, the situational response that might happen in the aftermath of the death of a loved one, it was the hopelessness and pointlessness of life; the futility of living which consumed my thoughts.

It took months for me to finally seek help, but I did it. One day I had a sudden clarity of mind, it was totally unexpected at the time but I’ve since got used to bouts of depression punctuated by periods of normality. My attendance at university had become non-existent, I had rarely communicated with friends and my weight had dramatically decreased. I went to my doctor and was prescribed medication, eventually my life regained some semblance of normalcy, those once brief periods of clarity were mercifully lengthened by the help I received.

This is my personal experience of this illness, it may resonate with some who have similar experiences and it may not with others. What helped me may have helped you too, you may have found something else, or you may still be looking for that help. There is a lot of commonality with depression, but there are a lot of differences too, each one unique to us and our experiences of life. This is an important thing to remember if we are to change the misleading, often negative understanding which clouds conversations around mental health.

I believe our understanding of depression must improve; we have to remove the stigma and negativity and debunk the myths before we can establish a social understanding. Our friends and family will have greater insight into our feelings and behaviours and people will begin to believe it’s okay to talk about their experiences and okay to ask for help. 

- Michael

Follow Michael on Twitter at @_bakhtak_


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