Thursday, 13 March 2014
Depression – the heaviest burden
I think that some people really underestimate the effect depression can have on a person’s life. This isn’t just a case of individual ignorance but of a societal taboo on the discussion of any kind of mental ill-health and the fact that the very word ‘depressed’ has lost any impact due to its over use in everyday conversation. How many times have you woken up on a Monday morning, facing a long boring or stressful day at work, and declared that “I’m so depressed”? I would hazard a guess that virtually every person on the planet has done so at one time or other, has assigned the word ‘depressed’ to a mere case of ‘the blues’.
True depression, on the other hand, can shatter your life and leave you unable to cope with the day-to-day rigors of life. It saps your strength, both physical and emotional, and leaves you susceptible to every single negative comment or action of which you are the focus. Your ability to concentrate and to make decisions starts to take a downturn to the point that everyday life becomes too hard to engage in, not that you want to engage in the social niceties because you have gained such a negative view of yourself from other people’s negative comments that you start to shun the society that has already shunned you. You become isolated and less able to function which only makes the situation worse.
Depression makes you see bad situations in terms of catastrophes and robs you of any conception of any possible positive outcomes. To take a personal example from my own life, I received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) telling me that my current Contribution-based Employment Support Allowance is due to end on 26th March 2014 and that I may not be entitled to Income-related Employment Support Allowance (IR-ESA). The stumbling block to me getting IR-ESA is the fact that my wife, from whom I am separated but with whom I still have to share a flat as neither of us can afford to move out, works very close to the maximum hours a partner can work before it affects the other person’s benefits. What isn’t taken into account is that, being separated as we are, my income pays for my personal out-goings (food, drink, travel expenses, medications, etc) and without that income I won’t have the money to buy food. In this situation, any ‘normal’ person would try to look at achieving a positive outcome from the submission of a claim for IR-ESA, not so for the person with depression. In this case, that person is me. All I can see is my claim being turned down, having no money to buy food and drink and my slow painful starvation and death.
You’d think that that was catastrophic enough but a depressed person can always go one or two better than that. To continue my personal example, my money also pays for health insurance for my beloved cat Merlin so, with my money stopped (as that is the only outcome I can see), I will not be able to party that expense and, although she loves him, my wife can’t afford that expense either so all I can see is that, if Merlin gets ill again, I will have to have him euthanized because I won’t be able to pay the vet fees. I also pay the TV licence so, assuming I live that long, I may lose my cat and I won’t have the comfort of being able to watch any of the television shows I like because we won’t be able to use the television without getting a fine for watching an un-licensed television.
Still think that I can’t see a way to make things bleaker? Wrong. My money also covers any shortfall in my wife’s income so I pay money towards the electricity we use, groceries that we both need when my wife’s money runs out and any unforeseen expenditures that crop up. Without my income, we may end up losing power and, as our immersion heater is electrical, that means no hot water, no laundry, no cooking (our cooker is electric), no heat, no light and the loss of all the food that we currently have in our fridge freezer. I could go even bleaker but I think you get the point.
Every rejection or minor slight becomes a massive thing for a depressive because depression leaves a sufferer emotionally ‘raw’. Any negative incident or comment immediately inflicts emotional pain similar to the physical pain suffered by someone who has an exposed nerve in one of their teeth and then has a toothpick jammed into the nerve. And it doesn’t matter how big or small the incident has to be because, as I am keen to point out, it’s not the size of the problem you face, it’s your ability to cope with it and with depression you are already at a disadvantage.
The problem with depression is that, in some cases, a person never gets the chance to recover from one problem before they are hit by another and so they never have the chance to build up their emotional resilience to a level needed to successfully protect themselves from further psychological harm.
Sufferers also have the problem that people don’t understand what depression is like because of the devaluing of the word ‘depression’. People can see when someone has a broken limb or a physical impairment and even sensory impairments have some outward indicators such as a sensory animal companion, a hearing aid or a white stick. It’s these outward indicators that ‘legitimises’ the condition of the sufferer in the eyes of the non-sufferer, however, there are no outward indicators of mental illness so sufferers are seen as ‘illegitimately’ ill and therefore are less inclined to be believed.
The only way to prevent this current state of affairs is for people with mental health issues to come out and tell people their story, however, talk of mental ill-health is still taboo. It may be getting better these days but there is still a reluctance to speak out because of the inherent bigotry against the mentally unwell and the stigmatisation caused by the very association with mental ill-health.
It’s time, however, for people to see that the taboo status surrounding mental ill-health is a mistake and it’s time society learned from its mistake. Mental ill-health is not something that is going to go away, in fact, research suggests that mental health conditions are seriously underreported and that the prevalence of mental illnesses is higher than the official figures show.
Depression is thought to affect one in five people at some point in their lives, however, recently, the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggested that the figure should be revised to one in two people and the subject of World Mental Health Day 2012 was “Depression: A Global Crisis”.
Experts stated in PLOS Medicine, a peer-reviewed open-access journal, that depression was the second most common cause of disability worldwide after back pain and WHO launched a global mental health action plan to raise awareness of the problem among policy-makers. (Read more at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-24818048).
People need to start to see mental ill-health as what it really is – an illness, a medical condition. Nothing will change until that basic fact is taken on board so that a dialogue can be opened up in the public arena and the taboo status of mental ill-health is forever consigned to the pages of history where it belongs. Until that day, for those of us who suffer with it, depression will remain the heaviest burden.