There has been a fair amount of media attention about the mentally ill of late. CBC’s Current (in Canada) was actually highlighting depression two week’s ago with Steven Page hosting, formerly of Barenaked Ladies. And then the guy in Arizona shot and killed people and when arrested it’s reported that he’d been suffering from mental health problems.
Canada and the US are both suffering from the same disease and that is cutbacks in the field of health. What happens then is that the mentally ill are released from hospitals or other health institutions and end up living on the streets or in jail, becoming drug addicts, injuring themselves or injuring others. It’s important to stress that the number of mentally ill people who injure others is a very small number indeed. And mentally ill does not include personality types like sociopaths. By saving money in the health field governments actually put up costs of such things as administering the fight against crime, prisons becoming overfull, latent mental health costs, other crimes and injuries that fill up the system. I’m sure a cost analysis would show that this is not an economical way to deal with the severely mentally ill.
But in that gray area of gray matter, there are those who are not the dangerous. They can fit into society and are not devoid of regular sociability or being able to function in the day-to-day. These people fall into the other categories of the depressed and the phobic. Severe phobias limit people’s ability to do different things, and severe depression can lead to a decrease in being social, integrating with others, working as well as leading to death.
It’s a sad state and many people do not understand even the basics of depression. Steven Page talked about his own battle with it and it affects many many people. There is still that social stigma that should you mention you’ve been depressed or heaven forbid have a permanent condition schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc. that you’re then branded as crazy. We’ve all used the term to describe people who might be clinically crazy or just too weird for normal society. We sometimes shy from them, are afraid of them and rarely do we understand.
I speak from experience, and will speak again and again about this because the only way to make this understandable is to talk about it and educate people. Depression often runs in families, some weird genetic fault. I don’t know the mechanism but I know it runs in my family. I’ve been depressed and I’ve been clinically depressed, the second being when you meet most of the markers by which they judge such things. There are different depths of depression and it affects people different ways. I have found that I have even been affected differently each time depression has hit me.
Some of my markers are sleeping too long, aching joints, boredom, flatlining on emotions, becoming overemotional, alienation, not eating, eating too much. Sometimes it’s depended on deeply I was sinking. I’ll overeat but in the darkest depths I’ll stop eating. It could be different for other people and of course suicidal thoughts and attempts are a big part of full-blown depression. Luckily, that’s one aspect I don’t really get though I came close a few years back and was probably scared out of it by the fact that someone I’d known for twenty years hung himself through a combo of a head injury, depression and the inability to pay for his meds. Anti-depressants are expensive and a depressed person finds every stress to be a very large stress.
The biggest part of depression that people don’t understand is that the illness isolates in many ways. Coping becomes difficult so that even answering the phone is too hard. Making informed and balanced decisions goes out the window. Hiding becomes the way to exist and a depressed person feels alone and unloved, isolated by their brain and the world around them.
It’s hard for us to know what to do if a person is depressed. After all, who wants to be around a sad sack who brings them down. Our society frowns upon weakness so even asking for help is hard to do. A coupe of times I would say to friends, “I’ve been depressed.” This was a close as I got to admitting or asking for help. What I was really saying was, “I”m depressed. I need you to do things with me. I need you to care. I need you to call me or pull me out of myself.” But how can anyone else know this? The language of the depressed person is circumvented by the illness itself. They may act like they don’t want/can’t handle company but they need to stop dwelling constantly on the whirlwind of darkness. This I do know but it is hard. It’s not just a case of “suck it up, buttercup,” it’s a matter of altered brain chemistry. This is why severe depression requires (though sometimes there is an overmedication of people just feeling sad). They aren’t just feel good, happy pills. They have to fix the chemicals churning in the brain. Eating properly and exercising are also a big part of keep that brain floating on the pond instead of sinking.
Being depressed isn’t so much looking through a glass darkly as it is being in the bottom of a steep dark glass. The depressed person cannot see her/his way out and needs help and support. If you know someone like this, try to get your friends and family to help reach out, to show you care and perhaps you can just throw a lifeline to someone who will be able to climb out into the light.