In writing this I realize the confession I am making. However, in lieu of this week's terrible tragedy and all of the news surrounding Robin Williams, I feel there is no time more appropriate than this. As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety, I understand the deep pit and I understand how alone one can feel, I have heard the many words that don't help, I've been asked questions that make it worse, I have heard comments that cause the pit to deepen and the anxiety levels to rise.
Since learning the tragic news about Robin Williams, I have read well-meaning posts about depression by well-meaning people, but unfortunately the uneducated comments can do more harm than good. Those who have not experienced depression personally are better off sealing lips and just listening with a genuine smile. I don't say any of this to condemn or in haste at all. I just want to bring about an understanding to this disease, as well as an understanding to mental illness in general. Sadly, there has become such a stigma humans have put around mental illness that causes those who struggle to want to run the other way. Often our well-meaning words can cause others to feel more alone than ever. There isn't a magical answer. There are no specific powerful words that heal. Watch what you say and strive to just listen when given a chance. Try to be wise so your words don't make things worse...
1. "You must not have enough faith in God, Just trust the Lord"
Struggling with depression does not mean someone isn't putting their faith in God. Depression has no bearing on one's relationship or lack their of, with God. Without my faith and trust in God I don't know where I would be! I thank Jesus that He IS with me in the midst of my struggles. Even yet, the pit still exists. That sinking feeling in my stomach is still there. The sadness that lurks is still in there. My brain still races 100 miles per minute. My thoughts go here, there, everywhere, and every which way in between. The implication that my struggle with anxiety and depression are the result of a lack of faith in God suggests that mental health isn't a real physical issue.
2. "You just need to think positively"
I am actually a very optimistic person. I see the good in others. I strive to be a peacemaker. I like to help others see the silver lining. In regards to depression and anxiety, I am really just wired that way. It's the way my brain processes things. Similar to a healthy, organic, active person with asthma, high cholesterol, a heart condition, etc. Some people are just wired a certain way and that is just how it goes. Nothing you say will "fix" someone. The more you try, the deeper you might be digging their pit and shoving them down even further. There is no magical thought I can think that will pull me from a bout with depression or anxiety.
3. "Stay away from meds, you don't want to be on that stuff" (Go to a 'natural' Doctor...)
Zoloft saved my life. Period. It makes me feel like me. Yet, I have been ashamed to admit or tell others I was on something. Afraid of the critique of others. The humiliation that can go with needing a psych drug. I was blessed to have a doctor who told me she has been there and that there is nothing wrong with taking meds. She validated my every being and thought. She validated me as a woman, wife, and mother. She just simply understood. Often, we cannot take care of the spiritual, if we don't balance the imbalances and deal with the mental.
4. "Suicidal people are selfish"
I have not personally been suicidal or ever tried to take my own life. I have however, been so low that I begged God to just let me die though. To just take me home to heaven. And I didn't think twice about anyone else. Many that contemplate suicide seriously think the world would be fine without them, and they don't think of those who would miss them. They are not trying to be selfish at all, they are just so terribly sunk in that deep pit that they desperately just want out and sometimes that means they take their own lives. When the sadness gets to that point of utter desperation it causes you to see nothing else but sadness, gloom, darkness, and dread. ( I also know that some meds can have the uncommon side effect of suicidal thoughts which is why one must be monitored closely and in constant discussion with your doctor to try and find the right medication and dose for you. )
5. "Seek help, seek other people out"
Depression feels dark and shameful. When you are in the midst of depression all you want to do is sleep and sleep and sleep. Your motivation is zero. Sometimes you might have that moment that you may seek out someone if you're in a confident mode. But more times than not, in the midst of depression, comes big time insecurity. One isn't always thinking about who they can talk to because they are embarrassed. Depression can be mortifying. How about being that person who holds a hand and says 'let's talk to someone together who can help'.
6. "What have you got to be depressed about?"
One's life can be amazing. One may be so blessed. And know there isn't anything to be anxious or down about. But we still feel it. It's still there. Regardless. It doesn't matter the circumstance. Depression can still exist in the midst of a seemingly perfect life. Depression is dark and lonely. Anxiety and depression go hand in hand, as you may feel depressed for being anxious and anxious about being depressed. It's a vicious cycle that plays tricks on your mind causing an unrest like no other. Just validate my feelings, because if I could help it, I would.
7. "Just get over it. Come on cheer up!"
If only. Lack of validation will not lead me to hope in desperation.
8. "You're a mess"
If more people would practice empathy and use compassion, grace and understanding I think those with depression and other mental illnesses could begin to feel comfortable to seek help or talk about it more. There is this feeling of indignity, shame, & humiliation that goes with any mental illness. There's a certain negativity that causes insecurity and an even greater loneliness for those suffering.
Depression and anxiety are treatable. Mental illness is manageable. One can live a very normal, exciting, joy filled life. Chances are there are more people around you than you realize, struggling with a mental illness of some kind. Watch what you say and the disgrace you allow your words to display. Educate yourself before speaking. Chances are unless you have been there, you will never truly understand. Know that when a person deals with depression and anxiety, for them it's near impossible to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Be sympathetic. Be gracious. Slow to speak. Quick to listen.
To further educate this is a great website http://bbrfoundation.org/