Depression. As a society, we’re talking about it now more than ever before, and with good reason. Mental health has a long and dark history of being the neglected side of healthcare in Britain and across the globe, but over the last decade, it seems like people are finally starting to take it a little more seriously. Having said that, to what extent does the general population who have never suffered from depression actually understand it?
It may seem cliche to say that you can’t understand Depression unless you’ve experienced it, but I honestly think that it’s true (or at least it was for me). Had I been asked at the age of sixteen to describe how Depression affected a person, I’d have probably said that it made a person sad and took away their enjoyment of things they used to find pleasure in. Had you asked me why people get depressed, I might have listed a number of situational factors that contributed to their darkened and somewhat pessimistic outlook on life: debt, bereavement, unemployment, trauma or terminal illness, to name a few. But at the time, although I knew superficially how people were affected, I was very naive to the truth and I definitely didn’t believe that someone could be depressed if they had everything in their life to be happy about.
At seventeen, I found myself diagnosed with severe depression and struggling to maintain the lifestyle that I was used to. You might ask what had changed in that year, but that’s a question I ask myself too – a question to which, on the surface, there is no obvious answer. But that’s the thing with depression – as with many other mental illnesses, they strike without reason or warning. I had just bagged a fantastic set of GCSE results, I had a full-time job, great friends and a lovely family – but for some reason, I was struggling more than ever.
Depression isn’t a sole gift bearer of sadness (although there is, of course, an element of that too), it has a sweeping power over an individual and takes hold of every aspect of their life. From affecting a person’s sleep, appetite, concentration and energy levels, to coming between friendships, dissolving self-confidence, knocking hope and painting a very grey shield over the world, Depression has a remarkable strength which fears not even the bravest or strongest of people.
My situation, from the outside, hadn’t really changed very much at all but the way I looked at it couldn’t have been more opposed. Suddenly, I found myself questioning why I was bothering working for my A-level exams – if there was no desire for a high-flying career or exciting future, what was the point in trying? I distanced myself from my friends, pushed my family away whenever they asked what was wrong and stopped going to any sort of social event which involved having to see other people. I was chronically tired, physically but also mentally. My mind was both full and exhausted from thinking, but at the same time, it was a very empty and foggy place with no room for anything else. I was unusually tearful, forgetful and unmotivated. Essentially, I had lost every sense of happiness, optimism or enjoyment that I had previously thrived on.
The most difficult thing with Depression, especially when you’re young and healthy and when you have ‘every reason to be happy’, is explaining it to other people. You know that there are millions of other people who don’t have the same opportunities that you have, that are facing illness, abuse, poverty and war. You know that, physically at least, you’re fit and healthy and should appreciate that. And you know that, looking in from the outside, there are so many people who would do anything to trade places with you. But whilst many people try to point these things out to you with the hope of making you feel better (?!), you’re left to feel even more guilty for feeling the way that you do.
Struggling against Depression, at any stage of your life, can feel like you’re climbing a never ending mountain with a huge weight on your shoulders and sinking sand under your feet. Being diagnosed with severe depression when you’re young and have ‘the whole world at your feet’ (as I’ve been told many times), is debilitating. Whilst everyone around you has bundles of energy for partying, socialising, travelling, dating, applying to University or starting their careers, you wonder why you’re not doing the same – and even more so, why you’re not wanting to do the same.
It is horrendous, and there is no sugar coating that fact. But you will get through it and you will overcome the struggle and learn to find pleasure in life again. Trying not to focus on the comments which tell you over and over that you shouldn’t feel that way at your age, is important to bear in mind. The way you feel is valid and your thoughts are valid, even if they seem irrational.