I was trying to approach papers / news sites with this article with little success. I censored the swearing but maybe it still put them off, maybe they were sick of writings on this subject, but it’s honest, determined and ultimately positive.
As a freelance worker I was worried about being people not giving me work if I started talking about this (no one I’ve worked with would know – I love my work and come to life when I’m making films), but I think it’s too important not to be shared.
STOP VOLDEMORTING DEPRESSION
(or You’re not going to read this article because it has ‘depression’ in the title. But you should.)
Depression doesn’t have to be depressing. That was the headline I’d thought of for this article but actually it made me think of ‘tax doesn’t have to be taxing’. My ex was a senior tax advisor and every time someone said that phrase to her she’d threaten to find where Moira Stewart lived so she could go round there and staple things to her.
Actually, I think people would rather talk about tax than depression. We seem to be terrified of the word – we’re too afraid to use it in case all the people around us flee in disgust. It has become It-That-Must-Not-Be-Named. And if we’re going to deal with it effectively we really need to stop flinching at its usage.
Believe it or not, I had a really uplifting chat with a friend in the pub about depression not that long ago. That’s not the reason why we met. We went to drink, catch-up, have a laugh and eat cheesy chips. We did all of these things. And we talked about depression. But it wasn’t a dark awkward point in the conversation. It was just something that we’d both been through or were still experiencing so we wanted to talk about it. If you don’t believe me when I say that it was the kind of evening where we were laughing and joking and our faces ached from smiling then you’re demonstrating the problem. We can talk about, even joke about physical ailments. If people have a cold or the flu they talk about. I’ve listened to plenty of graphic anecdotes from people who had the shits on holiday. But we don’t see mental health as something to be joked about if we give it any airtime in friendly chats at all.
Why do so many of us depression suffers struggle to find the right words to talk about our illness? Because it’s not yet part of acceptable conversation. When people say, ‘hey, how are you?’, many of us with depression don’t feel confident talking about it. We don’t want to use the word ‘depression’ in case people give that awkward look like they don’t know how to respond and would like to duck out of the conversation pronto, please. The reaction from some people is so strong that I swear they’d be more receptive if I’d just called Princess Diana a cunt. Why the hell can’t we use the word ‘depression’ in normal conversation? It’s not Voldemort. Five hundred million Harry Potter books sold and people still don’t get the less-than-subtle message about not fearing a word.
The next time somebody asks you how you are, tell them. You don’t have to give them every last sordid detail of your depression (although if blurt it all out is much less damaging than keeping it all in), but a simple, ‘I’ve been quite depressed, actually’, ‘been suffering pretty badly from depression recently’ is so much better than saying, ‘Yeah, fine.’ Because ‘Yeah, fine’ or similar is a lie for many people. Doesn’t matter if it’s the flu or anxiety; you’ve been ill and you should be able to talk about it.
I had an argument with somebody about this the other day. They said that ‘hi, how are you?’ is just a greeting, not an invitation to say how you are feeling. I agreed but I said I don’t care why people say it. Some people need help, urgently, and we’re given a cue at the start of almost every conversation to call for help. It’s tough but I’d rather put up with the awkward silence I get by giving an honest answer than say I’m fine, when deep down I’m at risk of contributing to some particularly grim statistics if I don’t send up a distress flare soon.
But what do you do if you’re the one on the receiving end of a friend, family member or colleague opening up about depression? Keep them talking. You may feel uncomfortable to start with but you could be offering someone a lifeline. Don’t assume they won’t want to talk about it. That’s up to them but so often depression is something suffers find it hard to converse about. Picking up the phone to a friend, messaging someone, bringing the topics up face to face are all things we struggle with. We’d rather scale a 50ft wall in flip-flops when we’re hungover. You may have to prise it out of us.
And please check in on us every now and then. It doesn’t go away quickly. When I’m with people and having fun it’s like I’ve never been ill but when I go to bed at night it starts creeping back in and doesn’t let go. We appreciate people saying ‘call me any time, day or night’ or ‘come and stay with us whenever you want’, we’re so grateful for those lifelines, but the truth is we may find it so very hard to pick up the phone to anyone. If you haven’t heard from us, don’t assume we’re better now. A call is very much appreciated every now and then.
Some may genuinely not want to talk but give us the opportunity but don’t feel scared to ask disarmingly direct questions in case it gets the conversation started. Imagine you’re in a movie if it helps where people talk bluntly about their problems. Say, ‘How long have you had depression?’, ‘Are you taking medication?’, ‘Oh, well that’s fucking shit! Do you need to talk?’ Any of these is good. The people who’ve helped me the most have been the ones who ask the most direct questions. We’re not on this planet long enough to be beating around the bush when talking about potentially life-threatening illnesses. If someone tells you they have depression or strongly implies they have, trust me, they’ve been to a lot of dark places, asking them one of the questions above is the least of their problems.
And men suffering from depression can be particularly reluctant to address the subject. It’s not considered ‘manly’ to talk about your feelings. What’s the most manly thing I’ve ever done? Jumped out of a plane? Climbed a mountain? Hurled myself off a cliff for a second time after I wasn’t impressed with the first photo the guide took of me plummeting into the water? Bollocks. I picked up the phone to a male friend I’ve known for 20 years and told him that something was wrong, something in my mind. Some terrible darkness that was following me everywhere that wouldn’t leave and I wanted shot of it. Because if you’re a bloke who sees manliness as being all about fearlessness, about courageousness, then I dare you to admit to someone today if you’ve over felt this low and self-loathing. Have the strength to be open because you may have undiagnosed depression. Go to your doctor’s and sort it out so you can get the fuck on with life.
After months and months of refusing to talk to anyone, of breaking down in front of my then girlfriend and crying uncontrollably, unable to say a word for ten whole minutes, hyperventilating almost to the point of an asthma attack, I finally started to tell people how I felt. When they asked ‘hey, how are you?’ I’d say, ‘mmm, okay. Been suffering pretty badly from depression, actually. Didn’t want to be some loser taking pills but decided to give it a go!’ Seven out of the eight people I opened up to told me they had at some point taken antidepressants. This included two of my closest friends and a very, very close relative. Only one had ever mentioned it to me before, the rest I had no idea about.
What the hell is wrong with us? Why are we so sacred of the word depression?
If you’ve got a problem, deal with it. Don’t deny it’s there. Right here and now I refuse to flog you a book on the dealing with depression. The advice is simple and the basics should be free for everyone to read. It’s just too important. If you want to read more, there’s plenty out there from Beth McColl’s How to Come Alive Again or Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive, but the essentials, the immediate action you should take is just too vital for page 394.
Talk to someone. Anyone. Who cares if they don’t want to hear it? You need to say something, do something positive. Life is too short for us all to be talking in code to one another. A text, a message, a social media post if that gets things started if that’s all you can muster, it’s still brave as hell, but never just leave it at that. If that opens up the conversation then great but the most courageous thing you can do, and do it today, is go to the doctor’s. Don’t refuse anti-depressants. They’re antibiotics for the mind. Nothing more. If you truly don’t think they’re working for you go back to the doctor’s. You can’t be rely on pills alone – counselling can also help and even more important are lifestyle changes. But automatically rejecting treatment because you don’t want to be the sort of person who takes antidepressants is just fucking stupid. If you were told you had an infection that would be very serious if not treated with antibiotics, would you say, ‘nah, I don’t do antibiotics; I’d rather risk sniffing it.’
And no this is not a brave article. Don’t congratulate me for saying a lot of the things many of you may have been thinking yourselves. Start saying it out loud instead. Prove to me that I’m not a hopeless optimist. I strongly believe that in the future we’ll deal with and talk about depression in the same way as any physical illness. And to do that we all need to do our bit to de-Voldemort It-That-Must-Not-Be-Named.
Depression is a real word. It’s in the dictionary along with blancmange, collywobbles, sexagenarian and all sorts. Start using it more in normal conversation if it’s relevant to you. Once you’re comfortable admitting to yourself and others that you have it, then you can then start telling it to fuck right off.