I once read a great article about the portrayal of mental illness in movies; how it’s all either raving mad men brandishing axes or glassy-eyed window-lickers rocking back and forth in the corner of an asylum, the point being that, in reality, most mental illness is very dull and that’s because most mental illness is Depression.
I myself have dealt with depression; several years ago after a split with a significant other I found myself on the well worn path to oblivion with a certain Mr. Jack Daniels as my guide. I’ll spare you the boring, mostly bed-ridden details but after a couple of heavy drinking and smoking years my mind and body got together and staged a mutiny outside Liverpool Street Station one morning whereupon I collapsed, a shivering, snotty mess atop the escalator opposite Pret a Manger. Following a swift assessment from a bored looking City nurse who placed me squarely in the stressed-out-cityboy box (probably her dozenth that morning!) I was referred to my GP who, along with the usual words of wisdom about less booze and fags, more sleep and exercise, recommended a course of CBT.
CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and is typically a 12 week course of one-hour appointments that aim to equip you with the tools to make better decisions i.e. deal with the symptoms of your depression better. This worked for me for about six-months; choosing the gym over the pub, a salad over a kebab, a wheatgrass shot over a tequila one, but sadly I couldn’t stick to it. The issues underlying my depression were still there so I decided to look into psychotherapy, which brings me right back to my reason for penning this post…
I am, as you may know, an otherwise healthy, middle class white boy from a loving two-parent family who raised me to get a decent education that would provide me with choices as an adult. Ergo, when I first considered going to therapy for my depression I experienced a lot of guilt. I spent a lot of time looking in the mirror and asking myself Why do you need to see a therapist? What have you got be depressed about? Don’t you know there are people dying in the world?! This, I have learned, is common. Many of us don’t believe our depression is worthy of professional attention because many of us don’t class it as an illness but it is an illness, an illness of the mind and just like every other part of the body the mind has its own specialists. So let’s use our minds for a moment to imagine someone we care out being physically ill, lying in bed with a red nose, sore throat and streaming eyes. They look up at you and say, “I think I’ve got the flu.” How do you respond? Do you look back at them incredulously and ask “Why?” If they suggest that they might need to see a doctor, do you snort derisively and demand to know “What for?” I doubt it, because you can see they are in pain, the symptoms are clear. However, for many depressives incredulity and derision are typical responses to their diagnosis.
Unfortunately, depression doesn’t care about your upbringing, your education or your social status any more than the flu does. It’s an illness. And just as you don’t have to have trekked through the arctic in your underwear to catch flu, neither do you have to have participated in a bloody war or seen your parents gunned down in front of you to get depression – it just happens. When it does you need to treat it like you would any other illness, go to your doctor and consider seeing a specialist i.e. a psychotherapist.
Think about it, you wouldn’t suffer in bed with the flu refusing to see a doctor or drink your Lemsip because you felt guilty about it would you? So why would you suffer with depression when the treatment is just as readily available?
As I said, when I first considered going to therapy I experienced a lot of guilt; I didn’t think my issues were worthy of therapy, that other people have it much worse than me. Well of course they do! And just because other people are dying of cancer doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see a doctor about your sore throat or runny nose. If your mental or physical health is impairing your quality of life and you have the motivation and the means to do something about it, you must. It’s those that wallow in self-pity or who continue to bring others down through their persistent negative attitude and poor lifestyle choices that should feel guilty. Make a positive choice; if you think you’re suffering from depression – get therapised!