I was out to coffee with a few friends recently when the concept of depression was brought up. One friend talked about how depression is a “rich person problem.” What he meant by this was that only rich people could afford to pop pills and sustain a fake illness like depression. People who knew how to work hard don’t have the time to be depressed. His words were then met with agreement by my other friend who told us that about 25% of people in America are diagnosed with depression and that 10% of Americans take antidepressants. They then talked about how silly depression was as a topic.
Although the rest of the conversation that day was very lackluster, this topic resonated with me on a personal level. I’m sure by now, dear reader, you can probably infer that I am either inflicted by depression or that I know of someone who is depressed. I am the former; a functioning depressed college student. I’m not a rare species — the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses says that 64% of young adults who are not attending or no longer attending college are doing so due to mental illnesses, and that 40% of students with diagnosable mental health conditions did not seek assistance because of the concern of stigma.
The right thing for me to do in this situation would have been to say something. To stand up for the people that I sympathize with and to say that depression is something that a lot of people have and that it’s not a rich problem. That depression is not a fake illness and that while some people may exaggerate the degrees of their depression, depression comes in all different forms. There is a more mild but long-lasting depression called dysthymia and there is major depression and a number of other mental illnesses in between. Just because you have some degree of the illness that may not put you in the major depressive disorder category does not mean that you are not depressed. Your illness is a legitimate illness and the stigma against depression needs to stop.
Depressed people are probably everywhere in your life. They are probably highly functioning individuals, too. Yes, depression can get the best of us and impair our abilities to function, but there are other people who do just fine. My friends are always surprised when I tell them that I am depressed. I am a perfectly normal and functioning person when I take my 60 mg of Prozac every day. When I don’t, I find myself crying and paralyzed because of a severe anxiety attack. I start thinking things I shouldn’t think and then spiral down into an abysmal cycle. But with those 60 mg of Prozac, I can be fine.
Antidepressants and depression are not a joke. I can lecture you with statistics but chances are, science and studies won’t make you care. I can however tell you what it feels like to try to hurt yourself. I can tell you what it feels like to stand on top of a clock tower that isn’t barred by any fences. I can tell you what it feels like to look down and imagine how glorious it would feel if you could just fall and stop now. I can tell you what it feels like to stand on the top of the Eiffel Tower mystified by how glorious Paris shines in the night but wanting so desperately to just climb over the fence. I can tell you what it feels like to pour boiling water over yourself because people are starting to ask about the scars on your wrist — burning yourself in a lab class isn’t a very good excuse when you don’t take any lab classes. I can tell you what it feels like to look down a staircase spiral. One slip and you go down five stories. Maybe it isn’t enough to kill you, but it’s enough to take you out of the misery for a little while.
I can tell you about all these horrible thoughts and feelings I have, but I can’t tell you why I have them. I can’t tell you how much I hate having them. Do you think I enjoy wanting to kill myself? Do you think I enjoy having severe anxiety breakdowns? I am blessed to be a functioning human being with my depression; so blessed. But there are people out there who are not as blessed and need to be in asylums and hospitals and need their medications.
I am sensitive to depression because I know that mine stems from a lack of serotonin. I am not depressed because I get too fixated on a concept and can’t see the other sides to any given situation (although I do have this problem as well). I am depressed because I medically lack the normal amount of serotonin that people need to be functional. No amount of therapy is going to make me better because all I really need is my daily 60 mg of Prozac.
I am disgusted when I have to spend time with people who lecture me on how depression is a fake disease. I can tell you that my cuts are not fake. That the blood I spilled is still in my white carpet and that I have to hide my wrists in professional networking events so I don’t look insane. I know I should be standing up and calling people out. But I am scared. I am scared of being labeled like my friends labeled today. I don’t want people to correct their statement just because I’m sitting there. I want the world to understand that depression is not fake. I know I should be standing up for it, but it’s hard. It’s hard enough trying to keep myself alive–I can’t correct the world to.
I hope you believe me. I hope you don’t have to find out about depression when your best friend calls you telling you that they’re about to kill themselves. I can tell you that that was probably a terrible day for my best friend and for her to pick up these calls and to have to drop everything to ensure that I can stay sane isn’t fun. I can tell you that being across the country from someone who is minutes away from serious self-harm is one of the most terrifying moments in the world.
Sometimes I think we are all depressed, some of us more so than others. Some of us just have waves of sadness that hit us too often. Some of us can overcome this with just mental strength but others need a little bit more health. But do not ever trivialize depression and do not ever describe it as a rich man’s fake disease. People can still be successful while being depressed.
Maybe one day people can be successful and public about their depression. But until we decide to actively alter our prejudiced and exaggerated attitudes about depression, that day will never come.
Never forget what the impact of your words are on the people around you. We’re everywhere.