Lets Talk Mental Health – How Do You Explain Depression To Someone Who May Not Get It?

How do you explain depression to someone who may not get it? I recently found myself trying to articulate something that still doesn’t really make sense and in all honesty, I found myself getting extremely frustrated and alone because I couldn’t get it to make it sense to the person I was speaking to.

This conversation made me turn to my Twitter followers to see firstly, what depression means to them and the wording they hate people using which makes them feel misunderstood and the response was so overwhelming in the most beautiful and sad way.

I’ve talked about mental health a lot in the past via blogs such as it’s okay to not be okay, being a black woman surrounded by white privilege and setting healthy boundaries. You’ll see that a lot of the topics I’ve covered personally can be broad but can also cover the same points and that’s because there isn’t a blue print for any one situation and when it comes to mental health, one size may not fit all but the shared experiences are hopefully strong enough to make people that don’t understand have a bit of guidance.

What is depression?
Rather than give you a scientific term, I’ll let you read later on in the blog what depression is to different people from different walks of life and different ages. People are normally diagnosed with depression after two weeks of persistent symptoms and it is not just feeling sadness or unhappiness (which is a normal part of life), there are different forms. There are some people who experience it over a short period of time (this could be on and off) and there are some that suffer on and off or constantly for years.

What causes depression?

There are many factors that can cause depression. Genetics, trauma, life changes, bereavement, chemical imbalances, medication, birth control, stressful events etc. There are so many factors and one thing that makes it even more difficult is that it can be a mixture of factors that are completely out of someone’s control. For example, we’re in another lockdown, people have lost jobs, family members and livelihoods.

The future is so uncertain right now that it’s no surprise anxiety in people has increased because a lot of people that suffer from depression need routine and to be able to plan. For some, they will be triggered (knowingly or unknowingly), for the first time, for some, it may be after many years and for some, its an ongoing process. We are living in a world when empathy and compassion worldwide matter more than ever before and knowing there are ways you can get help (whether its medication or therapy) could literally be life saving.

What does depression mean to us?

As I said, I turned to twitter and asked:
1. What does depression mean to you?
2. What comments do you hate hearing from people that don’t get it?

Starting with myself
Depression to me feels like a dormant seed that germinates into an ever growing black hole. It sucks the joy out of life until an overwhelming sadness consumes me even when I’m around the people I love the most. It’s going from being totally fine and being extremely high on happiness to one day waking up and being completely low and feeling like I’m just existing. It’s having days that feel slightly normal again before being completely floored by an overwhelming grief. It’s not getting a good nights sleep, having vivid dreams (I don’t normally remember my dreams), losing my appetite and hating myself for not being able to control it but knowing that I have to fight for myself because one day I’ll be okay again. Overall, it’s finding it easier to wear a mask most of the time because it’s easier than trying to make someone understand.

I hate being told to shake it off, I hate being told to look at the positives and I hate being told other people have it worse. Most of all, I hate being told that I basically just need to choose happiness as if anyone would choose depression!

She/her, 20

I would say depression can take over your life and can hard to get out of but not impossible.

People with depression are labelled as people who are boring and/or because they might not feel like doing anything and seen as being ‘difficult’ and annoying

She/her, 27

I have depression and it impacts me in a number of ways. Depression to me is a dark pit that I fall into, sometimes often, sometimes only occasionally. It’s hard to get out of, but never impossible. I go through phases. I can have gone 6 weeks and think shit, I haven’t had a depressive episode for ages and other times, I feel like I live in that pit.

 I feel lucky, to an extent because for the most part I’m very functional even in bad moments and I manage to hold my job down, and relationships (minus a few that have broken because of it). I’ve started to learn that it’s a part of me, but on those days which are supposed to be filled with joy… birthdays, special events… those days if the depression hits it just feels so unfair. I think my anxiety affects me far more than my depression as I get older.

The worst things people say are “I don’t think you have depression..: we all get sad sometimes”… because they don’t see what I go through inside and they think I just get down every now and then. They don’t realise that it’s a constant a lot of the time and I just put on a brave face. I also hate it when people say “why are you depressed?” … I know I’m privileged, hugely… but the guilt I feel from my depression is enough without people questioning it. I also hate it, but also kind of like it when people say “I wouldn’t expect you to have depression”… this is good because I can get on with my life and succeed… but it also means I’ve just got incredibly good at wearing a mask.

He/him, 24

As well as all the usual symptoms, I often get a feeling of emptiness. I don’t feel sad, I just feel nothing. Like life is just sailing by and I’m not a part of it.

I hate hearing – “just stop being sad” “Why don’t you just go out?” “stop feeling sorry for yourself”

She/her, 25

I have bipolar so depression for me will vary depending on how severe my episode is. Sometimes it’s going to work pretending I’m okay, using all my energy for my shit then going home and crashing cause I have nothing left. It’s having no appetite but forcing a meal a day down me cause I know I need it. It’s coming home from work and just feeling empty and crying. If it’s severe then I’m in bed for days or weeks at a time with no motivation, not having the energy to go to the toilet, not remembering when I last drank or ate or showered. Feeling this big black hole of emptiness and wanting it to stop without knowing how to stop it. When my only achievement is moving from the bed to the sofa. Not sleeping right cause I’m agitated and if I am sleeping I don’t feel rested.

The things I hate people saying to me –  we all feel sad sometimes, cheer up, snap out of it. I mean, I would if I could. A personal fave is “I did it without medication” – is this a competition?

She/ her, 40

For me it means guilt. I have a good life, a decent well paid job, family, beautiful daughter – what have I got to be depressed about? Then it sneaks up, bit by bit things start to get too much. And then more guilt. And grief, grief that I thought I was over, that comes again. I just keep going to work and ‘get on with things’ but inside I’m waiting for everything to tumble down. It did once a couple of years ago. I had therapy and tablets. I’m a high functioning depressive, with high anxiety. Who knew that needing to have plans for everything was anxiety?! Not me! I’ve been off the tablets for about a year and a half now. I miss them, the way they made me calm. I sometimes think I came off them to please other people, surely I should be happy now. I’m waiting for it to tumble down again.. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

I hate hearing “just try to look at what you have” or ” some people have it much worse” “you should talk about it” or “try to be grateful for what you have”. Just hearing people commenting on other people puts those suffering from telling anyone. I only told a few people. My husband only found out after id called in sick and had been to the doctor’s. I didn’t tell my parents. Both of them have suffered before, my mam was sectioned when I was a teenager. I was worried about worrying them. The things we try to hide so as not to upset others!

He/him, 29

People treat men with depression as if you’re not a man.

She/her, 25

I have depression. Depression is like a stone cold feeling inside you that you can never conquer. It makes you wonder, makes you cry doesn’t allow you to be happy or sleep well or focus on anything. You’re constantly irritated, upset, hurt, anxious, angry. Depression is with you wherever you go. You get random aches and pains. It’s like you’re life is black and white. It’s pain, every single day it’s pain. Especially when it’s in relation to childhood trauma. You’re angry and doubting yourself all the time, like how do I change? How do I better myself? Why have I got 100000 tasks to do and I’m in fear to even do.

 It’s lack of interest. No motivation like it’s impossible to try and be like “okay I will do this and I will do that and I will be like this today!!” Its a never-ending heartbreak feeling, like something inside you is just stopping you from all the positive things. I can’t put into words. I’ve had depression since aged 15 and I’m 26 soon and it gets worse. It’s like you’re fighting yourself, fighting a battle that will never get better.

I hate it when people be like: ‘don’t worry things will get better’ ‘remember people have it worse’ ‘just try and be happy’ ‘try and get out of that mindset’

She/her, 26

I get anxiety and depression So it’s often hard to tell what’s what but to me is flipping from feeling all emotions at ones it powerful waves to feeling no emotional at and feeling totally numb from everything. It’s crying and not being able to pin point why, not finding motivation to get out of bed or even turn on the tv. It’s calling my mum at 2 am so she can talk me down from my panic and being sick after hyperventilating followed by 2 days of feeling everything in my body has been drained out of me. It can feel like an actual force pulling me downwards that often comes out of nowhere.

I remember seeing a tv show representing bipolar so very different with Anne Hatherway, I think it was call love and it was on amazon but the way it portrayed her depression days felt like the best representation I have ever seen very relatable to me.

The thing “ I hate most is “I don’t think meds are the answer” and “you need to start finding other ways to deal with it that isn’t medication” I also find it difficult when people celebrate and post online that they are off their meds, I realise it’s a big step for them but I feel like it adds to the stigma that there’s something wrong with taking medication

He/him, 24

I hate using that term but I feel like I’m always going through forms of it, I have just learned what my triggers are over time & try to use that energy in my podcast to help others.

She/her, 26

People think to be depressed you have to be laid in bed all day every day when really 99% of the time you seem to just function as normal and get on with day to day life – so then others are like you’re fine look at you. That’s the view of my family. It’s so sad but I think it’s mainly ignorance

She/her, 20

Depression is a sudden void in life. The problem is you don’t know what is kissing because everything you’ve tried isn’t working. I hate how a lot of people say some stuff like “I’d rather hear your success story than attend your funeral”. Or “I’m proud of you for trying keep trying”. Like it’s not about you or anyone’s opinion I’m sad and I can’t help it no matter what I’m doing. When I reach out to you, you’re giving me some motivational book talk when all I want is aid if you can provide or at least just listen. Depression goes way beyond some pep talk.

Honestly, I don’t know what I personally need as aid. Probably in future I’ll try therapy but as of now my biggest help has been a certain poetry book by Blythe Baird which puts most of what I feel and want to explain. It’s relatable and makes me understand that there are a lot of people going through this.

She/her, 32

I feel excluded a lot of the time. Everyone else seems so… NOT self-conscious, so relaxed in themselves and I have no idea what that’s like.

People make jokes about it being a midlife crisis, or ask what I have to be sad about since I have no husband and kids, they say I should go out more, exercise, have people around me. As if I haven’t been trying all these things my whole life. As if it isn’t the pain and exhaustion of trying so hard that has brought me here.

He/him, 24

You know you should get out of bed but you don’t want to because that just means you have to tackle a whole 24 hours of things that could push you further into it. Having triggers that (without therapy) go unrecognised and being depressed without actively recognising it.

I hate being told
– You can’t be depressed, you’re always laughing

-You’ll get over it (implying it’s something that can be overcome with just time)
– Boomer generalisation re: anxiety and depression being created to scapegoat the problems they’ve left us with culturally and environmentally

She/her, 24

Depression for me is having no motivation to do anything, not even brush my teeth or have a shower. I think there’s a lot of shame around the hygiene side of mental illness. I know that if I drag myself out of my duvet den that I’ve been wallowing in and force myself to go on a walk or eat some nutritious food that it will genuinely help, but the hardest part is that initial push.

Something I hate hearing from others is toxic positivity: “You have so much to be thankful for” or “There’s something positive in everything”. Sometimes people mean well and jump straight to giving you advice instead of just listening to how you feel. The empathy should always come first, advice can only be taken when you’re in a good enough place to hear it.

She/her, 25

Depression to me feels like a overbearing darkness that just sits over you. It has many levels and it’s not until you’ve dealt with it for many years that you can catch the signs. Aspirations, self esteem, self worth goes out the window. I feel like a shell of myself.

I received one comment from health worker nonetheless “fake it till you make it” honestly the worst thing you could of said to me with the state I was in. I was 18/19 and made me feel like it was my fault and that I needed to just pick myself up and stop with the teen angst.

Vivian

The worst is having to bear it alone, you can’t run to anybody. People expect you to get over it, or it will pass, but how do you get over it if nobody is there for you? You realise that you wish you could not wake up in the morning.

She/her, 34

From my understanding and personal experience, depression to me is a deep feeling of unhappiness, either from known causes or unknown causes. It feels like it’s you against the whole world, nobody cares and it’s just you alone. It’s like a dark cloud hovering above.

As you can see, there are a lot of similarities and differences. I had responses from men and women of varying ages, different ethnicities and based in different countries around the world. It also introduced me to the Just Mates Podcast which focuses on men’s mental health but resonates with more than just men. I’ve loved listening to it. They cover some great topics, they’ve made me cry, laugh and they’ve given me some great tips so whether you’re a man or a woman, I would definitely recommend! You can find them via their Twitter , YouTube and across podcast platforms.

Before I sign off, I would just like to thank everyone that contributed. I started this blog in the hopes that I could help even one person and the conversations I’ve had this week have helped me and I know will help others.

Vulnerability takes a lot of balls and each and every person wants to end the stigma surrounding mental health and depression which I think is great at a time where a lot of people will be dealing with feelings they might not be sure about.

If you read this and feel like you want to chat, my DM’s are always open otherwise, here are some other places that may help –

CALM

CALM is the Campaign Against Living Miserably, for men aged 15 to 35.

Phone: 0800 58 58 58 (daily, 5pm to midnight)

Website: www.thecalmzone.net

Men’s Health Forum

24/7 stress support for men by text, chat and email.

Website: www.menshealthforum.org.uk

Mental Health Foundation

Provides information and support for anyone with mental health problems or learning disabilities.

Website: www.mentalhealth.org.uk

Mind

Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.

Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)

Website: www.mind.org.uk

Rethink Mental Illness

Support and advice for people living with mental illness.

Phone: 0300 5000 927 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4pm)

Website: www.rethink.org

Samaritans

Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.

Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)

Website: www.samaritans.org.uk

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