"National Depression Screening Day: Sharing Experiences Can Help"
Terrie Williams, an author and publicist, says “Black folks tend to see mental illness as a character flaw, a sign of weakness…”
Hey, it’s not just black folks! Until quite recently, the entire American society, traditionally based on the Puritan work ethic, has led us to think of depression as a weakness & character flaw. A depressed person’s lack of energy to get up and do normal daily activities is seen as laziness. A depressed person’s lack of desire to go out and do things with friends & family is seen as anti-social. A depressed person’s difficulty concentrating at work is seen as being “not a team player” or not dedicated to their profession. A depressed person’s difficulty concentrating at school is seen as stupidity or lack of being serious about earning a degree.
In fact, that depressed person is most likely berating herself for not doing well at school & work, and desperately wants to be enjoying life with friends, but simply cannot muster up the energy to get out of bed or get out of the house. She may resist a friend’s invitation to dinner & a movie because she has been stress-eating and feels “too fat” — or she doesn’t want her circle of friends to see her with the pimple that suddenly came out of nowhere and is obviously glowing like Rudolph’s nose. Or for the simple reason that she hasn’t had the energy to do laundry in weeks, and has “nothing decent to wear.”
The CNN article quotes J. Fairweather as saying, “The full blown version [clinical depression] - the kind that is truly physiological and for which no medications have any effect - is witheringly exhausting, both physically and mentally. … People have no idea the immense burden that you are carrying and you are judged as if you are normal.”
But normal we are most definitely NOT. And it can be so frustrating to think that “if only they knew” what I am feeling, they might cut me some slack, show me some understanding… but I can’t tell them!
The depressed person’s injury is not constantly visible like a broken leg, or even a frequent reminder like a diabetic checking their blood sugar at mealtime… the depressed person’s injury is completely invisible. A cancer patient’s illness may be accidentally disclosed by frequent absences from work for treatment, or hair loss, or puffiness from chemotherapy — and although a very private person may wish that his/her cancer was not a topic of conversation, there is nothing inherently embarrassing about having cancer.
Not so with depression. We fear letting the world know about our “mental illness” because we fear the stigma. We fear that people may think that all mental illnesses are alike; if we have a diagnosis of depression, that’s practically the same as saying we are schizophrenic or psychopathic, right? I know that kind of thinking is wrong, and I hope that anyone who matters to me would not think that way, and yet I still fear “coming out” as a depressed person. I fear the impact it could have on my current job, my future job prospects, my ability to be married someday.
Hell, I’ve suffered from multiple bouts of depression for multiple decades, and the majority of my extended family has no clue. Those close family members who know do not understand. They think I don’t care about spending time with them, when in fact I’d be there for every holiday, every kid’s sporting event and school play, if only they would invite me. Sometimes what I need most is to go to those everyday family events… but they don’t invite me, because they think I don’t care… when in fact I am very hurt by my erroneous perception that they don’t care enough to want me around.
Depression is a vicious cycle. Does it help me to share? I don’t know. Does it help other depressed people to read my story and not feel so alone? I hope so.