On a couple of occasions in my life I have been depressed. I did not seek help for my condition as I assumed (rightly in my case) that it would pass. My episodes had a definable cause. One followed major heart surgery where I was in pain, missing the people I work and socialize with and generally feeling pretty useless. In hindsight I put it all down to feeling sorry for myself. The other occasion was the period following the death of my first wife. In this case the depression lasted more than a year. To be frank it was a period where I didn’t care whether I lived or died and things that were once important to me were no longer important. I describe the feeling during this period like having huge hole in your chest, an actual physical aching, a feeling for which there seemed no remedy. I suspect that’s why some choose self-medication or alcohol. Fortunately I was in a good and loving family and this period also passed.
Within the last few months a couple of people I’ve known have taken their own lives. One was a 41-year-old guy, with a wife and a couple of kids. He was a very likeable person, smart, articulate, with a good job and career. The other was also a family guy, a little bit older, also smart, articulate and well employed. When these things happen our first response is shock, quickly followed by grief and then questions. Why did this happen? What was going on in a person’s life that brought them to the spot where the only alternative is to take their own life? In almost every case there simply is no clear answer. Even the people closest to them don’t understand. “Yes,” they will say, “he was feeling blue.” Or he was seeing a therapist or taking medication but the why is never fully answered.
The other day I was in a conversation with a guy who suffers from depression. He had recently increased his medication, he had just left his wife and he wants to leave his job and change his life. Although I didn’t say it to him I am worried about him. We spent more than an hour chatting about life, its challenges, coping, hope, living in the moment, perspective, and learning to live with who we are. It was a good conversation and I quite deliberately kept the door open to having further chats.
I come to this issue in good part as a union representative. I do the stuff generally expected of union reps – negotiate collective agreements, deal with workplace problems, meet with management and union executives, etc. What’s not as well understood is that being a friendly ear is also an important role for a union rep. In some cases it is a role that is the most appreciated. In my experience, and without trying to be sexist, this is particularly true with men. Men, to me at least, often seem to have a greater degree of difficulty in talking about feelings. They are often afraid to convey anything that might be perceived as a weakness or bring into question their “manliness.” Many cultures and religions also impose standards of behaviour that demand a stoicism that is entirely without regard to the make up of individuals. And every day statements reflect societal expectations, “be a man, man up, that’s not manly, and you’re the man of the family now.”
Even though I have experienced depression I do not understand it. I do not understand why people feel the way they do without understanding what is causing it. In my case I was depressed because of identifiable incidents in my life but that is obviously not necessarily the case of everyone suffering from depression. As well society in general does not deal well with this condition. Unlike broken limbs, cancers, heart and lung diseases which can be surgically addressed, depression offers no such therapy. It is invisible to most people. Sadly there is also a stigma about depression. It’s never overtly spoken of but there is a sense that a person suffering from depression can cure themselves. In every day language we hear phrases like, “suck it up, cheer up, turn that frown upside down, smile, get over yourself,” all suggesting that if you are “feeling blue” it’s up to you. Additionally we even portray the treatment of depression in a somewhat derogatory way.
People will quite openly talk about seeing a heart specialist, an oncologist, etc but rarely will they speak of seeing a psychiatrist. Those who do often are seen as people with no real issues wasting money on a “shrink.”
Depression is medically described as a “non-psychotic mental disorder.” Without turning this into some kind of statistical analysis it’s worth noting that this type of ailment is responsible for more than a third of all long-term sickness in Canadian workplaces.
I hate to say it but I think the notion of a “mental disorder” is troubling to society.
Because it is not physically obvious, makes people unpredictable and is hard to cope with in both the workplace and society we haven’t learned to accept it and therefore how to deal with it. It’s clearly a condition that needs better general understanding and acknowledgement. It needs to come out of the closet and to be treated like other ailments. We as a society need to show the same compassion, understanding and hope as we do for those suffering other life threatening diseases.
For me I will try to be more observant of the people around me. I will try to make myself more available. I will try to be more understanding.
- New treatment for chronic depression targets personality style (tricitypsychology.com)
- Treating depression can help economy: Study (vancouversun.com)
- Working During Treatment For Depression Can Increase Work Productivity (medicalnewstoday.com)