But You Don’t Look Depressed

By Krista Mills

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Sadly it is no secret that those living with depression will be the victims of stigma and numerous stereotypes within modern day society. Such individuals will often be referred to as having poor standards of personal hygiene, wearing dirty clothes with the remnants of the prior evening’s meal on and having hair so unkempt that it fails to move when pushed back. It may be believed that their surroundings will be strewn with empty take – out food boxes as their sheer ‘laziness’ overrides any best efforts made to eat healthily and do their housework.

Have you ever actually taken a minute to research the statistics surrounding the prevalence of mental illness, though? Roughly 1 in 4 of us will experience mental illness at some stage in our lives, with these figures including fully functioning members of society such as your postman, your milkman, your dentist, teacher, employer and even your doctor. I doubt it has even crossed your mind that the gentleman handing over your parcels in the morning with a spring in his step may have not long returned to his post following an emotional breakdown. Or that your employer may spend his lunch hour locked up in his office practicing relaxation techniques to stave off the anxiety just long enough for him to make it through the working day. I, myself, was shocked to learn that not only was my doctor on the same course of anti – depressants as I was, but that my tutor and friend, a PhD graduate and one of the strongest people in my eyes, was a long – term sufferer of severe depression herself. Yes, as difficult as it may be to believe, contrary to popular belief, sufferers do not walk around with a sticky note attached to their head saying ‘Don’t look at me; I’m one of the crazy ones’.

There is no ‘entry criteria’ when it comes to suffering from depression. While we may live in a judgemental society, depression, or ‘the black dog’ does not judge when it comes to choosing its next victim. Individuals from all walks of life – social classes and levels of education – will experience depression – none of us are exempt. From looking at my picture it would probably surprise you to learn that I, myself, am a sufferer of various mental illnesses, including depression, and have been on the brink of suicide numerous times. While there is no denying the fact that, to those that do not know me, I will ‘appear’ to be so ‘in control’, appearances can indeed be deceiving. The ‘sparkle’ in my eyes will not tell you that just a few days prior to this being taken I had taken a plastic bottle cap to my arms in a desperate attempt to relieve some of the pent up angst. There is no sign of the times in which my brother has had to come over to mine late in to the night and cradle me while, through my tears, I repeatedly tell him how “I can’t do this anymore” and that “It has already beaten me”. Oh and how about the suicidal thoughts? From looking at this image would you in anyway know that I will very often spend my days contemplating whether to take my own life because I can see no way out of the black pit of pain and desperation? No, when looking at the image, like many, the first thing you will notice is my smile and the fact that I have taken so much ‘pride’ in my appearance – two factors so commonly referred to by my therapist.

So, while there is no ‘person specification’ check list when it comes to suffering from depression, why must society continually define the way in which we experience it? Are we not allowed to shower, straighten our hair and brush our teeth because social stigma has deemed us to be too ‘lazy’ to do so? Must we be expected to spend our days laid up in bed with a black cloud resting above our heads and tears stinging our already flushed cheeks because social stigma has deemed us to be ‘disabled ‘and incapable of leading fulfilling lives? Take one more glance at my picture and remember this: I am 24 years old, I have suffered from depression for five years, I graduated with honours last July and I am currently working towards my Psychology MA. Despite the level of emotional turmoil I may be in and the fatigue running through my body, I will shower each and every day, I will straighten my hair, I will wear nice clothes, I will wear makeup, I will tidy my home and I will plaster a smile on my face because these are all methods of self – soothing that work for me.

 

 

6 responses to “But You Don’t Look Depressed”

  1. Kevin says:

    I like your article. I can relate. Through my depressive episodes over the years it never seemed to be a problem for me to take care of personal hygiene. I always showered, shaved, and got out of bed. I slack on brushing my teeth, but that’s a whole other issue. For me the hardest stigma came from within myself. I had this idea from society I guess of what depression should be like. Recently in the past few years, my own stigma about it has gotten me wondering if it’s even real. I wish there were some brain scan they could do or blood test that would give a definitive answer that yes I have depression. Kinda like a broken bone on an X-ray. Mental illness isn’t that black or white though. (Pun intended). Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. Laura T says:

    Thank you! This post was wonderful; made me feel not so alone. I have struggles with bouts of depression throughout my life. When I mentioned it to a ‘friend’ a few years ago, she turned to me and asked me why would I be depressed? Apparently being married, having great kids, secured, and such, does not give a person the right to feel depressed. Angers me. But I took a deep breathe, received help, and do activities that help me relieve my reasons for depression.
    I wish more and more people would realize that mental illnesses are more common, and are less visible. One can pray.
    Again, thank you for this wonderful blog. Thank you.

  3. kate says:

    Wonderful! Very interesting and informative….

  4. Nancy K says:

    Hi, Thank you for this very insightful, well-written piece on behavioral health. Thank you for sharing with us, I think it must be hard to be candid sometimes. I wish you all the best and keep on fighting for understanding of this very misunderstood illness. Nancy

  5. Matthew M says:

    Well done, a lovely blog very well written and straight to the point, I am very proud of you and just hope this helps others as I know you do too. Keep it up as you strive to get better and work towards breaking the stigma towards mental health.
    Love you always.
    Matthew xxxxx

  6. Olivia says:

    Krista

    I love this post. I love how you point out that even though we as society are biased to depression, it is not biased to us and you are so right. People are so quick to judge when ANYONE of us could be it’s next diagnosis. I think the double life people with depression have to wear to avoid being labeled is exhausting. I too have suffered from depression for the past 9 years since I was in high school. I am now 24 and I like you graduated with a B.S degree in nutrition science and was recently accepted into PA school. People describe me as funny upbeat and confident, when I revealed that in fact I had been struggling with major depressive episodes for nearly a decade it left my family and friends in shock. But like you say to avoid the stigma and the label I woke up everyday pulled myself together as it was and went out into the world trying to act the part of a happy person when alone and in private I was falling apart.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

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