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.