Over the past few weeks, I have undergone a gradual and painful realisation about the continuing stigma and complexities surrounding mental health issues.
I have been surprised at how many of my friends suffer from some form of anxiety and/or depression. What is perhaps more worrying, is that although I know them well, it took me so long to recognise the fact or for them to feel comfortable to discuss it with me.
None has severe issues, but some have chronic conditions in the strictly medical sense (that being a long-standing and continuing condition). As someone who prides myself with being empathetic and supportive, I still found this an area where I was sadly lacking in knowing how best to deal with the situation.
I realise I have been fortunate in being unaffected by anxiety or depression. However, I recently had a ‘week from hell’ in which I lost a friend in a car accident, had some complex work and personal issues and was transitioning from one type of prescription medication to another. As a result, I found I had a few days of reactive depression. This is not something I have experienced before, but ironically, I feel the better for experiencing it. I didn’t need medication and the natural reaction to these stresses resolved over 4-5 days.
However, during that period, no well-meaning words or trite clichés about dark clouds passing could help. I began to understand that I was trapped in feelings I didn’t like ,but was incapable of escaping despite genuinely wanting to.
So although I didn’t enjoy a week where for a few days everything just overwhelmed me, I’m grateful for the insight and increased understanding that it brought with it. I don’t want to experience it again any time soon – but I can genuinely begin to understand the void that could so easily engulf you. There is no reason to feel ashamed for struggling with the situation.
Since those few black days, I see my friends struggles in a different light. I can’t better Stephen Fry’s description of moods as being like the weather. ‘If it’s raining, there is no point in telling me it’s not or it will pass or clear up soon. For me the rain is real. That is water falling out of the sky.’
So no deep experience myself, but enough to know that as simple as it sounds the best you can do for someone in that space is listen and be there for someone if they want you. I am left with some unanswered questions. Why is this so prevalent? Is there something about modern living that accounts or somehow contributes to the rise in reported anxiety/depression?
More importantly, my friends who exist in those dark rooms from time to time remain my friends. I wish that as a society we were less judgemental and more willing to discuss these issues – with each other and with those for whom it is an integral part of their lives.