Confusion abounds when the term ‘depression’ is used by people in everyday conversation. In these instances, they usually are referring to something far less serious or clinical. In fact, most people use the term as a synonym for sadness or simply being upset.
It’s unbelievable how many people leave you on read or turn their back after being asked how you are and you mention the word ‘depression’.
Explaining this as ‘they just don’t understand’, is an excuse that has been used for many years which facilitates stigma and social exclusion. If we are to have this many awareness days, surely ‘understanding’ should now be commonplace.
Also, if understanding is the issue, then perhaps that is a sign that awareness days are largely ineffective beyond giving people a collection of slogans that barely touch the surface. Mental health charities, activists and campaigns are tirelessly targetting audiences. Yet this appears to be largely those who are already informed. They have a captive audience but perhaps the reach isn’t far enough.
For those untouched by mental illness – and in these times that is arguably very few – it is so easy to ignore the realism of the lived experience. It is so easy for those in privileged positions, economically or otherwise, to hold up their hands and think that it isn’t their problem.
Yet almost every single one of us will face this problem at some point. Where we live in such times where emotional resilience is something that we all need just to survive, there will be a time when this wears thin and the real problems will unveil themselves. It’s already happening.
Social inequality, economic hardship, misogyny, racism, and disability discrimination – the list goes on; yet while people continue to be herded into self-governance it will not stop. Things will not change if we continue to live out our lives without concern for others. Happiness and well-being shouldn’t be individualised for one person. It should be a collective effort. No one deserves to be mentally ill, and no one deserves to be in a marginalised position. There are people who work many hours for very little, and others who leap to success while youth is still only a distant memory.
Mental illness disproportionately affects those less advantaged, yet where mental health services are beyond capacity and people continue to face stigma within their personal and working lives, this highlights that we need to move beyond merely understanding. We need to challenge the misconceptions about mental illness by amplifying the voices of those with lived experience. Doing so may change how we think about ourselves and others.
It’s time for things to change. This single article will not do that, but together we can challenge the social norms that we know are ineffective by thinking differently for ourselves. We cannot keep using ‘understanding’ or lack of, as a reason to dismiss the genuine causes and impact of mental illness.
By using new language, more people might understand depression and show more compassion toward individuals suffering from it.
Laura Barrett is an MSc student with a research specialism in cyberpsychology and online communities.