There are always those who tend to trivialize depression by throwing around blatant platitudes on souls who suffer from depression as if that is all that was left for them to hear. Their insensitivity is rooted in their unawareness and lack of understanding of the disorder itself. They struggle to fully grasp how deeply depression affects people. Over 350 million people suffer from depression across the globe and sometimes, it is harder to explain the experience than to even understand it.
Depression is a clinically diagnosed disorder which has a serious effect on a person’s functionality in all spheres of their life. It is usually accompanied by anxiety as well - they essentially go hand in hand.
People believe that the mental health stigma stems from blatant judgment, sneers and outright attacks on people suffering from these mental disorders and they flat out deny the fact that mental health is an actual issue faced by millions of people as opposed to something that is made up. However, what they fail to understand is that the mental health stigma is rooted in the little things, more than the big things. It’s in the inappropriate laughter that surrounds conversations pertaining to self-harm and suicide and it’s in the beratement of the person suffering from depression on being lazy or lifeless and so on. People do not realize the effect their words have, no matter how harmless their intention, on the person going through the emotional pain, which only emphasizes how ingrained the stigma really is. More disturbing than the content of the remarks and comments, is the fact that depression is taken as a topic which can be joked about in the first place.
So instead of contributing to the mental health stigma, the least we can do is try to understand the gravity of the condition and understand what it really means to have depression. Here are a few factors you should be cognisant of regarding depression and why it is not okay to poke fun at individuals suffering from it:
1. Depression is not the same as sadness
There is a general misconception that having depression is one and the same as feeling sad. In truth, sadness is just one of the basic human emotions and it is typically short lived. On the other hand, depression is a clinical disorder which entails persistent feelings of severe despondency, hopelessness, and dejection which can last for months or even years.
2. Depression is not a choice
No one wants to have depression or chooses to have depression. It affects a person’s day to day life in more ways than one. Depression seeps into every corner of a person’s life and it can severely hinder a person’s functionality, be it their personal relationships, their work, their studies - anything and everything. No one chooses to be low all the time, or to perceive life as a colorless and bleak chain of events - depression chooses you, you do not get to choose it.
3. Depression is not a sign of weakness
Depression is a condition that is beyond a person’s control - the ones suffering cannot just ‘snap out of it’ or stop it from happening altogether. Having depression does not make a person weak or any less worthy. Depression does not define the person going through it - It is a symptom, not an identity.
4. Depression is a long and exhausting battle
Suffering from depression is like fighting a constant battle which you keep losing, over and over again. There is no ‘big victory’ where you can just push through and come out the other side, clean of depression. People describe depression to be like drowning- the more you try to reach the surface, the more you feel the water sucking you in - it is overpowering and it is exhausting.
5. Depression is toxic for a person’s self-esteem and self-worth
Depression has the potential to destroy a person’s sense of self-worth and it can tarnish their self-esteem. It can make people feel absolutely worthless and an utter inconvenience to those around them, without even having any plausible reasons for why they feel that way. They feel their despondency becomes a cause of bringing others down with them, hence, they tend to isolate themselves in their own cocoons rather than having others share their despair.
6. Depression can make suicide seem like a ‘rational’ option
Suicide is not a joke - it is real and all it takes is one moment, one trigger, to take your life. Depression has a weird way of rewiring the human brain and its decorum of rationality. It can, very literally, make people believe that the world would be a much better place if they cease to exist. Depression can make one believe that without them, their loved ones would be happier as they would no longer be a burden to anyone around them. All it takes is one moment for a snide remark or a mocking snicker to trigger suicidal ideation. So I repeat; suicide is not a joke and it needs to be taken seriously.
7. Depression also has physical symptoms on top of the emotional symptoms
Depression is not only taxing on an emotional level but on a physical level as well. Depressive individuals can face extreme fatigue, insomnia, restlessness, indigestion, migraines, muscle fatigue, nausea and the list goes on. Depression can take a great toll on one’s physical body, making it difficult to carry out daily activities and keeping up with one’s worldly obligations.
8. Depression does not come with a set manual
Depression affects each and every person differently and everyone has their own way of dealing with it. The symptoms of depressions vary from person to person, as do their causes and their treatment plans. Sometimes it is easy to spot a person suffering from depression but other times, they may be right under your nose and you will not have a clue! Hence, it is imperative for you to always be aware of your words and show compassion to everyone around you because you can never know who is fighting a silent battle of their own and what your words may cost them.
Having said all that, overcoming depression may not be easy but it is also not impossible. There are ways to overcome depression through medication and therapy etc., which play a detrimental role in its recovering. However, I also believe that if you are facing emotional battles in your life, you must also seek comfort in faith i.e. seek comfort in Allah (SWT). You may refer to the article on “Feeling Hopeless and Depressed? Here is the Islamic way to cure it” which talks about ways you can overcome your depressive thoughts. The path to healing is not a ride in the park, but our Islamic faith gives us hope of healing and fixing our brokenness through Allah (SWT).
The stigma attached to mental health needs to be addressed and eradicated. Each and every one of us need to play our part in combating it and spreading awareness in the world we live in because if we do not, we cannot expect tomorrow’s world to be any better than it is today.