Depression is a disease that has the power to keep us silent. It wants us to stay quiet because it grows through isolation and shame. For many people keeping quiet is a response to the overwhelming sense of guilt and shame that they feel when they succumb to depression. The illness initiates questions such as ‘How will my friends and family’s perception of me change?’ ‘Will I still be respected at work?’ ‘Will others doubt my performance as a wife and a mother?’ and ‘Have I let everyone down?’
I first suffered with debilitating depression in my early thirties. I was a journalist working in a busy newsroom, a mum of two beautiful sons and wife to a loving husband. Yet the pit of depression I had fallen into was so deep that I came to see death as a welcome release.
Telling my colleagues seemed like a bad idea. I didn’t want to be judged for being mentally unwell and I felt it could impair my career. So I only told my immediate bosses, as I had no choice but to explain my absence from work while I recovered. Research from Time to Changeconfirms that mental illness is the conversation people feel least comfortable talking about with their manager or even friends at work. Some people have grown up in households where talking about feelings was not the norm. Changing this habit is difficult and takes courage. I know that stigma is alive and well, not just from others but it’s often stronger in the minds of those affected. We need to break down all stigma surrounding depression so that nobody suffers in silence.
My second major depressive episode occurred several years later and saw me hospitalised and bed ridden.The change this time was that I was more open. I started writing and talking about my illness. It is bad enough being unwell without the extra stress of covering up your symptoms. How could you hide the flu? A stomach bug? A broken leg? Near impossible. It is also near impossible to hide an illness so debilitating as depression.
Words have been vital to my recovery. By saying, writing and hearing words about depression, I have overcome my own stigma attached to it. The support of others made a difference to my recovery and I will always be grateful to friends and colleagues who got in touch. But I wouldn’t have had this support had I not reached out for it.
I regularly give wellbeing workshops and I start by asking people to stand up if they have felt they were able to open up about mental illness, both personally and in their family. In a room of 30 people, usually there are only a couple of people standing. I think this highlights the stigma that still exists around mental illness. So I am grateful to be an ambassador for charities like SANEwho work to improve the quality of life for anyone affected by mental illness and run initiatives like #StopStigma.
SANE was founded by Marjorie Wallace in 1986 and is one of the UK’s leading mental health charities. The charity aims to reduce the impact of mental illness for all those affected. They aim to increase people’s knowledge of mental illness and improve care and treatment. The hope is that by sharing information with the public the government will also work towards positive change. SANE is also active in initiating research into the causes and treatments of a wide range of serious mental illness, such as depression.
The #LetMeTalk campaign SANE is currently running reaches out to people who are suffering with depression in silence. It aims to raise awareness about the negative impact keeping silent about depression has on the sufferer. The campaign is spread over 11 days and uses social media as a platform to reach as many people as possible. The concept of the campaign is to personify depression, turning it into a physical being that is actively preventing the words from coming out of the sufferer’s mouth. Watch SANE’s chilling depiction of depression, silencing its victim in this short film.
Let’s keep talking and sharing with others, to break down the stigma around depression word by word.
SANE provides one of the strongest mental health crisis lines in the UK, the SANEline service, where people can receive care and emotional support. It is the only out-of-hours service in the UK. The line is open every day of the year from 4.30pm to 10.30pm on 0300 304 7000.