"But smiling makes people happy, or endorphins... Can't they just go to the gym?"
These are some of the reactions that people get when they try to discuss depression. Not from everyone, some people are incredibly well-informed, and that is great. But some people are misinformed and this misinformation can be dangerous.
The word 'depression' has, to some extent, been misused. Many people say that they are depressed when in fact they are sad. Depression and sadness are two different things. Sadness very often comes and goes and is effected by life events.
Clinical depression isn't a feeling of sadness as a reaction to a negative event or series of events. Clinical depression is often caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Sure, depression can be triggered by negative events in life; someone can become depressed after the loss of a loved one, but someone can also fall into depression after going on a fantastic holiday or having a baby or getting married. There is, unfortunately, no rhyme or reason to clinical depression.
Often this chemical imbalance can be re-balanced through medication and helped by talking therapy, but finding the right combination of medications can be time-consuming, and patience and support is needed during this time.
A misconception, by those who have not really come into contact with someone who suffers from depression is that depression is something that someone can be "snapped out of" by doing things such as exercise, eating a healthy diet, or getting out of the house. However, often those who are in the depths of their depression do not have the energy to get out of bed, let alone do a workout.
I have often described depression as the feeling of trying to run under water. The resistance is incredible and you want to give up almost instantly. Your brain is willing your limbs to move faster, but they just can't. There is an invisible force stopping them from doing so. The energy that is used to get from one side of the pool to another is tremendous. You feel exhausted, and yet you have only reached the bedroom door.
Depression and Suicide
Although depression does not necessarily lead to suicide, there is a link between the two, and there is also a link between taking anti-depressants and increased suicidal ideation (Read more here).
The reason for this is unclear however one theory is that someone who is clinically depressed, often has very little energy, as described above. Yet, medication will help to relieve some of this exhaustion, however the feelings associated with the depression might not yet have lifted. Therefore, a person might still feel depressed, but now has the energy to get up, get out of bed, and unfortunately attempt suicide.
I don't want to scare anyone away from taking anti-depressants, this was not the point of the above paragraph. It was meant as a warning that medication alone may not be sufficient. A support network is needed; friends, family, counsellor, colleagues, and so on are a necessary part of recovery.
Stigma around Mental Health
Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to mental health issues, in some areas and communities more than others. However, the release of various TV shows and books has gone some way to opening up a conversation about such topics, in the hope that this will help to reduce the stigma. Shows and books such as Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” and Nathan Filer’s “The Shock of the Fall” depict an individual’s journey through mental health in such a way that it humanises the experience.
This can be seen both positively and negatively, as, on the one hand, it has the power to diminish the stigma attached by bringing the language of mental health into household conversations. On the other hand, it could be triggering to some and offer encouragement and ideas to those already experiencing suicidal ideation. Perhaps books, such as Fearne Cotton’s “Happy”, are a better medium than television for such topics as there is less graphic imagery and hype surrounding books, however books may not reach such a wide audience as television shows.
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