I have depression.
I struggled to write that sentence, and I tried to phrase it in a nice flowery paragraph about being on my way out of a depressive spell etc. but the truth is there’s no right way to talk about this. I’ve hidden it, for the whole time I’ve been struggling, from all but a few people. But that’s exactly what I want to examine, why do I not want people to know I’m depressed? Why do I subscribe to the idea that I have to struggle alone? And why is getting help such a taboo?
I think part of it comes from the self-image I have. I hold myself to this happy, positive, “I’ll help you with all of your problems” personality, and I want people to see me as a positive influence on their lives. I think I was afraid that this would tarnish that “good reputation”, and that people would start to see me differently. I don’t like to admit that I care what other people think of me, but of course I do, that’s human nature. So I’m afraid to talk about it incase it changes people’s view of me and makes them treat me differently. But I have recently learned that depression doesn’t change who I am, it just means that some days I don’t feel able to live up to the personality that I’ve created for myself, and that’s hard to stomach.
One of the reasons I was slow to get diagnosed was because some people have it worse, and I didn’t want to make a big deal of it if my depression wasn’t “bad enough”. I think it’s natural to doubt myself when depression is so stigmatised and people associate it with such a narrow range of symptoms. I sometimes get defensive when people ask “are you sure it’s depression or are you just sad?” because it took me so long to stop comparing my symptoms to those of others.
It’s also important to mention that when I’m in a depression it’s hard to get myself into the shower, never mind find the motivation to talk about my problems. I’ve recognised that it’s hard to talk about it when you’re deep in it, but you and I have to remember that we will come out again, we will be okay, and we will be able to talk about it. I’m hoping that this retrospective rhetoric will do me some good if I should fall back into depression again. I’m trying to break the stigma in my own head and open up to those around me so that next time it might be easier.
With all of this said, you’d think it would be easy for me to tell people how I’m dealing with my depression. You’d think I’d happily be able to announce to those around me that I had a really good breakthrough in counselling, or that the man that answered the phone in the Samaritans was really helpful and calmed me down from my panic attack, but I haven’t broken through that wall yet.
It makes me wonder why I have never told anyone about the phone calls to the Samaritans? Why do I hide that I go to therapy? Why is there shame in admitting that I needed, and will continue to need, the support of professionals?
The answers that spring to mind all tend to circle around self-doubt, self-criticism, and of course, worrying what others might think.
If there’s a stigma around talking about mental health, then there’s an absolute embargo around talking about the services people need in order to deal with mental health. We don’t tell people we’re going to counselling because we worry what they might think of us. To me it seems incredibly unfair that there’s so much secrecy around “getting help” when everyone who’s ever felt sad is urged to ‘talk about it”.
When it’s not talked about, and all dealings with mental health professionals are kept like family secrets, it creates the illusion that it’s rare or weak to ask for help. It can be perceived that everyone else is able to ‘fix’ themselves, and only those of us with serious problems need the support of professionals, when in reality, thousands of people in Ireland use mental health services every year, and we are stronger for it. We are so secretive about needing help that it’s become a massive taboo, and we hide it to save face of some sort.
I should not have to keep it a secret for 4 years that I needed an emergency helpline.
There is no weakness in going to counselling, or therapy, or CBT, or group, or needing to talk to a professional in any way. I will not be ashamed of trying to better myself and my illness, and I don’t want to keep quiet about it anymore.
I want to talk about my mental health so I don’t have to feel alone, so that I can be myself even when I feel like the heavy, black, damp feelings will never go away. I’m challenging myself to be open about depression and how I deal with what I feel and let others do the same with me. If we are more open with each other about what we feel and how we cope we can end the stigma, and we can end the shame. So let’s talk about it.
If you need help please talk to friends, family, a GP, therapist or one of the free confidential helpline services. For a full list of national mental health services see yourmentalhealth.ie.
- Samaritans 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Pieta House National Suicide Helpline 1800 247 247 or email email@example.com – (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement) or text HELP to 51444 (standard message rates apply)
- Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
If living in Ireland you can find accredited therapists in your area here: