Yes, depression is a legitimate medical condition

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“Telling someone with depression to pull themselves together is about as useful as telling someone with cancer to stop having cancer.” – Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais might be a controversial guy, but I like this quote. At least someone with some influence is speaking out! Society’s negative attitude towards any form of mental illness means that so many people never feel comfortable talking about it. It is such a lonely road for many people and at times I also count myself in. Actually, just about all of us living with these illnesses are still very selective about who we tell.

Yet, if depression were cancer it would be entirely different story. Sad, isn’t it? In this article which talks about research into mental health, the author says that depression has struggled, while studies of cancer have thrived.

Here’s a few highlights from the article:

If the extent of human suffering were used to decide which diseases deserve the most medical attention, then depression would be near the top of the list. More than 350 million people are affected by depression, making it one of the most common disorders in the world. It is the biggest cause of disability, and as many as two-thirds of those who commit suicide have the condition.

In research…depression has failed to keep up with cancer. Cancer research today is a thriving field…Research into depression, meanwhile, seems to have floundered: once-hopeful therapies have failed in clinical trials, genetic studies have come up empty-handed. The field is still struggling to even define the disease — and overcome the stigma associated with it.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Cancer research funding is very important and I’m glad that so many advances have been made towards treating so many cancers. But, can you imagine if research into mental health got the same kind of funding and attention? What if we had the same kind of advances in treating mental health?

…Another major factor is the long-standing stigma associated with depression. Many people still do not acknowledge that it is a legitimate condition, says Nelson Freimer, a psychiatric geneticist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “A large proportion of people believe depression is just something that we all feel,” he says. “They think you should pull your socks up and get back to work.

The article goes on to tell more about advances into genetic research to understand and treat mental illness, but I agree with article – stigma is still a major problem. Depression isn’t just a case of “having the blues”. These are serious things. Those of us who live with it know.

 

 

 

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Myth: Mental health problems are very rare

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In my mind, there’s nothing our generation should be more ashamed of than people with severe mental illness being punished for a disease they can’t do anything about. ” Fran Quigley

When I was in hospital last week (that’s a story for another day…) I started chatting to a young girl (17) in the bed next to me. She told me that the doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong with her and what to do about it. All they know is that she has toxic kidneys and now she’s on a liquid diet. Then I asked her how she’s coping emotionally – and she almost ashamedly told me that she’s on anti-depressants because things are just too tough. I immediately exclaimed: Welcome to the club! So am I”. I could immediately sense that she felt so relieved that she wasn’t being judged or considered a freak.

And this got me thinking: Don’t you sometimes wish that mental illness could be diagnosed with a blood test, or be visible on an X-ray? It would eliminate all those “snap out of it” or “it is all in your head” comments. No wonder so many people suffer in silence! Then those of us who live with chronic conditions such as clinical depression, anxiety, PTSD or Bipolar would be treated in the same way as someone living with diabetes, high blood pressure or asthma.

This article says that depression is now the second most common cause of disability worldwide after back pain, according to a review of research. The disease must be treated as a global public health priority, experts report in the journal PLOS Medicine. The study compared clinical depression with more than 200 other diseases and injuries as a cause of disability.

And you know what’s the most scary thing? Globally only a small proportion of patients are diagnosed or have access to treatment, the World Health Organization says. I think mental illness is fast becoming one of the biggest public health concerns worldwide. Not nearly enough is being done to help people in desperate need.

Elyn Saks, an expert in mental health law, said that “No one would ever say that someone with a broken arm or a broken leg is less than a whole person, but people say that or imply that all the time with mental illness.”

True words. Mental health is really one of the most misunderstood health conditions.

 

“He’s psycho” and other hurtful words

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Something that really bugs me is the language around mental illness – I think this is one of the reasons why there is so much stigma, fear and misinformation. Changing the way we speak about mental illness is, in my opinion, one of the most important ways to counter society’s ignorance about anything to do with mental health.

How often do you hear these words? “He’s crazy”, “she’s psycho” or “she’s gone totally schizo on me”. I hear these phrases being bandied about all the time. I hear something like this almost daily where I work.

But – would someone be as uncaring to say something like “I’m getting really tired of this cancer of yours” or “What?! You mean there is someone with cystic fibrosis just walking around? Can’t we lock these people up?” or “I have to work late now because Joe has had a heart attack or something. Some people will do anything to get out of work”. what depression is

Just think about that. These kinds of statements would make anyone seriously unpopular. Yet – the same standards don’t apply for someone who has clinical depression, anxiety, bipolar, etc.

What if we treated every illness the way we treat mental illness? Why isn’t mental illness treated with the same level of compassion as any other chronic illness – because that is what mental illness is – a chronic condition just like diabetes.

I know how frightening it is to be in a room where this kind of stuff is said – the fear of people finding out and the associated stigma is sometimes worse than living with this condition. But then I read something that says “your fear of stigma is part of the illness”. And that got me thinking. Why must I be silent about what I’m struggling with? This is my story. This is my reality. This is why I recently decided to add a photograph of myself to my ‘about’ page. Why should I hide? It starts with me – I have to treat myself with the same respect and concern I would show to a cancer patient. Depression is just a chemical imbalance, it isn’t a flaw in my character.