Depression can’t be cured with happy thoughts.
Earlier this month I stumbled across a thread that quickly went viral for all the wrong reasons.
The thread was by a kickboxer named Andrew Tate and in a series of tweets he reinforced negative stereotypes and stigmas surrounding depression.
To summarise his ignorant rant (you can read the entire thread here if you’re feeling so inclined), he states that depression is a concept that is made up and one that is used by people as a crutch to avoid taking responsibility for whatever shortcomings they have.
He also claims that depressed people are lazy and can be cured simply by changing their lifestyle.
Mental health illness is a tricky area to navigate because people find it hard to equate an illness they can’t see as a valid diagnosis
Needless to say, he received a tremendous amount of backlash.
And with good reason, because not only are assumptions like his based on a skewed viewpoint of mental health illnesses, but his conversation around it is actively harmful and dangerous to those who suffer from depression and are potentially suicidal.
In light of his obnoxious thread, I’ve decided to highlight what it’s like living with depression, why the negative thinking around the illness needs to die and how people who don’t have any form of mental health illness can learn to be more supportive of those who do.
Depression doesn’t mean we’re lazy
One of the stereotypes about people with depression (and one that is touched on in the aforementioned series of tweets) is that men and women who have any form of acute depression are unhappy with their lives and are too lazy to change it.
But here’s the thing: Mental health illness is a tricky area to navigate because people find it hard to equate an illness they can’t see as a valid diagnosis.
I can almost understand why many are so hesitant to see it as a real illness.
Almost - except not quite because Google is your friend and there are a lot of online resources that can educate you and provide you with detailed information - this article on Health24 for example – about how chemical and hormonal imbalances are just some of the factors that can be contributed as leading factors when it comes to diagnosing someone with a mental health illness.
I mean, sure, depression can manifest itself as sadness, but most simply think it’s only a mood related issue and that happy thoughts will fix the problem. And sadness somehow equates to laziness, because that’s so much easier to accept than having to deal with someone who genuinely needs help.
I suffer from depression and let me tell you that there’s a difference between feeling sad and being depressed.
When I’m sad I at least am able to function. I can get out of bed, go to work and still be productive (there goes your lazy theory). I can push through that heavy mood and still talk to people.
The narrative that those who have mental health issues should just snap out of it is actually a pretty horrible form of gaslighting
Depression doesn’t come with that functionality – it’s debilitating in the sense that it robs you of any will to do anything and everything, be it something you love to do or something that’s simply part of your daily routine.
It’s not that I want to stay in bed, curled up in foetal position the whole day, it’s simply that I can’t get up in that moment. To me, those bad days feel like I’m wading through a mud slide – trying to reach the top for safety, but unable to because the sludge coming down leaves me feeling paralysed by my inability.
So no Andrew, my depression isn’t my fault. It isn’t an excuse to avoid taking responsibility for my so-called failures in life and it certainly isn’t because my lifestyle is lacking.
It’s a different experience for everyone which is why people just can’t wake up and suddenly have a new outlook on life.
No, we can’t just snap out if it
The problem, as our kickboxer friend clearly demonstrates, is that (many) people who don’t suffer from any form of depressive disorder don’t understand or empathise with those who do - and this is exactly one of the many reasons why people are scared to get help.
The narrative that those who have mental health issues should just snap out of it is actually a pretty horrible form of gaslighting. It took me years to build up the courage to actively seek help – and that was only because I had people in my corner who believed that going to a psychiatrist and psychologist would help me.
Before that, I’ve always been told that it’s in my head, that I’m making it up and that, if other people can get through hard days, then so can I. When someone needs help, the last thing you should be doing is dismissing them. Do you know what it feels like when people don't take your illness seriously?
Ignoring someone who is ill is tantamount to pushing them away when they’re trying to reach out. If someone is lying on the floor in pain, you’re not going to step over the person and keep walking, right?
My depression landed me in hospital twice and a life path clinic once.
And each time I’ve been fortunate that my loved ones never once accused me of crying wolf. I should add here that for many of us, our depression cannot simply be cured, but it definitely can be managed.
Do I still have bad days?
Of course, but the point is that I’m on medication that helps me more than eating more fruit and veggies ever have (another moot point the kickboxer-turned-psychiatrist seems keen to promote).
It’s a different experience for everyone which is why people just can’t wake up and suddenly have a new outlook on life. That’s not how chemical imbalances, life stressors and debilitating anxiety works.
If you’re suffering from depression, are having suicidal thoughts or suspect you might need help with any issues pertaining to your mental health, visit The South African Depression and Anxiety Group.
They have support groups and offer emergency helplines to those in need of help.
You can contact a counsellor between 8am-8pm Monday to Sunday on: 011 234 4837
There is also a suicidal emergency contact number - 0800 567 567 as well as a 24 hour helpline, the number of which is as follows: 0800 12 13 14