“I just heard that Tina…has cancer…I mean, fuck off, right?! We all have cancer. I’ve got cancer pretty bad, but I get on with it, I get back to work.”
“You think you’d be able to stop vomiting for me and the kids!”
-Comedian Maria Bamford on how society treats depression
She is quite right here. I can only speak to anecdotal evidence, but many people do not take mental illness seriously and that’s troubling for a plethora of reasons. Chief among them is the fact that people with mental illness are lambasted for being weak, cowardly and otherwise to blame for having a disease.
All of that is also prevalent when discussing the extreme manifestation of that disease and other mental illnesses: suicide.
Three hundred and forty-nine soldiers across the four branches of the United States military killed themselves in 2012, according to this article. Were every single one of those three hundred and forty-nine soldiers weak, cowardly and “took the easy way out?” Did they simply need to get over it, snap out of it and pull themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps?
There were 38,364 suicides in the United States in 2010, according to the CDC. Were every single one of those 38,364 people weak, cowardly, and “took the easy way out?” Did they simply need to get over it, snap out of it and pull themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps? Were they just using mental illness as a “crutch” to hide their laziness or unwillingness to seek help?
If you answer yes to any of those questions or even think that while it may not be “all,” but a “majority of them,” then you’re contributing to not only the continued stigma around mental illness, suicide and seeking help (which means, helping with prevention), but you’re standing in the way of human progress and empathy.
A perfect analogy and way of understanding depression was presented by this site:
“And that’s the most frustrating thing about depression. It isn’t always something you can fight back against with hope. It isn’t even something — it’s nothing. And you can’t combat nothing. You can’t fill it up. You can’t cover it. It’s just there, pulling the meaning out of everything. That being the case, all the hopeful, proactive solutions start to sound completely insane in contrast to the scope of the problem.
It would be like having a bunch of dead fish, but no one around you will acknowledge that the fish are dead. Instead, they offer to help you look for the fish or try to help you figure out why they disappeared.”
Courtesy of Hyperbole and a Half: Adventures in Depression