'But how could YOU have depression?'
I took the time recently to have coffee with a dear friend, something we should all do more often. I don’t spend enough time listening to my friends and I know I'm not alone here.
During the course of our time together, I asked my friend how he was going. To my surprise, I found out that he was not going so well - and had not been well for some time. Another good reason to catch up for coffee more often!
This feeling had been going on for some time and suffering through it, my friend did not know what to do, what action he could take, how he could overcome a debilitating feeling of loss and helplessness. He was as distressed about not knowing what to do, as he was about depression itself.
After listening for some time, I suggested that he visit his GP (avoiding the temptation of taking his or her advice) to seek a referral to a psychiatrist or psychologist. In response, he said: "Then what? What can they do?"
I suggested that a diagnosis would be the first step and that if that diagnosis was depression, there was a host of potential remedies, including medication.
Not at all satisfied with my response he said: "I don’t need to take drugs.
While recognising his stated concerns, I was more concerned about what my friend was not saying. What he wasn't saying, was: "I do not want to be diagnosed with a mental illness!"
As we talked, it became clear he associated depression with a stigma and perhaps an anchor that would weigh him down for the rest of his life.
What to do? Tell it as it is, of course! That is what I do best!
I told my friend that I had been talking the pills he was referring to for 15 years, that I had experienced no side effects (no guarantee that he would not), that my diagnosis had not impacted negatively on my life and that I was better off on so many levels for my interactions with a number of psychiatrists and psychologists.
With a look of absolute incredulity, he said: "You have depression?
I told him that yes, I had depression, that it was diagnosed some 15 years earlier, that I had almost certainly suffered from it for longer. I explained that I had seen two psychiatrists and two psychologists over extended periods of time and, yes, that I took anti-depressant medication.
Then I addressed his suggestion that I was motivated and full of life.
This discussion went on for some time. I went on to explain that I still experienced ups and downs, even on a daily basis, but that beyond these blips, life was normal and I had benefitted immeasurably from the medical intervention.
In fact, it was highly likely that I would not be here today without it.
I urged my friend to seek help.
As the conversation drew to a close, I realised that what the advocates were saying in the media almost daily was true. We have to talk about these things and get mental illness out on the table.
It also came to me that we should all spend more time drinking coffee, or tea (as I do), with our friends, asking them how they are and listening to their responses.
Life is short enough. We will lose our friends soon enough. Listening to them more may ensure that we don’t lose them even sooner.