Time To Change is an organisation that aims to reduce the burden of stigma to do with mental health. I felt this was important, as mental health is finally reaching public consciousness. It isn’t always positive though.
It’s hard to reach that optimal level between raising awareness and trying to do “a good thing”, and creating a freak show. When Robin Williams took his own life, the media was torn between “how sad” and “how freaky”. Organisations such as Mind were quick to prompt the media how best to report on cases such as his — for example, by not mentioning how he took his life, it was hoped there’d be fewer copycat attempts. Yet these pleas weren’t often heard. But it’s difficult: people want to know what happened to be able to understand, and media companies necessarily have to earn money.
In the papers this morning, we had the case of Clarke Carlisle talking about his attempt at his own life; how his drinking has affected his life and the bad decisions that he made in the past. What filled me with horror was the “I’m going to be late for work because I had to stay up to hear what Ralf Little is about to say about it” comments that were plastered all over Twitter, like it was some kind of “popcorn” moment. Having read what Little said, it seemed broadly sympathetic to those with mental health problems, but its conclusion was that depression was a selfish disease and so it’s hard to have sympathy.
That is only half right. I’ve had conversations with people before when I’ve said, “Depression is a selfish disease”, only to be told, “No, it’s not”. It is a selfish disease. It’s every bit as selfish as being ridden with malaria and requiring round-the-clock care to keep you alive. People with depression don’t have the same level of consciousness as those of us blessed with a clean bill with mental health. When you’re in the depths of despair, your brain is your worst enemy. It compels you to think about awful things. Let me tell you, nothing is scarier than losing the most basic of human instincts to preserve your existence.
Humans are designed to take care of themselves by minimising risk, avoiding danger, and making decisions that keep you alive. Depression erodes that in so many cases. It’s not hard to see that people are fundamentally different when depressed.
People will do weird things when they’re depressed, because their minds have gone weird. Like mine. I did strange things. I was a different person. Some people become reclusive; many become destructive in some way. Many depressed people can’t see a long-term future and do things that seem incredibly selfish: like going on holiday; creating a mess; spending money on meaningless and gratuitous things. These are things that you can fall out over. It’s easy to hate a depressed person. Too easy.
But remember: depressed people feel alone, even when with others. Depressed people feel alone in their thoughts and cannot easily express how they’re feeling. But you need to look after depressed people: nurture their minds and thoughts. Help them through. Worry about forgiveness later and work on understanding now. A depressed person will thank you for it, and say they’re sorry for the things they’ve done, and they’d mean it. The vast majority of people don’t want to do bad and selfish things, and it isn’t really them doing those things.
Your friend, relative, colleague or idol is still in there. Patience, understanding and compassion will help you to see that.