One of the things that makes it difficult to ask for help around depression, is that depression takes away any feeling that it is worth asking for help. It leaves me feeling that I am worth far less than anyone I might inconvenience with my distress. I feel that it would be better to make no fuss, to hide it, or to go away. However, alongside this it is worth noting that most depression is caused by experiences, not body chemistry, so not being able to ask for help usually means not being able to do anything about the source of the problem.
I blogged recently about anger and humiliation, and it’s become apparent to me how this intersects with depression. It’s often said that depression is anger turned inwards, but it is also the experience of dealing with people who get angry when you express difficulty. It’s being afraid to say there’s a problem in case you bringing it up is a bigger issue than you being unhappy. If the angry defensive response of the person who hurt you in the first place is likely to be even more harmful than the original harm, you soon learn not to say anything.
The person who has gone a few rounds with people who didn’t care, wouldn’t deal with issues, only wanted to be comfortable… that person learns not to make a fuss. They learn that their mental health is less important, while other people being comfortable at all times is more important. They learn that they are not worth as much as the people who get angry with them. The more exposure to this you get, the more you are likely to internalise it. The more you internalise it, the more likely you are to beat yourself up, not seek help, and view any situation in which your ‘illness’ has made someone else uncomfortable, as a potential threat to you.
As a culture, we make depression an issue for the individual, with cure a personal thing to sort out. I can say with confidence that it is nigh on impossible to fix this kind of dynamic while being in it. This is an example of the sort of thing where the behaviour of third parties can change everything. Do you encourage people to paper over the cracks, not make a fuss? Do you take people seriously if they admit they have a problem? Do you step in if one person seems to have far too much of the power in a situation? Do you challenge people who won’t look at their own issues or do you tacitly support their behaviour by staying silent?
When we do nothing, we support the person with the most power. When we do nothing, we facilitate the aggressors and bullies, and the people who refuse to take responsibility for their actions and inaction. Not getting involved is not an act of holding the middle ground, it is not an act of neutrality. Doing nothing is how we help bullies carry on, how we let abusers off the hook, and how we fail to tackle people who, unwittingly perhaps, are really piling the shit on those around them. Doing nothing and saying nothing sends a clear message that we have no problem with what’s going on. If more people were willing to be a bit uncomfortable now and then, many people would not have to spend their lives mired in utter despair and misery.