My name’s Helena Fairfax. I’m a British romance writer, and my first novel is called the The Silk Romance. At heart my novel is a sweet, uplifting love story, but like many romances it touches on some serious issues.
The following conversation takes place between my heroine, Sophie, and her father, who suffers from depression.
“I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve given you, love.”
“Dad!...It wasn’t your fault. You couldn’t help being ill. It’s just one of those things.”
|Cartoon by Beatrice the Biologist|
Why does Sophie’s father feel the need to apologise for his illness? Why is it that we find depression and mental health problems so difficult to talk about? Clinical depression is a serious condition, so why do we find it something to be ashamed of, and why is it such a taboo subject, particularly for men?
For those who have never suffered from depression, it can be difficult to understand what people with this illness are going through. For sufferers, it’s as though something outside your control has possession of your mind. Everything that’s good in the world becomes useless: the future, your relationships with others, and most of all your own self. In the same way that cancer attacks the body, your brain is taken over by your illness and your thoughts spiral out of control, through absolutely no fault of your own.
Here's another quote, this time from President Obama, who recently announced funding for the BRAIN project (an initiative to start mapping the complex circuitry of the brain):
“As humans we can identify galaxies light-years away, study particles smaller than an atom but we still haven't unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears.”
Depression is not a weakness. It is a serious illness. But because we still don’t understand how the brain works, in our society admitting to suffering from depression is seen as a sign of failure. Would you tell a cancer sufferer to stop his cancerous cells from developing? No, because it’s impossible. And it’s just as hard to turn off depression. A sufferer can’t just “snap out of it”.
As yet there is no known cure. Anti-depressants work in some cases (but not all). Counselling can help some sufferers (but not all). What definitely DOESN’T help is when people are made to feel stigmatised for an illness that is no fault of their own.
In the UK I support a charity called CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably), which acts to help prevent suicide among young men, who are particularly at risk. One of the factors that may put young men at more risk is the fact that they can feel ashamed admitting to a perceived weakness. Men are brought up to believe they should be strong in our society. But if we can’t allow men and women to talk openly about this illness, how can we help them?
The above photo shows a graffiti campaign run by CALM, called Tom, Dick, Harry. The campaign dominates London's Old Street, and it illustrates in a powerful way that every day three young men in the UK end their own lives.
Here are some further compelling statistics I discovered from CALM’s webpage:
· Suicide accounted for the deaths of more young men in England & Wales in 2011 than road death, murder and HIV/AIDs combined.
· In the UK, 4,552 men took their own lives in 2011.
4,552. What does that figure mean to you? An interesting statistic? Something to glance at, read and move on?
One of those 4,552 men was my son. He’s not a number. There aren’t the words in any language to describe what he was to me. There’s not a day, an hour or a minute that’s gone by since then that I haven’t thought of him.
Depression is a crippling and potentially fatal disease. One day there will be a cure, but in the meantime, as long as men and women feel ashamed to speak of this illness, people will continue to suffer.
If you would like more information on this subject, I’ve listed below a few useful websites.
http://www.thecalmzone.net/British charity The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)
www.healthtalkonline.org Advice and personal experiences from depression sufferers
http://bluepages.anu.edu.au/treatments/what_works/ Advice on what works for depression
http://bmb.oxfordjournals.org/content/57/1/221.full A personal view on the stigma felt by a depression sufferer.