Lee Crockford is setting out to help prevent the avoidable suicides amongst Aussie men. As always, it starts by having the words to talk about it.
I feel I should preface this blog with a disclaimer before I’m shot down in a blaze of criticism and burning internet memes. I’m far from being an expert in mental health– in fact, the title of a novice is likely pushing it. I simply have a question about mental health from the perspective of someone who has never suffered from depression. I should also add, rather inconveniently, that it’s a question that I’m not entirely sure how to articulate…
Several weeks ago I was reading through personal stories written by those touched by depression or suicide. Just a little light reading for a Saturday night. After digesting dozens of stories, it dawned on me that the vast majority were written from one of three points of view:
1) People currently suffering from depression: These stories tend to discuss only the writer’s own feelings.
2) People that have overcome depression: These stories tend to be more broad in content, though regularly follow the structure:
– the journey they’ve gone through (with significant focus on their own lowest point)
– the catalyst that prompted change
– how their life has improved
– the importance that friends and family played in their recovery process
– occasionally there may be a concession or apology acknowledging the impact their depression must have had on their friends and family.
3) People indirectly affected by depression (friends, family etc.) These stories detail the journey their loved ones went through while often discussing the impact the situation had on their own lives.
It seems that there’s one glaring theme missing from the above three categories, though I’ll come back to that in a moment.
There was one story in particular that caught my eye. It was posted in 2001 by an American girl under the pseudonym “Angel12”. It was only adequately written and the narrative was fairly typical. Angel12 recounted the story of her boyfriend who ended up taking his own life after a lengthy battle with depression. His illness generally went unnoticed by the world at large, though she was only too aware of it. The fact that he took his own life was, of course, tragic even if it came as little surprise to her. Before his suicide, they had discussed his illness at length and she knew he was harbouring suicidal thoughts.
“Sometimes, love just isn’t enough to get you through” was a statement he admitted to her on several heartbreaking occasions.
What must that be like? To live with and to love someone that you know might end their own life at any moment? Is there any way that someone could not be affected by that? Unsurprisingly, the weight of the situation took a massive toll on Angel12. At no point in her blog, though, did she ever divulge whether her boyfriend was aware of the effect his depression had on her.
This omission isn’t isolated to Angel12‘s story. Of the dozens of stories I read that night, not one person in the throes of depression acknowledged the impact it had on the lives of those around them. One would be forgiven for thinking that only once a person has begun the journey to recovery are they either able or willing to acknowledge it. This begs the question: Why?
The whole point of Soften the Fck Up is to challenge the conversations we have around mental health. The idea of discussing mental health openly has been stigmatised for far too long–especially amongst men and especially amongst Australian men. I’ll admit myself that I’d rather bottle it up than talk to my mates if I’m a bit down. However, it’s not just the conversation surrounding the need for blokes to open up more that we need to challenge. There is, perhaps, an even more difficult dialogue we need to be willing to start and that’s the conversation we have when someone’s depression starts to impact the people around them.
Mental health is, of course, a delicate matter. The most common symptom of depression is a feeling of helplessness. Adding a layer of responsibility and, what could be potentially construed as, shame is questionable. The following is an incredibly weak and inferior metaphor, but for a moment let’s just take the example of someone talking loudly in a movie theatre. It’s something that that clearly affects others, though people will often avoid starting a dialogue in the fear of either being rude, confrontational or because of the possible negative ramifications. Please know that the seriousness of depression doesn’t even begin to compare to someone talking during a movie–the parallel is simply how we go about addressing the elephant in the room. Should we avoid the conversation simply because there’s the potential for it all to end badly? Or should we be bold enough to challenge the elephant in the room and pull on its tail with the hope of achieving a greater outcome for everyone involved? How long do we sit on our hands before it achieves nothing but numb hands?
Whether it’s a correct assumption or not, I’ve always believed we can’t control the feelings we have, though we have no choice but to control the actions we make. Doing something is action. Doing nothing is action, too. When talking about depression it’s common for people to say that “you’re dealing with the illness not the individual”. If we can separate the two in this instance then why cant we address the impact that the illness creates without placing the burden the individual?
I would genuinely like to know from anyone who reads this:
– If you, yourself have been through depression, what impact would a loved one, or someone close to you have had if they confessed the negative ramifications your illness was having on their life? Would that have only set you back further or would it have been a “kick up the arse” you needed to take stock and push you into taking action? Would it force you to be accountable and create a positive shift in the way you interacted with the world and your illness?
– If you have been indirectly affected by depression, have you ever been honest and explained to someone how their depression has impacts you? If so, what outcome did that have? Did it help or did it only make things worse?
Many people who have come out the other side of depression talk about a catalyst that forced a change within them. Of course, no one is cured in a moment of epiphany–but it is the first step in a overcoming depression. Could confronting the people we love be that catalyst?