There is a comic I’ve seen many times floating around the Internet and I’m sure some of you have seen this comic as well. The intended message of this comic is that mental illnesses, such as depression, are not something the sufferer has any more control over than physical ailments and so should not be stigmatized the way they are in our society. This is a great message and one that I feel should be more widespread; I know many people who need help often refuse to get it primarily because of the way society looks down on mental health professionals and the people who seek their help. However, I disagree with several of the individual points the comic makes.
I remember when I was in the deepest parts of my depression, I had most of these things said to me many times and it made me angry. However, that anger actually helped to motivate me to get better and I find myself saying many of the same things to my depressed friends now. Some of the items ironically labeled “helpful advice,” are genuinely techniques that you can use to combat depression.
Of course, you can’t just stop having depression any more than you can just stop having the flu. And if medication is the only way you can cope with your illness, then you need medication to survive and there should be no shame in that. Anti-depressants are not strong enough to change who you are, they just allow you to be a happy version of that person when the chemicals naturally present in your body do not. I’m sure the same is true for medications used to treat other mental illnesses, but I have no personal experience with them. It is unfortunate that society at large doesn’t understand that these chemicals only have the power to change who you are in the movies because many people who need help refuse to get help, even of the non-chemical variety, simply because they are afraid of these chemicals.
The rest of the comic, with the possible exception of the accusatory, “you’re not even trying,” panel is genuinely good advice for fighting depression. Even some people with treatable physical ailments need to hear the advice in the first panel, “you have to at least try.” Food poisoning is a ridiculous example to use on that piece of advice, but diabetes isn’t. There are diabetics out there who let the disease slowly kill them because they are too lazy or otherwise unwilling to make the dietary and lifestyle changes necessary in addition to medication to manage their condition.
The same is true for mental illness; if you don’t try to get better you won’t get better. No one can make you better but you. I know that sometimes anti-depressants stop working and need to be changed or adjusted and sometimes the suffer is unable to make the needed appointments to correct the problem, so someone close to them has to do it for them, but the only way that method works is if the sufferer themselves tried to get better at some point in the past. You might relapse and then others can help you, but only if you helped yourself first.
Changing your frame of mind by forcing yourself to find one good thing in every bad situation is one way you can help yourself. And the more you do it, the easier it is. Unfortunately, the same is true for staying in bed when you have depression. When I was at my worst, one day I couldn’t think of anything to do, so I did nothing. Then one day of lying in bed staring at the ceiling turned into two. Two days turned into a week. A week turned into a month. The more I gave into the urge to do nothing, the easier it was to do nothing and the harder it was to not do nothing. And as the final panel says, lying in bed does not help with depression and you do need to do something else. Even now that I’m “recovered,” I have felt the urge to crawl back into bed and stay there once or twice, but I refuse to let myself give in to that urge because I know that one day is all it would take to let me slide right back down into that dark place.
I think the real problem with the helpful advice is that the people who give it often fail to acknowledge that what they’re telling you to do isn’t easy. It’s not easy. Learning to stay out of bed and be more positive is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it can be done and it needed to be done so that I could recover.