Depression is a hot topic at the moment here. Last week we saw hurler Conor Cusack talk about how it manifested for him, and yesterday, radio presenter John Murray came back to work after six months off due to depression. I am so, so pleased to see depression being talked of more, and particularly by men, and it’s such a huge step forward in breaking down some of the stigma that surrounds mental illness. But.
There’s a but. I feel absolutely terrible about writing this, but I’m determined to be honest. While it’s fantastic to see column space dedicated to mental illness, it frustrates me intensely that before the media take notice of something as serious and prevalent as depression there has to be a well known name attached. I also understand that that’s how it it has to be, because if someone famous can struggle, it makes it so much more acceptable, and let’s face it, it’s far more interesting to read about people we know (albeit through a lens) than people we don’t, especially those who appear to be successful and high achieving.
There’s another factor at play here as well. We hear about these stories after the event. We hear about it after they have come out the other side, and are well again. We’re hearing a one sided story. Depression can, for many, be a lifelong, chronic illness that will need on-going management, much like diabetes or asthma. There will always be the threat of relapse and we will always need to be watchful of potential triggers. I think that to only hear the positive, the absolute best possible outcomes, denies that side of it. This is not a comment on either Conor or John, but rather on what the media sees fit to portray.
Maybe I’m not being fair, and I want too much too soon. I’m impatient for the stigma to be gone, and I realise that is going to be a long, slow, painful process. But I would love the media to sit up and notice that it’s more than sports personalities and media folk who experience depression. It’s one in four of us. That’s huge. When I was in hospital I heard a statistic that shocked me – cancer affects one in thirty. Think of how many people we all know who have experienced cancer. Now think of how many we know who have admitted to mental illness. When considered in relation to those stats, there’s something really, badly wrong.
I recently wrote a letter to the editor of a national paper, although as far as I know it hasn’t been published. I concluded the letter with this: ‘It is my hope that hearing from the likes of Conor and John will open the floodgates for the rest of us, and that in years to come, people will admit to depression as easily as we now admit to the flu. It’s an illness, nothing more.’
Is it a vain hope? Is there anything else we can do to bring mental illness, and mental health, out into the open? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.