What does depression look like?

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Photo Courtesy of Redefining Images

“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.” ― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I have been seeing these post on social media, probably for a couple of years now. The more I see them, the more they bother me. Various Memes, often featuring a seemingly happy celebrity like Robin Williams, urging you to check on your happy friends because they might be secretly depressed. As though a simple inquiry is all it takes for a person who is faking happy to confess that they are suicidal. As though what killed those smiling icons was neglect of friends and family and not their own personal demons. It’s survivors guilt gone viral, and it is both alarming and disgusting to me.

Let me make something perfectly clear, if you have lost someone to suicide, drug overdose, or some other poor choice they made, IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. I can’t say that enough. That baggage is not yours to carry, please, put it down. The what-ifs, the gut-gnawing guilt, the should-haves…none of it will bring them back, all of it places their burden squarely on your shoulders. It isn’t yours, put it down.

Are your friends, even the seemingly happy ones, struggling with heavy emotions? I am going to go out on a limb here and say, yes. Life is full of expectations, pressures from inside and out, disappointments, tragedy, heartbreak, and all of the complicated emotions that come along for the ride. Everyone you have ever met, everyone you ever will meet, struggles with sadness, depression, and self doubt at some time in their lives.

The ways people deal with their emotions are as varied as they are. There are those who tell their woes to everyone they meet, and those who can hardly even consider them themselves, let alone share. There are people who face the world with depression written all over their face, and those who hide it behind smiles and witty comebacks. Those who laugh and those who cry. Those who sleep and those who can’t be still. People who turn to drugs and people who turn to exercise. Our reactions and crutches, being as varied as we are, there is really nothing we can outwardly see that “looks like depression”.

That makes this notion of being official mental health monitor for everyone you know absolutely preposterous. I do not think that will help anyone, in fact, I have experienced firsthand the emotional stress of feeling responsible for saving someone I love from themselves. It isn’t healthy. It doesn’t save anyone. It’s very much like tying your boat to a ship that is taking on water, if things don’t change, everyone is going down together.

So, depression, everyone has it, and it’s both unpredictable and invisible, depressing? I don’t think it has to be. I think admitting that to ourselves might just push us in the direction we’ve needed to go all along. The first step to solving any issue is to bring it out into the light. Drag it out of the closet, perch it in the middle of the room, and examine it. Why are we struggling? How can we cope with it better? Why are we so reluctant to talk about something we all share?

The time for silent suffering is well past. It’s time for a new approach. For some honesty. Time to remove the stigma. Time to turn our concern from reaching people in the darkness to eliminating the dark.

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