When I first set out to write this article, I thought it was going to go in an entirely different direction. I was ready to share facts, statistics, and informative graphics to make people more aware of how prevalent depression really is. I intended for this article to have a scientific feel to it, because I always find data to be more persuasive than anecdotes. But here’s the thing… that was four months ago.
I think we’ve all been having a difficult time so far this year. Depending on where you live in the world, there’s been devastating fires, a dangerous pandemic, long overdue protests, and disruptive politics. Many of us have been stuck at home at some point in the past several months. And while I hope none of you have gotten sick, I know that realistically – statistically – some of you probably have, or have known someone who’s been sick. This year has been filled with isolation, fear, and anger, and all of us have felt that take a toll on our mental health this year. I’m certainly not immune to that.
I was diagnosed with chronic depression when I was seventeen, but I remember knowing when I was twelve. Sometime around then, my mom had sat me down to talk about depression, how it ran in our family, how my sister had it and I needed to learn to be patient with her and forgive her for the things she said and did when she was suffering because she couldn’t control it. It was never a secret in our family, but it also wasn’t really something we talked about much. Even now, we rarely talk about it openly. I remember the day that I knew – I was in middle school, and I remember just wanting to cry all day and I didn’t know why. I wasn’t sad or angry, no one had been mean to me, nothing had happened. But I just felt this overwhelming and crushing sense of dismay.
For a long time, I didn’t tell anyone. I was young and I didn’t really know what was going on. I kept telling myself that I couldn’t have depression, because it didn’t look like my sister’s. Through high school, it got worse. I just couldn’t make myself happy anymore. When I was with my friends, sometimes I would feel happy in the moment, but it would fade as soon as I was alone again, and I would feel empty. I tried therapy, but it didn’t work well for me.
I would never, ever try to dissuade anyone from trying therapy to help improve their mental health. But I also think that therapy is used to create a stigma toward taking medication. It has become so important to me to help people see that there is nothing wrong with taking antidepressants. For some people, like me, depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain, and no amount of therapy is going to convince my brain to produce the correct amounts of serotonin and dopamine, so I take medication. There is nothing shameful about that, or inferior, or wrong. It’s just what I need to do to feel like myself and to not feel like the air around me is suffocating and being awake is torture. It’s probably something I’ll have to take my whole like, and you know what? That’s okay.
I can’t really explain what depression feels like. I’m sure you’ve all seen people talk about it, describe it as an emptiness, a profound sadness, an inability to do anything or an apathy for things you used to love. All of those are true, and yet, the words themselves don’t really do it justice. I could tell you how I spent four months in bed because I just couldn’t get up. That I only left the house to go to classes (which I didn’t do the work for), to go play water polo (which was the only time I felt remotely like myself), and to buy food (which I barely ate). I could tell you that every day passed in a blur, that I would stare at my computer screen for hours, willing myself to work, but never get anything done. But to a lot of people who haven’t experienced it, there’s always that nagging question – but why didn’t you just do something? Make yourself work, make yourself get up? The answer is always the same – I couldn’t. But again, it seems incomprehensible unless you’ve been there. You might as well have asked me to speak fluent Russian on the spot. I just didn’t have the ability.
In the past several months, you’ve probably felt like this at some point. Whether it’s been for a day, or a week, or continuously since January. If there’s one good thing to come out of this pandemic, I hope it’s that we all have a greater appreciation for mental health, and a better understanding of what someone who goes through chronic depression deals with on a daily basis. If you have felt like this at any point this year – whether you’ve had depression before or not – know that I’m proud of you for getting through it. It’s no small task to keep going, to keep believing that you won’t always feel like that. If you still feel that way, I understand. It’s taken me four months to write this, and I swear it’s not because I’ve just been so unbelievably busy (though sometimes it feels like it). Nobody is alone in this feeling.
What can you do? Be aware, be open, and be kind. That’s really all there is to it. Be aware of what you’re going through and of how you’re doing. Make sure you’re checking in with yourself. But also be aware of how other people are doing as well. Does a family member or a friend have depression, or do you think that they’re just having a tough time right now in general? Check in with them, ask how they’re doing. Be honest with yourself about how you’re doing, and be honest with your doctors and your friends if they ask. The worst thing you can do for yourself is lie and say that everything is fine if you’re not. Depression is not an easy thing to deal with, but I promise it’s ten times easier if you have help. Be kind to everyone – you don’t know what’s going on with other people. You have no idea whose mind is beating them up today.
A lot of you probably found this article through the royal watching community, and you probably know that mental health is one of the causes championed by the younger members of the royal family. Kate’s focus on mental health in children and mums, Will’s determination to get men to open up through football, Harry’s dedication to mental health in the military. It’s a subject they’re all passionate about. And no, I’m not leaving Meghan out. But between having a baby needing to take a step away in order to care for her (and her family’s) own mental health, I don’t think she really had the opportunity to establish a niche demographic to focus on with regards to mental health. I know that the topic matters just as much to her as the other three though, and I hope that we’ll see her develop her own drive in the same way that the others did.
All four younger members of the royal family have been candid – to a degree – about their own struggles with depression, but I firmly believe that it goes much deeper than they’ve said. Look at all of their dedication to the subject and tell me that it isn’t intensely personal.
For William and Harry, everyone seemed to understand their admissions to struggling with bouts of depression and different points in their lives. Between the loss of their mother and their service experience, I don’t think anyone was surprised that they’ve struggled. Who wouldn’t, right? They’ve experienced traumatic things, much of which they experienced in a very public way. It all made sense.
But Kate and Meghan received very different reactions. When Kate talked about feeling alone and struggling after the birth of Prince George, there were mixed reactions. Some people understood – becoming a mum is hard for any woman, and nobody has control over who experiences postpartum depression. But there were also a lot of people who thought, Really? Her? With all the privilege and support she had available to her, she felt alone? What right did she have to feel that way when so many women deal with much worse situations? Those criticisms were echoed when Meghan opened up in an interview about feeling attacked and struggling to adjust to the rapid sequence of changes in her life. People said she was being dramatic, that she was straight up lying. And after all, she had chosen that life, she knew what she was getting into. What right did she have to feel that way when she had walked that path willingly?
And the truth is that both women have every right to their experiences. While it’s true that the royal family experiences a great deal of privilege – including nannies up the wazoo if they want – it comes at a great cost, especially in this era of social media. Forget about how hurtful it is to see daily commentary discussing why your body is ugly, your clothes are wrong, your lifestyle is evil, and your work not worthwhile. Can you imagine opening up about how much you’ve been struggling lately, only to have a friend respond with You’re lying, or You shouldn’t feel like that? To have your own emotions and experiences invalidated so haphazardly?
Nobody’s mental health should ever be questioned – not mine, not yours, not members of the royal family. If there is one thing I know about depression, it’s that it follows no logic. It is a disorder like any other, and it doesn’t care who you are. Which brings us full circle, really.
Be aware. Understand that you only see the very tip of the iceberg when it comes to other people’s lives – especially public figures. Know that it is not your right to police other people’s feelings or experiences.
Be open. Allow people to share their experiences with you, without fear of judgment. Be open-minded and consider that you do not know the whole truth of a situation, and that other people might not react to circumstances in the way that you would.
Be kind. Offer support and encouragement. Tell people that they are doing well, that you appreciate their work. Tell someone how much they mean to you.
Nobody is immune from depression, and nobody should be afraid to talk about it. This Saturday is World Mental Health Day, and with everything that’s been going on this year, it’s important to take a step back and assess how we’re all doing. But it’s also important to look at our own behaviours and make sure that we’re all contributing to an environment where people feel comfortable talking about their struggles and we support each other.
Mental Health & Depression Resources: