Every few weeks this does the rounds on Facebook. It varies slightly in it’s wording, but it’s always the same type of thing.
“Depression is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign that you have been trying to be strong for too long. Put this as your status if you or someone you know has or has had depression. Most people won’t, but it’s mental health week and 1 in 3 of us will suffer from a mental illness at some point in our lives. Show your support.”
The current one is an image and also includes anxiety and panic attacks. It also lays on the guilt trip a hell of a lot more by saying to show those who struggle are not alone.
Now the desire and intent behind this is, I am sure, a positive one. Mental health issues are still stigmatised, people still don’t seek help for them and people can indeed feel very alone and unwanted when they are in the grips of a depressive episode. But I find this meme not only unhelpful but very damn insulting, dismissive and condescending. It is, as far as I am concerned, having the potential to do way more harm than good. But why?
Well, there are many aspects to this. Some of the simpler ones, the ones that I find more annoying than damaging are the ones that attempt to guilt trip others into sharing. These are common Facebook scams to get page likes and shares- if helps boost the page in the rankings and is usually used as a scam which can in fact earn people money by selling on successfully liked and joined pages. As the latest round of this quote is an image, it has the potential to do just that. And for that alone it should be considered an unwise thing to share.
But then there are the ones that are copy/ paste statuses. The one like the quoted paragraph above that tend to get trotted out. I find that really insulting and damaging. Other depressives may disagree of course, and they are welcome to, but me personally- I hate them.
The people sharing DO care. They DO want to help. They DO want to show they are thinking of those of us with mental health issues, but maybe they don’t know how else to do it. This status however, is not it.
The most offensive thing I find about this status is how it does possibly the worst thing when trying to show support to people who are ill- it makes depression out to be something other than a serious health issue. Depression, and other MH issues, are health problems that need to be addressed. By saying that depression is a sign that someone has tried to be strong for so long plays right into the hands of those who say depression is nothing but feeling sorry for yourself, or being weak, or deficient, or anything other than an actual health issue. It completely ignores that depression has nothing whatsoever to do with strength, or weakness, but instead a problem with the persons health.
In essence, it reduces it to feeling a little sad. I know it is meant to sound comforting, but really, it’s not.
We wouldn’t say cancer patients have been trying to be strong- we’d say they are seriously ill and need medical help. We wouldn’t say those with AIDs have been trying to be strong, but that they have a serious illness that needs intervention. This is what I find so dangerous about this status. By removing the medical context, and replacing it with one that implies depression is just a sign of strength and ability severely undermines treatment and understanding of this very dangerous condition. It makes it out to be something you can just get over. It is very, very dangerous and I find it very, very insulting as a depressive (who also has anxiety, panic attacks etc etc as well).
Please, my friends who share this, I implore you. Do not repeat this tripe. Do not share it. Maybe you don’t know how to help people with MH issues, that’s fine. It is better to ask. Or to offer a kind word when you see they are dealing with issues. When I have my frequent breaks, very publicly at times, what I appreciate more is knowing people understand just by commenting on my status. If you want to write a status about how you support those with MH issues, then do so. But write it from the heart, write about how you support- maybe you don’t understand- but that you care.
Please, do not share this status (and definitely don’t share the image- for reasons I’ve mentioned, you’re likely playing into the hands of scammers). Instead, please share your support and comforting words. And remember, depression is not a sign of weakness. NOR is it a sign of being strong for so long. It is a sign of being ill, and that should be treated like any other illness.
Oh and one more thing. No, it is not mental health awareness week. At least not in the UK- that’s in May.