why, when someone has cancer and lives to tell the tale, are they called “survivor,” but a depressed person who manages to come out on the other side of the disease is called “crazy”? Now, I’m not trying to trivialize the devastating effects of cancer; in fact, my own husband has been treated for cancer, and we lost two very close relatives to it last year alone. I am merely attempting to point out some alarming trends in the way our society views mental health issues.
According to WebMD, about 15 million people experience some type of depression every year, and women are twice as likely to develop clinical depression as men. One out of every four women is likely to experience an episode of major depression at some time in her life. And of these millions of women who suffer from depression, about two-thirds of them will never seek treatment.
Why? Why are women, presumably many of whom are intelligent, successful women with careers and families, not seeking treatment for a very treatable illness? It’s like breaking your arm in three places and deciding not to get it fixed — completely ridiculous. I have my theories, which are mostly based on personal experience.
- Women are givers by nature. From birth, females are taught that one of their roles in life is to nurture others, to ensure the comfort and happiness of their husbands, children, friends, and even strangers, before they tend to themselves. Often, this need to serve others interferes with the ability of even the smartest women to care for their own well-being.
- Strong women shouldn’t care about feelings. In today’s society, the “strong woman” is one who can take on the world, and can have it all. The media would have us believe that we should be able to clean the house, get the kids ready for school, make breakfast, and press our husbands’ shirts, all while wearing high heels and a full face of makeup, without breaking a sweat. Chances are, this perfect day will never happen. And even if it does, even the strongest woman might be left feeling completely broken down and sapped of energy before 10 am. There is so much pressure on the modern woman to perform at a perfect level at all times, and talking about “feelings” doesn’t seem to make it onto the agenda very often. But the truth is, humans have feelings. And talking about them is necessary for almost everyone to function normally.
- Depression is a dirty word. Even though most people might claim to be comfortable talking about depression in the open, the sad truth is that this disease is still highly stigmatized. I had to think long and hard before I decided to share my experiences with others, mostly because I was worried about what people would think, and how my openness would affect my family. Thankfully, most of the responses I have gotten from people have been positive, but there have been times when I felt as though people thought I was talking about some made-up condition.
- The symptoms can creep up on you. Everyone has a down day once in a while; bad days are a part of life. However, clinical depression is different from your average crappy day in that the symptoms are prolonged and eventually begin to interfere with your ability to function. I’ll talk about symptoms in-depth another time, but you should know that depression is not really known for being quantifiable. In other words, there is no blood test, and you won’ t be able to pee in a cup and know what’s wrong with you. For that reason, depression can go undetected, even by its sufferer, for a very long time.
- Women like to handle things themselves. This was a problem I had. I kept telling myself, Just have a better attitude. Things will get better tomorrow. Maybe if I do this thing or that thing a little differently, I’ll be happy. I wanted to be able to fix myself. This just doesn’t work. People who are truly depressed will never be able to climb out of the hole on their own. That’s not to say that all depressed people need to see a psychiatrist or take medication; there are many different ways to handle symptoms. However, one feature of depression is feeling like the entire world has left you to carry on alone. Every depressed person needs at least one person to be there for them, so they know this is not the case.
Anyone who has suffered through an episode of depression knows that not being an emotional wreck is leaps and bounds better than feeling like you can’t get out of bed in the morning. Depression is real. It has causes, environmental triggers, genetic features, symptoms, and treatments, just like any other documented illness. And just like any other illness, if you have been depressed and lived to tell the tale, you too are a survivor. So keep on surviving.