Two days ago, Chester Bennington, the lead singer of Linkin Park, committed suicide. He killed himself by hanging. Chester was just 41 years old. I was a huge fan of Linkin Park when I was younger. My brother and I would listen to their album all the time, on our tiny MP3 players.
One of the reasons I set up this blog was to write about mental health and my own experiences with depression, anxiety, etc. I hadn’t planned on writing a post about depression so soon, but then the news of Chester’s death broke, and after reading that a guitarist from Korn called Chester “a coward”, I felt the need to write this. Here are some common misconceptions about depression.
1. Depression is “all in your head”
Let’s start with the big one. This phrase gets tossed around often and not only is it patronising, it’s just plain false. Depression is a mental illness which has been linked to chemicals and regions in the brain, and has also been shown to be genetic. Physical pain also comes from the brain, as does emotion. These things are both very real. Imagine saying to a person in mourning “This sadness is all in your head”!
2. You can “force yourself to think differently”
“You just have to force yourself to think differently” was my da’s go-to line during the first two years of my depression. It’s completely idiotic – as I just said, depression has a physical cause, and although there is a grain of truth in “thinking differently” (cognitive behavioural therapy), it doesn’t make any sense. If we could think positively, don’t you think we would? See alternative wordings “Be positive” and “Have you tried not being depressed?”
3. There’s always a reason
A common thing to hear when news spreads that someone has taken their life is “But sure he had a great life”. That’s not how depression works. Some people – myself included – become depressed for no apparent reason. And once you become depressed, you keep finding reasons to stay depressed. It’s an illness, and like many illnesses, sometimes they just strike.
4. Depressed people are crazy
People with depression are not crazy. Their brains just work a bit differently. Over 300 million people worldwide have depression, so you probably know someone who suffers from it. Seeing a therapist doesn’t make you crazy, taking antidepressants doesn’t make you crazy. When there’s something wrong with you, you go to the doctor and sometimes you take medicine for it. Simple.
5. You are depressed
Something that really annoys me is when people throw the term “depressed” around so loosely. Some people describe themselves as depressed in an attempt to appear edgy or interesting, and some say they’re depressed when they’re just bored or upset. I occasionally say I’m depressed in a joking manner too, but when so many people are doing it so often, it makes depression seem like not that big of a deal.
6. Someone’s depression will disappear when you start going out with them
This is another big one. Thankfully I’ve never been with a person like this, but it does happen. Look, your partner is not going to magically change just because of you, so remember that when you sign up to be with someone, you’re also signing up for their mental health issues. My anxiety and depression have been a part of me for years now, they’re not something that are going to suddenly disappear, but I have an amazing girlfriend who accepts those parts of me.
7. Depressed people are ungrateful
I can see why some people might feel this way. When you’re depressed, you focus on the negatives of everything and diminish the positives. From the outside, this can look like you are acting spoilt or ungrateful – like one of those children who has a fit because his mother bought him an iPhone 6 instead of an iPhone 9s Pro. We are grateful for the things we have and what people do for us – we sometimes just have a hard time expressing that.
8. All depressed people binge eat
This one is a half-misconception, and is often shown in television shows. A character is depressed so they stuff their face constantly. Some people do eat a lot when they’re depressed, but others eat very little. When I get into one of my low moods, I tend not to eat at all (which makes me even more depressed, and is a hard cycle to escape).
9. Depressed people are never happy
People who suffer from depression are not in a perpetual state of depression. They are normal humans who can be happy, sad, angry, etc. The majority of people who suffer from depression have highs and lows. The lows are what you probably think of when you think of a depressed person – when we feel numb and apathetic.
10. Depressed people are weak
This goes back again to the fact that depression has known physical causes. Some people are genetically predisposed to becoming depressed. There is nothing weak about having an illness. We don’t call people who get the flu every year “weak”, do we?
If anything, people with depression are stronger than the average person for being able to go through the feelings of numbness, self-loathing, and hopelessness, and still carry on. I’ve had depression for 5 years now, and I’ll admit I’m pretty damn proud of myself for still being here.
11. You can tell when someone has depression
Depression does have outward signs, and if you notice anyone who seems like they are suffering with depression, please reach out to them, or one of their friends or family members. But all too often depressed people will put on a facade when with others.
Generally, depressed people (especially at the beginning), do not want others to know that they are depressed. When I first became depressed, I didn’t try to hide it, but I certainly didn’t tell my family or friends how I was feeling (until I told one of my friends that I was going to kill myself, that is). No one suspected Robin Williams of being depressed, yet he evidently was.
12. Depressed/suicidal people are “looking for attention”
This is probably the view that angers me the most. Back when I first became depressed, I would post Facebook statuses saying things like “What’s the point?” or asking if anyone would even miss me if I died. I know that a lot of people spoke about me, calling me an attention-seeker or a drama queen.
The thing is, it’s very hard for someone with depression to ask for help. Those statuses were a cry for help, a desperate hope that someone cared, that someone would ask me if things were ok. Depression is an isolating darkness. If you think someone is acting depressed and seeking attention, give it to them! You could honestly make a huge difference to them or their life.
13. Depression is the same as sadness
Feeling depressed and feeling sad are two completely different things. When you are depressed, you feel emotionally numb. It’s like someone shuts off the pathways to your emotions. When you are sad, it’s because something bad has happened that you care about – your relationship ended, your dog died, your friend hurt your feelings.
When you’re depressed, you don’t care about anything. Something good happens, you don’t care. Something bad happens, you don’t care. You’re indifferent. When I would get in a really low, prolonged mood, I would have begged for sadness. Sadness is emotion, and emotion lets you know you’re still real.
14. There is an age range for depression
This is a dangerous one. A lot of people don’t think that teenagers or children can become depressed. This is inherently untrue – depression affects teens and, although rare, it can affect children as well.
I was around the age of fifteen when I was first admitted to a mental health centre, where I was immediately diagnosed with severe depression. I had been staying in bed for days at a time, refusing to go to school, and isolating myself from my friends. This is not normal behaviour at any age.
15. Depression can be cured
Another half-truth. For a lot of people, their depression will last for years. There is no guarantee that it will ever go away. Antidepressants can help – I was on Prozac for over a year, and it definitely helped. I thought for a while that I was back to normal. Then it came back.
This happens every so often; I’ll have no low moods for a couple months, think my depression has finally disappeared, and then almost like a big “f*ck you” from the universe, it comes back. But that isn’t to say that there is no hope – many people do eventually get better, and even if your depression doesn’t disappear completely, it becomes much easier to manage and accept.
16. Men can’t get depression
This is another majorly, majorly harmful myth. I think this ties in with the belief that men aren’t as emotional as women, or that they aren’t as sensitive. WRONG. Men are around four times as likely to die from suicide than women. Men get depressed, and they act on those feelings much more often that women do.
17. People with depression are suicidal/think about death all the time
Not all people with depression are suicidal. You become suicidal when you reach a very low point and feel like there is no hope or no other way out. I have been suicidal many times. I have not felt suicidal in a good while. Yes, I still have depression.
When I am depressed, I don’t think about death or killing myself. I think bad things about myself, and focus on the negatives of everything. We’re not all obsessed with death, we’re just disillusioned with life.
18. Depression is romantic
Here are some real quotes I have seen about depression: “Stars can’t shine without darkness”, “People who commit suicide are just angels who want to go home”, “People don’t die from suicide, they die from sadness”.
Listen up, depression f*cking sucks. It destroys your relationships, makes you lose sight of what’s good in the world, and makes you feel completely numb. These types of quotes are so patronising. I’m not a “star”, I’m a regular person. I’m not some jewel for you to gawk over, I’m not an underdog, I’m just a person trying to have a mostly regular life.
People who kill themselves are not angels. They do not die from sadness. Talking about suicide and depression like it’s some magical story is incredibly harmful. It makes them seem like they’re not as horrible and devastating as they are.
Chester Bennington did not die of sadness. Depression is the reason he killed himself, but that’s not what killed him. He hung himself, his heart stopped beating, and his body went rigid. He is not “gone to a better place”, he’s dead. That’s it, the end. The story isn’t as magical now, is it? There is nothing beautiful or good about depression.
19. Those with depression are lazy
People who are depressed can often come across as lazy. We can sometimes stay in bed all day, or neglect our personal hygiene, or stop focusing in school.
It’s not because we are lazy. It’s because we either literally do not have the physical energy to perform these tasks, or we are so apathetic that our minds can’t argue strongly enough against that voice asking “What’s the point?”
20. People with depression are bad friends
I’m not going to lie, being friends with someone who has depression can be hard work. I routinely decline meeting up with my friends because I’ve been having a bad day and am just not up to spending the day around people or in public. I used to make up excuses as to why I couldn’t meet them, now I just tell the truth.
One of my friends also suffers from depression and understands completely. My other friend admits that he doesn’t really understand depression, but accepts it as a part of who I am and just says that he hopes I feel better.
I am 100% grateful for my friends, and would do anything for them. People with depression do appreciate our friends, even if sometimes we’re too low to express it. We know we can be a lot to handle, and we appreciate you putting up with us.
21. People who kill themselves are cowards
And finally, the reason I made this post. Brian Head Welch, of Korn, posted this on his Facebook page:
He has since slapped together an apology, but this is the attitude of many people. When you are down there in that hole, you can’t see the positives in anything, including yourself. You close yourself off from everyone who cares about you. You can see no future for yourself, bar one full of apathy and devoid of colour. You either believe you can’t be helped, or that even if you do get better, your life will still be unhappy.
Suicide can be selfish, I won’t deny that. When I tried to kill myself, I knew that I would be missed, that my family would be broken. I cared, yes. But when you are at that point, you just want it all to end. When you are at that point, for you suicide isn’t the “coward’s way out”, it’s the only way out. Suicidal people aren’t cowards, they’re desperate.
Thanks for reading.
Here if needed,
Sean (With a Fada)