By Sifiso Yengwa
With Robin Williams’ death still fresh in the minds of many, the issue of depression has once again come to the fore.
Nowadays it is generally accepted that depression is a clinical condition that is manageable with drugs and other forms of prescribed treatment. Sadly the majority of people still hold a backward view as far depression is concerned.
I know about this because I have suffered from acute depression for the better part of my adult life. Having been aware of this dark cloud that constantly hovered over me from around the age of 13, it took me until I was in my 20s to finally confirm what I always feared. Luckily I was able to get excellent psychological intervention without having a stigma attached to my having sought help with the condition. I was put on a course of anti-depressants and happily, I responded to them. Unfortunately a lot of people will never get diagnosed as suffering from this terrible burden in their lives and be put on a path towards managing it.
There is still a lot of educating that still needs to happen to de-stigmatise this illness. I remember as a teenager having suicidal thoughts. I always thought it was a part of growing up to gravitate towards self-harm at times when certain triggers were activated.
To this day I still get acute bouts of depression. With depression, all the medicine in the world can’t cure it; the best-case scenario is managing it in such a way that the quality of health is significantly improved. Depression never leaves you, it is always hovering on the wings like a thespian in a Shakespearean tragedy waiting for the cue to enter the stage right. I have a fairly normal life akin to someone living with a chronic but manageable condition. I do get spells of intense suicidal thoughts. You feel like you are being drawn into a dark vortex where no escape is possible. I would like to think the advantage I have is that I was diagnosed and know what I’m up against. The result of which is I’m always prepared to fight back with all the means at my disposal. A lot of people will never have this tool.
A popular misconception is certain people are not supposed to get depressed. That it is half of the battle that should still be won. I once confided to an individual about how I was feeling particularly in the dumps on that day. This is a person who is well-read and can’t be accused of being obtuse in any way. The response was: “But you shouldn’t be because you have a decent standard of living and there are many people who would clamour to be in your position.” I’m certain he meant well and merely wanted me to keep my chin up. To win this fight among other things, we are going to have to change attitudes in such a way that depression is seen as less of being “ungrateful”, to being on the same pedestal as other well-understood clinical illnesses like cancer, diabetes and asthma etc.
We know some people are predisposed to depression and some are not. We need to find out why and in the process change attitudes. I believe many tragic deaths can be prevented if many more people were able to speak out before it’s too late, without the possibility of humiliation and embarrassment, which comes with having a psychological condition.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ,a 19th century American poet, said “Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad”. This quote encapsulates the battle we still have to fight against misinformation and ignorance. We need to show that depression doesn’t paralyse you, functioning at full capacity is entirely possible. I and a million others are proof of that.
Who knows if society was more open and understanding about depression Williams and many more might still be with us.
Sifiso Yengwa is a business analyst. His twitter handle is: @yengwasifiso