I nearly wrote this piece late last night, but settled for a facebook status instead. I am, however, still mad about it in the cold light of day, so I'm going to do the post anyway.
Today I am mad about this:
"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 have had or know someone who has had depression. Most people won't, but it's mental health week and 1 in 3 of us will suffer at some point in our lives.)"
It's a facebook status update that was doing the rounds last night - and it's by no means the first one I've seen. And, it may be a controversial oppinion, but they piss me off.
I'm fine with the ones that are actually trying to do something positive, like promoting an event like this one from back in January:
"Put this as your status if you or somebody you know has suffered or is suffering from a mental illness. Mental health is a BIG TABOO, so break the silence to support all those that are or have suffered. Most try to cope alone. Come along to the Mental Health Network meeting on Mon at 6.30pm in the [student's union]."
or even ones that have the courtesy to link to a website such as this one.*
But last night's? Just a big fat no. thank you.
It's problematic in so many different ways. Firstly, it's difficult posting anything like that to start with. Because of the taboo, there are many, many people out there who don't *want* to admit that they've suffered/ are suffering from depression, or who just aren't ready to talk about it yet. Encouraging people to get help and trying to break the silence is one thing, but pressuring people into owning up is another.
Secondly - "depression isn't a sign of weakness", fine, yes, great. It's an illness that is more common than you think, and which isn't your fault if you get it. "it is a sign that you have been trying to be strong for too long"... Um.... what now? So all depression stems from life events? Way to simplify a complex issue which can have many different causes, symptoms and presentations, and way to tackle the stereotype that you can only be depressed if you've had a hard life. It's that kind of attitude that actually stops people like me from seeking help because they think that no-one will believe them, because from the outside their life looks fine, and there are plenty of people far worse off. That's not a deep insight into mental illness - that's a trite halmark gift card. A motivational poster slogan. An idiotic pronouncement on an electronic post-it.
Thirdly - something like this is a great way for someone to look socially aware and sympathetic** without actually doing something about the problem. Its me-too-ism. The equivalent of jumping on the band waggon of "Yes! I too have been affected by all these issues! Why? Because I have a depressed friend!" and it's insulting. It's fetishising mental illness, not seriously trying to solve the problems of its stigma. One of the facets of which is the idea that a lot of people "only do it to get attention"***. Again - not helping.
I'm not asking people to stop with all of these posts because it's annoying and I wish they would go away, so I can live my life pretending the issues don't exist - I live with the issues anyway, so that would be impossible - I just think that, well intentioned or not, sometimes they actually do more harm than good. I would therefore ask people to please, think before you post.
*I'd even be happy if it was linking to a personal blog post on the subject (not that I'm plugging or anything...)
** Not that everyone who puts this up isn't socially aware and sympathetic, just that posting this as your status doesn't actually count as being saas in itself.
*** As if attention was a bad thing? As someone who's been ignored and excluded more times than I can count, it gets old very quickly.