2018 is the year of mental health awareness, with the likes of author Matt Haig and TV personality Ruby Wax getting more airtime than ever spreading the good word about mental health, including anxiety and depression. From coping mechanisms, instagrammable one-liners and relevant methods for getting help, it’s all there on my Twitter feed and I love it!
The impact of mental health becoming “in vogue” is undeniable, as the media is giving increasing coverage to stats around male suicide and teen anxiety, I’d say this boost in mental health chatter is nothing but good… But we’ve still got a very long way to go.
I want to caveat this blog post by saying I have nothing against those individuals who speak out about their troubles and encourage Joe Bloggs to do the same. I’m an avid follower of the aforementioned spokespeople and many other individuals both famous and otherwise who bring light to these issues online, however I do feel there is an elephant (or kitty) in the room. That (rather large) elephant is depression.
Anxiety: Standard Nerves vs. A Serious Problem
Anxiety calls upon most of us at some point in life, be it before an exam or in a difficult period of our relationship. However, being diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) or any other similar condition can make it feel like every day is a ride on the world’s largest rollercoaster as one person’s choice of word in a casual conversation can switch on an adrenaline-induced thought spiral worthy of Blackpool’s Pepsi Max.
Panic attacks are common with those who suffer regular bouts of anxiety, making those loop-de-loops of life feel like you’re having a heart attack and going to shit yourself all at the same time. I believe anxiety is made worse by the modern age, with the fast-paced world of business and unhealthy standards of social media, but that’s definitely a blog post for another time. What I wanted to consider is this: why is it easier to speak about anxiety than depression? I’ve been pretty candid about my GAD on social media, and even in real life I’ve opened up the discussion with many people over the dinner table and even in the office.. but telling people I’m depressed seems like the hardest thing in the world.
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I’ve gained a stone in the last year due to medication and other lifestyle changes ? This time last year I was chronically ill with IBS… The only “benefit” of ? ten times a day was that I never gained weight ? But I also suffered the worst fatigue, migraines and acne. Now I’m healing and this little bit of added squish is just a sign I am getting better each day (and that the vegan scran in Southeast Asia is too lit to say no to). Your weight ≠ your worth ?
Influencers & Anxiety
Whether it’s the subject of medication or yoga for coping with panic, healthy diets and anxiety or body image, I’ve probably covered it all at one point in time. And I’m not the only one. World famous YouTuber and multimillionaire Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, famously included a clip of herself mid-panic attack in one of her vlogs. 22-year-old me thought that was pretty awesome, and I kind of still do, even though my opinion of the lass has faltered more than a little over the years. Zoe’s not the only ‘influencer’ to tackle the subject of anxiety and panic, and I do hope that this level of exposure helps young people to feel confident enough to talk to their friends, family or even the doctor about anxiety and panic.
One of Zoella’s many videos on anxiety and panic attacks
However, the pessimist in me worries than anxiety is kind of, well.. cool. Meanwhile, depression (the ugly cousin) is.. not that cool, and therefore not talked about with any such vigour, despite being (possibly) more life-threatening than many other physical conditions impacting our species right now.
Our Perceptions of Depression
When’s the last time you saw a pretty 20-something Instagrammer post a photo of themselves looking wistfully into the distance above the caption: “I am so depressed today. I haven’t got out of bed for days, all I eat is tortilla chips and watch Queer Eye on repeat. I haven’t washed or left the room for two-figures of hours. Death doesn’t seem so bad right know.”
The answer is brutal but true: depression isn’t cool. If you’re of my generation, you may have had a kid in school with an oversized fringe and sweatbands covering self-harm scars (or that may have even been you). Depression is uncouth, it’s dirty, it’s lazy and shameful. Anxiety is quirky, high-functioning and even kind of endearing. Obviously, I don’t believe these things, but it doesn’t stop the voice in my head from taking these thoughts and touting them loudly at some of my weakest points. In fact, this the perception I see from social media and online in general. Something has to change.
Mental health isn’t a pick or choose situation. Having anxiety and panic attacks is no different to bouts of depression. Obviously, in this article, I haven’t even begun to consider more serious issues like Bipolar Disorder or OCD and I don’t have experience in these areas myself and I feel it’s necessary to take a step back and give someone else the mic when you’re not suffering first hand.
After you’ve finished reading this article I want you to consider – what does an anxious person look like to you? Close your eyes and what do you see? Meanwhile, what does a depressed person look like to you? How are they the same? How are they different?
If you suffer from depression, do you find it easy to tell people? Your parents or your partner? What about friends? Even writing this article has been 10x harder than those Instagram posts about my life with anxiety and panic. For me, admitting depression feels like a failure, a stamp on my personality as a lazy, demotivated and irritable person.
Obviously, that’s the depression kitty speaking (Big Mouth reference, watch it y’all), which is part of the battle, so that’s why I’m opening this discussion here and now. What do you think we, as a lifeform on a rock flying through space, can do to level up the conversation around depression? How can we make people understand that depression is a serious mental state, while anxiety isn’t just a cute quirk that makes you interesting? Let me know your thoughts in the comments or tell me if you agree over on Facebook or Twitter!