Monday, March 30, 2015

Depressing Ignorance

The level of ignorance with regard to mental health issues - particularly depression - displayed by the media in this country never ceases to appal me.  In the wake of the recent plane crash which killed 150 people, the press have focused on the fact that the co-pilot ,(who has been held entirely responsible before the investigation into the crash has been completed), had, in the past, suffered from - and been treated for - depression, as if, somehow, depression causes sufferers to commit murder by flying planes into mountains.  As someone who has had personal experience of suffering from clinical depression, I think that I can say with some authority, that it isn't a condition which moves sufferers to harm others.  In some cases it might move sufferers to harm themselves, but usually it simply incapacitates them, robbing the sufferer of any motivation to do anything.  But, as already noted, media coverage of depression and other mental illnesses are characterised by ignorance.

In the case of depression, the biggest problem is that there is a tendency for people to presume that it is simply that temporary state of 'feeling a bit down' which everyone experiences from time to time.  Believe me, that isn't the same thing as clinical depression, which is far more serious.  At the same time, there is also tendency to associate the term 'clinical depression' with the other extreme: bipolar disorder, or, as we used to call it, manic depressive behaviour, (an excellent description of the symptoms as it happens).  In reality, most of who suffered from clinical depression have experienced a far less extreme (and newsworthy) manifestation of the disorder, which has the lows, but not the highs, of bipolar.  Speaking from my own experience, depression undermines your self confidence and sense of self worth, destroying your motivation and leaving one generally incapable of any form of sustained constructive activity.  It's surprisingly easy to hide from everyone around you - I always found it relatively straightforward to put up a public front, so that, externally, I appeared to be carrying out all my normal work tasks and routine interactions.  In reality, these were all conducted on auto-pilot whilst, internally, I was in anguished turmoil. locked into seemingly endless dark thoughts about my own mortality and the utter pointlessness of doing anything as everything is doomed to crumble and die with time.

 A bit like alcoholism, you can only really begin to turn the depressives state around when you finally admit that this isn't normal behaviour and concede that you have a problem.  I was lucky, I didn't need medication: the 'talking cure' helped me get the depression under control.  Which brings us to another misunderstood aspect of depression: it isn't a transient mental state, like 'feeling a bit down' - it's always there, lurking in the background of your mind.  The secret is to devise strategies to deal with it and keep it on the peripheries of your conscious mind.  Which isn't always as easy as it sounds.  However, we've strayed somewhat from the original point.  The fact is that the co-pilot of that airliner might or might not have been suffering from depression.  He might or might not have had 'suicidal thoughts' as the press have reported.  But neither of those things necessarily had anything to do with his apparent decision to deliberately crash his aircraft.  Simply being depressed doesn't make you a dangerous lunatic hell-bent on killing yourself and taking everyone else with you.  Although, according to the way the press are reporting this tragedy, that's what they want their readerships to think.  The fact is that we don't know what actually motivated this young man to do what he did - and we probably never will.  But trying to brand anyone who has ever suffered a mental health (which a lot of people) issue a dangerous psychopath really isn't helping. 

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