Seeing Depression Differently
In recent times, depression has gained increasing social legitimacy as a medical illness – this has gone hand in hand with society’s increasing recognition of how serious depression can really be.
There are, however, still arguments both for and against viewing depression as an illness. When having a conversation about someone’s mental health, it is important to acknowledge the individual preferences of that person, and select appropriate language accordingly. Showing a willingness to enquire and actively listen to their preferences is crucial to ensuring they feel comfortable enough to seek the help they need.
Benefits of Seeing Depression as an Illness
- If someone can learn to accept that their struggles are actually a result of them being ill, rather than just being ‘pathetic’, ‘weak’, or a ‘failure’, then this can help remove some of the self-blame and guilt that so often come with depression.
- Viewing their depression as an illness can also help that person to separate their experiences from the everyday struggles that everyone faces in their lives. This can help to justify the particular severity of the way they are feeling, rather than allowing themselves to feel as though they are simply just doing a much worse job than everyone else of coping with everyday life.
- The ‘illness model’ can also help someone to distance themselves from the common, yet extremely unhelpful, idea that depression must be linked to some kind of trauma or difficult situation. The belief that someone with an objectively good quality of life must be automatically happy and depression-free is rife in our society, but once depression is viewed as an illness, it is easier to accept that it can, and does, happen to anyone. This in turn can enable someone to free themselves from the perceived guilt of struggling with depression even if they have a seemingly ‘good’ or ‘easy’ life.
- Medical and other healthcare professionals have developed expertise in treating depression and people can go to them for help.
- Medical research has discovered more of the biology of depression, so people can be prescribed increasingly effective medications to address the biological factors contributing to depression.
Drawbacks of Seeing Depression as an Illness
- The ‘illness model’ for depression can often carry several negative connotations relating to the way mental health has historically been treated as ‘madness’ – the images that this may conjure up can be extremely problematic for some people.
– The common portrayal of derelict psychiatric wards or ‘mental asylums’ in horror films is an example of how this stigma is still unhelpfully perpetuated in modern day society.
- Consequently, some may avoid seeking help in order to escape this perceived stigma.
– Images of being sectioned or “sent to the nuthouse” will do little or nothing to encourage someone to seek the help they need.
- When viewed in a medical light, depression can be seen as a problem to be addressed only by professionals, and responsibility for action is not taken up by the designated ‘ill’ person or those around them, or indeed society as a whole.
- Help for depression tends to focus on medical and/or psychological factors. Social factors are often ignored, and the holistic overview of the experiences labelled as ‘illness’ can be lost.
There are many different ways of viewing depression, of which the ‘illness model’ is just one. Each perspective will have its pros and cons, and suit different individuals differently.
An alternative way of looking at it is the ‘inner wisdom’ model: many people have found solace in accepting that depressoin is simply the body’s way of telling them that something is wrong in their lives, and that there are issues that need addressing. These issues could include:
- Course dissatisfaction
- Living with toxic people
- Being too far removed from activities or people that you love
- Working in a job you don’t like or that does not suit you
- Being caught in an unhelathy relationship
- Placing too much emphasis on unhelpful thinking habits
- Neglecting self-care rituals relating to sleep, diet or exercise
Other people have also looked at depression as simply an extension, or intensification, of the everyday struggles that we all face in our daily lives (‘Gilbert’s Feelings’ – see below). For some people, these struggles can grow out of control due to ineffective or unhealthy coping mechanisms, or unhelpful situations in life that are not conducive to coping well (such as isolation from friends, poor sleep hygiene or unhelpful thinking habits). The word ‘depression’ can then be seen as just a word used to summarise these experiences more succinctly.
- Loss of confidence
- Low Self Esteem
- Poor appetite
- Poor concentration