My family has had a disappointing experience over the past couple of days around mental illness and the all too common stigmas attached to it.
Listen, I get that discussing mental illness can be a conversation killer at the best of times, that’s why we never let it define us as people or make depression and anxiety the centrepiece of who we are.
Having said that, it is terribly sad when family members turn away and blame those that are or have suffered from the debilitating effects of depression. I’ve always said and will continue to say until the day I die, if you have depression you would not wish it on your worst enemy. It is a life altering and extremely lonely place to be.
My husband and I want to be the kind of parents who are open enough to discuss mental health with our kids so that, God forbid, should they suffer in the future, we will offer them safety and compassion. Compassion is key. I have never asked anyone to “fix” my depression nor has my husband during his struggles. We have always just asked for a little patience and compassion as we work through the cycle.
When people, particularly close family members, are unwilling or incapable of such compassion, the difficult decision must be made to do without those individuals; sometimes forever. If there is willingness on the part of the depressed person to take responsibility for behaviours that may have occurred or seemed hurtful in the throes of illness, it is also the responsibility of said family to at least listen. If it cannot go beyond that and understanding cannot be reached, perhaps the relationship must end.
We have experienced this in our family and it is a horrible feeling. Horrible yes, but to apologize for being depressed and making rash decisions is no different than asking for the cancer patient to apologize for getting sick and throwing up in front of you.
Sadly, we have a long way to go in eradicating the dark cloud of stigma that contending with a mental illness brings. In our family, we are grateful every day for every day. We have friends and family who may or may not fully understand the depths of despair that can be reached, but are willing to listen with compassion.
In this recent event, my husband was given a list by a family member of his bad behaviours and a demand for an explanation before said family member would consider letting him back in. Please note: the time in question was over five years ago without a word, a note, a care from this family member when it really would have meant something. Compassionate family members absolutely have the right to be hurt, disappointed and even angry at a depressed person’s actions before they receive treatment. It does NOT however, give them the right to act as judge, jury and executioner.
It is true, as with any illness, a person must take on responsibility for getting well if that is the desire, but they do not have to stand in front of family member and be judged worthy (or not) of support.
That behaviour is far worse than anything a depressed person could do.