Donated tweets, a big black dog, and me.

I do not currently suffer with depression. But I can understand why so many people seem to assume that I do.

I talk about depression quite often.Quite simply, I talk about the subject online.

Often.

In fact, any quick analysis of my Twitter account over the last year or two shows I tweet more about depression than anything else.

And there are two very good reasons for that.

Reason one: Donated Tweets

Roughly once a day, I’ll tweet something on the subject of depression. Sometimes it’ll be trying to explain what depression is like to people who’ve never had it, or to let sufferers know they’re not alone; other tweets give links to wonderful visual interpretations or helpful resources.

However, most of these tweets have two things in common: a mention for @BlurtAlerts, and the hashtag #DT.

The latter stands for “Donated Tweet”.

It’s exactly as it sounds: a charity donation, but instead of money, I give a tweet. That is, I grant the fabulous, Plymouth-based Blurt Foundation the power to tweet from my account, up to once per day.

I’ve always thought Donated Tweets were a neat idea, and I don’t know why they haven’t really caught on. But they haven’t, and that causes a bit of confusion.

You see, the designation #DT is supposed to be fairly universally recognised, so people know it’s the charity’s tweet, not mine. But that doesn’t happen. And so my followers start to think maybe I have A Thing About Depression… and maybe it follows I’m a sufferer.

But I persist with the Donated Tweets. And here’s why.

Reason 2: depression sucks. And stigma makes it worse.

The truth is, I do have a bit of A Thing About Depression. I may not suffer now, but I have done in the past. And I have loads of friends who are suffering now.

I know the Hell they’re going through. It’s not a hot, exciting hell with pitchforks. It’s a cold, grey, lifeless, soul-sucking, silently pleasure-free existence… more like the murky waters of the Styx in Dante’s Inferno.

Just to keep going, tramping through that kind of emotional swamp, is heroic enough. And then we, as a society, go and make it worse. We give people with depression an extra bit of weight to carry.

Stigma.

Because people sometimes assume I’m talking about my own depression online, I tend to get private messages – from friends, business associates, even virtual strangers – telling me how “brave” I am. How they suffer, but would never dream of sharing it publicly. How they worry about how people would judge them as flakey, or weak.

And, sad though it is, I can understand that. Because, even though we don’t mean to, we do judge people with depression. We look at people’s circumstances, and we try to understand the problem.

Admit it: how many times have you seen a news story about a sportsperson or celebrity with depression, and snorted: “What have THEY got to be depressed about?”

Well, duh.

If depression was rational, it wouldn’t be an illness.

This implied judgement (usually without ever having seen the private details of someone’s personal life anyway) – this process of judging who somehow “deserves” to be depressed – is not just unfair. It’s not merely nasty. It’s more than misinformed. It’s worse than wrong.

It is downright dangerous.

After all, people with depression are more than capable of reaching this judgement about themselves. Evaluating themselves by those same standards.

And you know who’s really, really BAD at making fair, rational, even-handed judgements about their own worth?

Depressed people.

Believe me, depression is bad enough. But what breaks my heart is how many people make it worse… by feeling guilty for being depressed.

So now they’re carrying a double weight. They sink a bit deeper. And they feel even less able to reach out. To ask for help. Because what have they got to be depressed about? They think: “Other people seem to cope. So I must be weak, right? Useless. A burden. Maybe my friends and family would be better off if they weren’t around…” Unthinkable things start to look logical.

And then you’re into really, really scary territory.

“Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
– A wise person (possibly Ian MacLaren, not Plato)

If we love our friends and family with depression (whether we know about their struggle or not); if we want our colleagues, neighbours and business associates to really understand that it’s OK to speak up, to reach out, to ask for help… then we need to confront our own attitudes.

  • Do we judge whether someone has a good “reason” to be depressed?
  • Do we sometimes lack patience and wish someone could “snap” out of it?
  • Do we treat a mental illness any differently than we would a physical one?
  • Do we ever gossip behind people’s backs? (HINT: “sharing concerns” counts.)
  • Do we rationalise business and recruitment decisions that reflect our inner discomfort?

We need to stop pretending to people with depression (and other mental illnesses too) that it’s OK to be talk openly about it… and actually MAKE IT OK.

And sometimes that will mean hunting down our own bad habits. Stopping in our tracks. Changing ourselves.

And then being vocal about how very, very OK it is to be depressed. How it’s NEVER your fault. How it doesn’t mean you’re weak. EVER. (And no, I’m not making an exception for you…)

Which is why I appreciate Blurt, and the Stamp Out Stigma campaign. It’s why I donate those tweets. And it’s why, when Lungfish gets big enough to need proper, grown-up recruitment adverts and policies and stuff, we won’t ever, EVER discriminate against people who are suffering with depression.

In the meantime, expect to see more tweets.

Because, trust me: if you’re not going through this right now, then someone you know, someone you love or respect, is. And you might never even know.

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