Depression is one of those terrible illnesses we handle so badly.
Mental illness is sadly still tabooed, and it is only when we hear about those who can no longer live with their tortured minds and commit suicide, like Germany’s famous goalkeeper Robert Enke, or the beautiful Korean model Daul Kim, that this difficult issue is publicly debated.
But what can be done to help those suffering from depression, those poor, helpless souls who would rather be anywhere instead of plummeting deeper their dark abyss?
These were two young and talented people who seemingly had it all with their successful careers. But they couldn’t cope with their depression, like countless others. Their fame and fortune couldn’t save them.
Tragically, even when you work in the profession, it seems little help is at hand, as this poignant letter in today’s Times describes, written by the bereaved father of a man who was severely depressed:
Sir, Your leading article (“Working minds”, Nov 23) about the need for depression to be accepted in the workplace has particular resonance for my wife and me because we lost our son to a severe depressive illness in 2005. He was a clinical psychologist, but as his illness developed he was desperate to keep it secret from all the mental health professionals who knew him or might have contact with him in the future. He insisted that his career depended on this because there was a strong prejudice in the profession against anyone who had suffered from mental illness: they were perceived as not “tough enough” for the job.
We found this hard to believe — the mental health profession seemed the last place on earth where such attitudes were likely to be found — but we were assured by others that it was so. Not only did this worry add to the burden of an already terrifying illness, whose features are so accurately and movingly described by Giles Andreae in times2, but it made our son reluctant to seek treatment and, when he did seek it, prevented him from making use of good local facilities that might have helped him. The treatment which he did accept was unsatisfactory and, in the end, unavailing.
Surely it is clear that someone who survives a depressive illness is enhanced rather than diminished by the experience, and that the insight which results may be of advantage, particularly in the field of mental health.