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Thursday 10 January 2013

What Keeps Those Suffering with Depression from Seeking Help?

These days ‘depression’ is a much misused word in society’s vocabulary. We’ve all heard someone casually mention how they’re “feeling a bit depressed” on that particular day, only to see them completely bounce back to their usual selves the next. The fact is depression is an altogether different thing from simply ‘feeling down’ for a while – which is something we all experience from time to time. Depression is in fact a serious mental illness, one that can absolutely ravage the life of the sufferer and sometimes, others around them. The current figure for those affected with depression stands at 121 million people worldwide, with 850,000 of those committing suicide yearly. It stands to reason that a lot of these people aren't seeking help when battling depression – but why is that?

Triggers of Today

Although depression is certainly nothing new, there are most certainly new triggers within society which can culminate and lead to a depressive state of mind. Western culture being what it is, there has never been so much emphasis on having the ‘perfect’ life. Unless you’re a hermit living in a concrete bunker; airtight from media, culture and the world around us, such ideals and standards are fed to us on a daily basis. They dictate to us how we should live, how we should look, how much money we should have, what we should wear, what we should drive and every other aspect of our lifestyles. An individual’s problematic situation aside, these things alone can place huge amounts of pressure on someone and quickly lead to feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness and misery – all of which can culminate in a depression.

Depression is the one mental illness which none of us are entirely immune from. ‘Life’s a bitch’ (or at least can be!) as the blasé but not entirely untrue saying goes, and at least 1 in 10 adults will consequently experience depression at some point during their lives. Abuse, conflict, loss, genetics (which don’t directly cause depression, but can certainly make one more prone to it), medication, illness, and drugs are all potential causes. More ordinary but significant life changes can also cause depression in some people. For example, a recent study concluded that women with unwanted pregnancies were twice as likely to fall into depression, instead of the usual 1 in 4 statistic. The mental strain of pregnancy and post-pregnancy also leaves women at higher risk of depression - with current figures showing a substantial 14-23% and 10-20% of women experiencing symptoms respectively. A combination of hormones, the stress and anxiety of bringing a new life into the world, and the practical and financial strains of having a child can all trigger depression, which can be especially dangerous for a mother-to-be and her unborn baby. In this situation, it’s essential to get professional help.

Studies have also revealed that those with a negative body image (particularly young adults) were prone to becoming depressed, more so than those with other pre-existing mental illnesses. Other findings indicate that bisexual men are more at risk of depression than closeted gay men, whilst a link has been made between sibling rivalry in childhood and depression in later life. Massively varied findings such as these all serve to illustrate just how vast the potential causes of depression are, among-st all demographics – but niches aside, they all indicate the exact same thing - depression can affect us all, no matter who we are. So why do so many of us keep sch-tum about it?

The Stigma

It seems with depression that the root cause is sometimes the reason why people won’t seek help. Not many people want to reel off a list of their problems, failures and flaws to someone else. Admitting fallibility, hopelessness and despair can leave us open to being judged by others, and to some (especially in men, who are least likely to seek help for depression) it may feel like they’re admitting defeat. When someone feels that all they have left is a few shreds of pride, it might prove too difficult to put that aside for a moment when asking for help from a friend, a family member, doctor or therapist.

When all of the above is compounded with the outside stigma that still hovers over mental illnesses such as depression (albeit less so these days) the potential embarrassment and shame sufferers might feel can be crippling in itself. Despite significant efforts from organisations, celebrity spokespeople, and changing attitudes within the population, this is perhaps the hardest part to get through to a depressed person – that seeking help isn't a sign of weakness, it’s an admirable thing to do and the right one. Of course, the way to combat any stigma is for the world to talk more openly about it. These days nearly everyone knows someone who has experienced depression, and changing attitudes are steadily reflecting that.

The Boundaries

Antidepressants are often prescribed to those with the most serious of depressions, and can be life saving. Although they can help sufferers lead a more functional lifestyle, they’re not regarded as a cure. A major U.S. government study conducted in 2006 revealed that less than 50% of people on various antidepressants were symptom free after their course – some even slipping back into their depression whilst still on the medication. Because of this, and along with undesired side effects, people are often reluctant to get a prescription from their doctor even when they need one – and what’s more, it leaves them more reluctant to go to a doctor regarding their depression in the first place.

Finances are another hurdle that keeps sufferers from seeking help. With some people unable to afford therapy, or indeed medication, they often battle it out alone. Depression by its very nature saps away at a person’s motivation, initiative, and positive thoughts are entirely replaced with negative ones. Consequently someone with depression will often be ‘blind’ to the many avenues that could help them, such as support groups and charitable organisations.


As mentioned above, perhaps the most important step towards battling depression is talking. So many people suffer in silence and are afraid to tell anyone, and they so often go unnoticed. When I was a child in school I was once running late for a lesson and decided to take a shortcut up the wrong staircase – which for the school I attended, was considered a rather heinous crime. I was caught by one of the lunchtime supervisors, who instead of reprimanding me like one of the others most certainly would have, shook her head in mock disapproval then winked at me. Laughing, I thanked her and continued up the stairs on my way to class. She was a very friendly and kind lady, and popular with the kids for her humour and ability to connect with them. That very same week she went home after work, doused herself in petrol and set herself on fire, leaving behind her daughter. This sort of thing happens every single day to people, people who on the face of it seem to be absolutely OK.

Suicide is nearly always caused by depression. With a sound mind, it’s easy to reason that it’s a permanent solution for only a temporary problem; yet to a severely depressed person, this desperate act can be the only visible option. Depression is notorious for its ability to obscure all other options from view. For those that don’t seek help, or even find someone to talk to, perhaps it becomes our responsibility; as friends, family members, loved ones, and colleagues, to initiate that conversation – not accepting “I’m ok” as an answer, if our instincts tell us otherwise.

Author: Evelyn Bowden

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