Depression – If I have mental health problems, does that mean I’m crazy?

The next part of a series of reader-requested posts on depression.

I remember being told I was depressed.  I had no idea what it meant.  Something about being in fight/flight for too long due to too much ongoing stress, and the brain’s chemicals being out of whack.

I would have to go on medication.

The immediate visceral reaction to that was “I AM NOT MAD!”.  My mental (ha!) image of people with “mental illness” came from movies and the media.  It involved asylums, padded rooms, rocking in a corner and other such stereotypical images.

Once I figured out that “mental health” was a large field and depression wasn’t something that meant I was going to permanently be locked up wearing pyjamas, I still had a huge problem with people knowing about it.

I didn’t want to be judged, labelled or forever stigmatised as a “crazy” person.  (well, in a medical sense, anyway).

John Kirwan is credited with bringing Depression out in the open and making it something people understand and accept.  At least to the point where there is no real stigma to it.   I still wouldn’t go around and wear it on my sleeve, but when the topic comes up these days, I have no problem sharing what it has meant for me.

But yeah.  What a about job applications?  Are you supposed to disclose it?  Will they not hire “crazy people”?  Will I be judged as a less than ideal parent?  Once known, will I be shunned and not be asked to parent help or go on camp?  Will the guys and gals at the club look at me sideways?  How will it affect medical insurance?  Life insurance?

All these things were real concerns to me.  And I still didn’t want to have a “mental illness” because of it.

The truth is that a lot of people keep it to themselves.  And as a result you end up thinking you’re one of the odd ones out.   But like buying a car and then seeing that car everywhere on the road, you discover that people around you have been functioning as normal people but are in fact on medication for clinical depression.   It starts to dawn on you that you can’t actually tell who is ‘crazy’ and who isn’t.

So basically put, nobody will know unless you tell them.

As for medical and life insurance, once it’s on your record, it stays there.  I had almost ten years where I was ‘cured’.  No meds.  I was happy and healthy.  And I was very very frustrated that my insurances were marked with it even though I no longer had depression.   Sadly, their statistics show that if you’ve been down that dark hole once, the odds are that you will go back.

Yes.  Well.   Sadly, in my case, they were right.

Having been self-employed for most of my life, I have no experience as to how employers react to depression.  Do they ask?  If you tell them, what has been your experience as to the reaction?  Personally I believe depression indicates someone who is pathologically incapable of not working too hard!  Just about all the cases I know of, the people have got there by poor work/life balance.  Anyway, if you have experience from that angle, please feel free to share in the comments below.

In short, I have not found “being a mental case” has any real effect on the way other people deal with you.  You shouldn’t fear being “crazy”.  You’re not.  You just have a brain with chemicals that are out of whack.  It’s probably you that’s going to have the most trouble getting used to the idea while people around you will just shrug their shoulders and carry on as normal.

 

Next instalment:  medication, diet, exercise.

 


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