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The wind roared, rain lashing at the groaning bus as it pulled grudgingly from campus– 50 or so damp, disgruntled students its fresh burden. As is a requisite for this time of year in Lancaster, it was simply another cold, grey and decidedly miserable evening of many. Yet amongst other verbal gems from a pack of glamorously dressed, loquacious girls to my left:
“He’s not coming out. He’s feeling down again, apparently.”
I’m unsure whether it was the sarcastic stress on ‘down’ or the tuts and shakes of the head that greeted this statement, but the callousness of the comment snagged at me – and snagged at me rather sharply. Yet not as much as the conversation that followed.
“There’s actually nothing wrong with him, he’s blatantly just looking for sympathy,” declared one of the pack.
“I heard he used it as an excuse to get an extension on that coursework we had last week,” boldly interjected another.
Cue a malicious – and frankly, downright bitchy – discussion characterised by unsubstantiated speculation and hearsay, finally tapering off into a thrilling account of the latest celebrity-oriented chit-chat.
Oh unknown gossipers, where dost thou begin?
As an individual accustomed to depression through an unfortunate array of friends and family members plagued by the illness, I can safely state that depression is just that: an illness. Not an excuse, not an elaborate means of gathering sympathy but – yes – an illness. In fact, the figures regarding depression are staggering. Within any given year, it has been estimated that 25% of the British population will experience a diagnosable mental illness, with approximately 10% suffering from depression at any given time. Similar research also indicates that, at any one time, 1 in 20 people in the UK will experience major depression. Commonly associated with other mental illnesses such as eating disorders and anxiety, depression also stands as the predominant cause of suicide: a cause of death accounting for about 16 registered deaths in the UK every day, with young males the highest at risk.
Sure, there will always be those who choose to fabricate tales for sympathy, or perhaps exaggerate their misfortunes for a number of reasons. Such behaviour has even been described, in its severe form, as a disorder in itself. However, the simple fact remains that we all know only what others tell us about themselves. In essence, neither you nor I will ever be aware of our friends’ lives completely. Always, there will be things that are not spoken of – things that occur behind closed doors, or have been neatly tucked away into the darkest corners of the memory. Bearing this in mind, we shouldn’t be so hasty in judging others, and certainly shouldn’t be so hasty in dismissing a friend’s unhappiness.
A plethora of famous people have described periods of depression in their lives, with Winston Churchill naming the depression he endured his ‘black dog’ and Sheryl Crow describing her depression as a ‘shadow’ – something ‘constantly there’. Indeed, Stephen Fry – current president of the mental health charity Mind – has publically spoken of his battles with manic depression, a type of depression characterised by extreme swings from high to low.
On the note of Mr. Fry, the recent ‘Still Human’ event held by students at Lancaster University caught the attention of the well-known celebrity, who tweeted ‘Good luck to @LancasterSU who are raising awareness of mental health issues at their university – #StillHuman – http://tinyurl.com/StillHuman’ on the weekend of the event to his three million followers.
Still Human, which aimed to raise awareness and funds for mental health campaign Time to Change, proved to be a successful and enlightening event for many students. To those sharp-tongued and accusative females en route to Lancaster on that one cold, grey, miserable evening, however, I repeat what Still Human urged: people suffering from depression are still human.
Think before you speak.