Recently we had an opportunity to give a presentation before a group of people in various walks of life; all sharing the common denominator that they had someone they loved who was depressed or they themselves were battling depression. The program went well but the one thing that stays with me is the room we met in.
It was roughly 20 x 20 feet and had the padded moveable walls that churches often have. The room had no windows and one entire side of this small space had chairs, stacked one on top of the other. The twenty five chairs out for our participants were crammed together in order to fit the space not already taken up by a wall of chairs.
I reflected afterwards that the room was a symbol of how we treat mental illness. It is hushed up and relegated to that room with no windows. Mention mental illness and immediately people get either guarded or uncomfortable. This illness, they seem to be saying, is not really an illness but rather a defect in our family. And no matter how often people are told this isn’t true, it lingers in the background. This mindset is fed when support groups meet in rooms like I’ve described.
We as caregivers have to bring discussion of mental illness out into the open, talking as candidly about it as we might discuss treatment for cancer or a broken arm. We have to let people know that it is treatable, that we need people to respond to it as they do to other illnesses, and that this illness does affect how we are with friends and family members.
Let’s not discuss depression in hushed and fearful voices. Let’s talk in the confident, loving tone that says we can handle this, we can work to make it better, and we want all the windows and sunshine that we can get. No more closet storage rooms for us.