Like many people last Monday, I felt deeply saddened by the news of Robin William’s death. But unlike most people, and because of my work as a psychologist, I know that no matter how the media is portraying depression, it’s still very misunderstood.
It’s not a deformity.
It’s not a plague.
It’s not a problem.
It’s just chronic pain manifested.
Depression is clinically understood as a disease, but it’s also something that happens to someone. It’s inaccurate to say, “He’s depressed,” because that’s not what defines him. That’s not who he is. Robin Williams didn’t choose to be depressed; he developed depressive symptoms. It happened to him.
Nobody chooses to be depressed. They don’t choose to be in pain. But in our culture, we can’t (and don’t) talk about pain. We can’t talk about our emotions and feelings without the shame of feeling weak. And that’s not an environment that promotes a healthy comeback from depression. It doesn’t encourage our natural human expressive functionality to just feel our emotions.
People who develop depression symptoms – whether they’re mild, moderate or severe, and if it’s reoccurring or not – are typically sensitive and very feeling of the atmosphere as children. They can sense painful feelings within their family and in their surroundings, but grow up seeing those emotions never fully expressed and instead de-pressed, pushed down, never brought to the surface and compassionately received. Even though everyone knows that pain is present and it’s there, children who are sensitive by nature are taught that it’s unacceptable to feel it; they absorb the process they witness from those around them.
As parents, we turn away from our kids so they don’t see when we’re experiencing pain. With good intentions you tell your kids: “Don’t cry,” “You’re too emotional and sensitive,” “You shouldn’t feel that way,” because you don’t want them to suffer from the pain; and yet, we never give them the space to acknowledge their feelings and share them in order to understand them. We aren’t giving them a model to express emotion, to acknowledge and soothe the pain.