Depression: Cut the preposition

Many people today commented publicly, on Twitter and elsewhere, about the tragic death of Robin Williams who allegedly has fallen prey to depression. Some of them said things like, “why did he kill himself, how can a man like him be depressed, what was he depressed at?” That last sentence, repeated over and over at various places on the net, struck a chord with me.

Before becoming a Content Shrink, I was a proper shrink: For ten years, I worked in private practice, assisting people to live a worthwhile life, helping them out of depression, walking with them until they could again walk on their own. My happiest days were those when a client closed the door behind her, and we both knew we wouldn’t meet again because she was strong enough to continue on her own.

My patients came from all walks of life, and all of them had had experiences which made them happy, and, most often, many more which made them sad. But when a successful therapeutic process came to an end, not a single of those clients had something to be happy with. My goal always was to help them learn to be happier in general.

You see, (major) depression can not be cured by eliminating something that someone is “depressed with,” or “depressed at.”1 The kind of depression with which Mr. Williams seems to have been fighting2 is not a state of mind that is directed at something, it’s a debilitating disease that can take away lives. It’s a dirty motherfucker of an illness that emerges from an old closet, pounces on its victim and doesn’t stop until it succeeds. — Which does not mean, however, that it cannot be eradicated, and even cured.

Do you know someone who is genuinely happy? Ask: “What are you happy about?” If she’s really happy, she’ll reply that there’s no particular reason why she’s happy, she just is happy.

The same goes for depression. Depression is not about something. Drop the preposition. This’ll help you understand and empathize with the folks struck with this illness.

Only then—only when you get a glimpse of understanding how it might feel like, ask them what you can do to help them.

  1. There is a type of reactive depression that is usually triggered by a grave life event, but this kind of depression is, in many cases, easy to tackle. (Which of course does not mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously.) ↩︎

  2. I’m hypothesizing here, based on publicly available information. ↩︎