What I Wish People Knew About Depression


robin-williamsSomeone recently asked me to write on what I wish people knew about depression, in light of Robin William’s suicide. Here’s my response.

I wish people knew that depression is complex, that it is a physiological condition with psychological and spiritual components, and therefore can’t be forced into any neat and tidy box, that healing needs to come from lots of kinds of sources and that every person’s recovery is different.

I wish people knew the depression doesn’t happen in a vacuum and is part of a intricate web of biological systems (nervous, digestive, endocrine, respiratory), that depression is about the gut as well as the brain, the thyroid and the nerves, that we would have better health in this country if we approached depression with a holistic view.

I wish people understood that untreated depression can increase the risk of developing other illnesses, that a 2007 Norwegian study found that those participants with significant depression symptoms had a higher risk of death from most major causes, including heart disease, stroke, respiratory illnesses (such as pneumonia and influenza), and conditions of the nervous system (like Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis).

I wish people would offer those who struggle with depression the same compassion they offer to friends with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, breast cancer, or any other socially acceptable illness, that they’d question those discriminations and judgments reserved for disorders that fall under the umbrella of “mental illness.”

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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23 Responses
  1. Rosemary McGinn

    Thank you. This will be very useful when having this conversation with friends and relatives, especially much-beloved and often-baffled young nieces and nephews.

  2. Shanti

    Humans are social creatures who are meant to have meaningful family relationships. Being loved and cared about, being part of a family group is essential to both the mental & physical health of a person. Emotional cut off & estrangement from your birth family psychologically cause emotional stress & depression. One in five Americans will experience major depression. One in four most like will be estranged from family. This number is to rise according to the World Health Organization that is projecting by the year 2020. Depression will become the world’s second most devastating illness after heart attack. What impact will this create on the next generation children of depressed & estrange parents?

    We need to understand how this silent epidemic came about? Estrangement has become a household word as Autism was in the 90’s. Depressed people require help & support from family, not cut off.

    ” I was very depressed after I had my babies. My days were dark. I was miserable. My parents made me stay with them. I nursed my babies & rested. My grandmother gave me special nuts, seeds & gum ground up into Ladoos. I was given special foods to fight my illness. I was given bath in rose water. I was given juices of different fruits, bitter melons, turmeric & all kinds of roots until I became well. This was 56 years ago. I am happy and fine.”
    Bari Ammah

  3. Barbara Markway

    I fall prey to blaming myself for my depression, thinking that if only I meditated more, exercised more, or followed all of the exercises in the Buddha’s Brain book on neuroplasticity 🙂 I would finally improve. So thank you for including those great points! Your recent articles on treatment-resistant depression have helped me a lot, and in a strange way, given me hope.

  4. Joan Connorton

    this is the most helpful, compassionate article I’ve ever read. people don’t really understand the true depth of my answer ~~~ when they ask “how are you?” ~ and I reply..”well, I’m still here.”

  5. Thank you Therese. Great insight. I posted this on my FB page so thought I’d share it here too. Not in any way to be critical and knowing it is yet another facet of the complexity of our mental health issues:

    “I wish she included that society as a whole needs to be able to converse, accept and co-exist with (employment, relationships etc.) our fellow men and women much more freely. And, that we need to aggressively work to de-stigmatize mental health conditions, especially depression.”


  6. alexawriteson

    Huge thanks, Therese. You’ve nailed the essence of major depression. I’ve passed many years making sense of my own experience of this condition (which has been with me since infancy — a very premature birth, anoxia, three months of isolated intensive care in the late 1950s, and no bonding with my mother) … and this brief piece, along with Andrew Solomon’s statement, “The opposite of depression is not happiness, it is vitality” and Robert Sapolsky’s 2009 lecture ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOAgplgTxfc ) have given such relief in recognizing the essence of depression — a whole-person, multi-systemic disease, complex and in each case as individual as the person who lives with it.

  7. You hit most of the high notes especially compassion. I wish people will talk more openly about depression. I wish people will not be fearful of depression because it isn’t not really contagious. I wish people will understand that this is a brain disease and not mental illness.

    As for me, it’s all in the genes and you are right about “chronic death thoughts” and CBT is one of tools that helps me curve the thoughts.

    Enjoyed reading your wishful thinking and will be sharing this post as a reblog. Thank you.

  8. Editor

    Reblogged this on Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer and commented:
    My long-standing readers will know how much I admire Therese Borchard’s writing on depression – borne of the years of struggle with this insidious illness. This piece is something which needs to be read by all those who find it hard to understand that depression is not a choice, not something we can just think our way out of. I really like how Therese highlights the contradictory nature of depression – that gratitude and despair can co-exist. Hold on to her words if you are struggling right now ” depression comes and it goes, and in its ebb and flow are found pockets of peace that can sustain a person for the journey.”

  9. Reading a post like yours is a good first step to understanding these aspects, and realizing depression is one darn complex experience. Very well done.

  10. I find a lot of self-help quick fixes are best applied to healthy people with good lives who just don’t know it. Unfortunately these are the people who try to slap Band-aids on others with far more complex conditions and problems. Thank you for bringing needed awareness.

  11. Ann

    I have never read anything more completely inclusive of my thoughts as a person with treatment resistant depression. This blog as well as your other blog about Robin Williams and being real in an unreal world gave capture the essence of my experience and in 30 + years of battling, is the undeniably most relatable description of what I would like to say if I had the courage to speak openly of my experience. I have had significant improvement with DBS, but challenges of the illness still exist. Thank you for your incredible insight and the sharing of your journey of enduring.

  12. This made me smile – you truly get it, and help me to get it.
    I wish you were my therapist, I wish you were my friend 😉
    I’m so glad you write.

  13. Lilu

    Wow, this article really hit home for me. The burning truth of it actually made me burst in to tears. Especially since I have been trying to get my mother to understand for over 10 years, and she still believes most of the myths listed in your article. There is so much ignorance in the world about depression and mental illness in general. The fact that medicine has labeled it “mental illness” has largely contributed to the lack of understanding and compassion towards those who are forced to suffer in silence. The world “mental” somehow implies that it is something psychological, something that we have control over. It’s the “you just need to pull yourself together” mentality.
    Ever since Robin Williams’ death, I have been more open about my own depression. But it still feels like a slap in the face when you open up and people, even the ones close to you just judge you. It’s always, “you just need this or you just need that”.
    I want you to know that I forwarded the complete article to most of my friends and relatives with the following intro:
    Chances are there is at least one person in your life who is suffering in silence. Depression is an illness without understanding. One crucial step that all of us can take is to turn ignorance into knowledge. Therese Brochard, has written an amazing article about the various misconceptions that people have about what it takes to cure depression. Removing the stigma from this complex and misunderstood illness and increasing awareness and understanding is key to preventing arguments, isolation and suicide. Please forward.

    1. Lilu, I really appreciate your sharing this. I’m sorry you’re having to go through this pain. I was sharing some issues I have (ADHD/PTSD/Alcoholism/Drug addiction [recovering]) because I’m just not going to bite my tongue anymore and am going to take some risks to help open the conversation. My friend replied that he was depressed and was heavily medicated. I instinctively told myself ‘man, this guy is f**ked up!’.

      So, I prefaced what I told him next with a big question in that would it be ok if I said something he might be offended by, and after he said ok I told him what my thought above was. I could see in his face he was disappointed but, I continued that if we don’t pass that hurdle (as a society being able to discuss our thoughts) then we’re just perpetuating the stigma issues.

      My point is that we’re all going to be challenged in the future with being able to speak our minds, or at the very least do some critical self-introspection without verbalizing our observations, as soon as we recognize our patterns in thinking.

      Just my thoughts and how I’m trying to get real about this all. I have very similar issues and contradictions dealing with race-related issues. At the end of the day I’m looking to change my thinking and I’m hopeful.

  14. Tijdeling

    I cried when I read the part about Googling easiest ways to get cancer. Because, among other sad search terms, I’ve done that.

  15. Lesli

    I really appreciate you posting this article. It’s true and I have felt many of those things you described in the article.