I was planning to spend the next few days hawking the DVD relentlessly, and from tomorrow I will be doing just that, but today more important things got in the way.
If you’re not a football fan you won’t have heard much about Gary Speed until today. He was a top-class footballer who became manager of Wales, a prestigious position he held until this morning. Around lunchtime it was announced he’d been found hanged at his home. It’s not really appropriate to speculate about the causes of Speed’s suicide because none of the facts are clear and in any case, it’s nobody’s business but his loved ones’.
All the same, it’s triggered a huge amount of discussion about depression – not least because only 24 hours before the news, in an almost spooky coincidence, famous footballer/commentator Stan Collymore had published a blog about his own suicidial impulses. I wanted to briefly add my voice to those urging everyone to think hard about depressive illnesses and the way they’re presented. Professional football is a famously old-school macho world where people haven’t tended to deal with emotional issues too well. But in areas of society you’d regard as more advanced, things are often not much better.
Depression is an awkward term covering a large spectrum of psychological conditions, and it tends to be diagnosed with reference to patients’ own testimonies. You can only identify it by its effects, rather than its causes: it won’t show up on a scan. There’s the added complication that all of us routinely refer to being ‘depressed’ as a reasonably common everyday phenomenon. As a result it’s hard to address the idea of depression as a potentially lethal state of mind in the same way that some diseases are lethal states of body. Still, it’s very hard to deny that many apparently healthy and happy people take their own lives and it’s naive to dismiss them all as having been ‘temporarily insane’ the way the law still often does. Whatever depression is, it works on people in ways which can overwhelm them. It’s worth trying to do something about that.
The key thing to understand is that – as a psychological cancer, if you will – depression strikes people at all levels of apparent success, in all circumstances and income brackets. This again, although a matter of commonn sense, is imperfectly understood because obviously if people DO have obviously tough lives, go through setbacks, etc, they are more likely to develop long-term depression. But that doesn’t mean that people apparently sailing effortlessly through life are immune to the same mental traps.
Nobody is automatically ‘cured’ by therapy or medication, but at least there is scope to help people suffering from depression simply by understanding the situation; in that sense it is slightly more treatable than similarly dangerous physical conditions. As a society we need to try and distinguish between people who are moaning a bit, and people who might do themselves serious harm. It’s not easy because the two categories overlap quite often. But still: if you or someone close to you are/is manifesting the signs of proper depression, don’t dismiss it because of others’ attitudes or your own sense of shame. That’s all.
All this has been said more efficiently before, and below are a couple of links. One is to a blog on this same topic which someone sent me on Twitter today. The other is Stan Collymore’s already notorious confession from Saturday. Either or both might be of some interest. I’m sorry to be uncharacteristically ‘heavy’ on this subject, and I realise a blog like this barely skims the surface of a maddeningly complex area, but I wanted to say something. A lot of tragic deaths are unavoidable. Deaths of this kind are, just about, avoidable. Take care.