Suicide is on the rise, and is now – in places including the UK and US – a leading cause of death, accounting for over one in a hundred fatalities. According to figures from the World Health Organisation, it kills more people than stomach cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, colon cancer, breast cancer, and Alzheimer’s. As people who kill themselves are, more often than not, depressives, depression is one of the deadliest diseases on the planet. It kills more people than most other forms of violence – warfare, terrorism, domestic abuse, assault, gun crime – put together.
And, even more staggeringly, depression is a disease so bad that people are killing themselves because of it, in a way they do not kill themselves with any other illness. Yet people still don’t really think depression really is that bad. Unless they would say these things to other potentially dying people:
- ‘Come on, I know you’ve got tuberculosis, but it could be worse. At least no-one’s died.’
- ‘Why do you think you got cancer of the stomach?’
- ‘Yes, I know, colon cancer is hard, but you want to try living with someone who has got it. Sheesh. Nightmare.’
- ‘Oh, Alzheimer’s you say? Oh, tell me about it, I get that all the time.’
- ‘Ah, meningitis. Come on, mind over matter.’
I think it is time for us to stop seeing depression as a choice. It is something that happens to people for an infinite and not always identifiable number of reasons.Yes, there are decisions sufferers can sometimes make – exercise, diet, medication, meditation, therapy – that might help, but that is the same with all illnesses. We are still in the Dark Ages when it comes to our attitudes to mental health, as anyone who saw Peter Hitchens on Newsnight last night will be aware, but the light is slowly entering.
The more sufferers who speak openly about it the better. Because stigma not only prevents understanding, but in this case can actively exacerbate symptoms. Having an illness of the brain is no more the sufferer’s fault than if it was an illness of the lungs or heart. Ill is ill. And depression is serious. We need less judgement and more help, for an illness that claims the lives of thousands every day.