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Poking Fun At Depression – Not A Sane Thing

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There is a public service advertisement by the British government currently running on television that highlights depression and related mental health issues. Although I do not have the exact transcript, I can paraphrase it pretty accurately:

A man is interviewing for a job. They are wrapping things up, when the interviewer says: “OK, well, everything looks great. Is there anything else we should know?”

The interviewee replies: “Well, I think it’s only fair that you know I’ve a history of depression.”

“Really now? Ah, I see. Well, would a tenth-floor desk be OK? Obviously, we won’t sit you next to a window.”

Silence. The interviewer takes a sharp letter opener off his desk and hides it in his drawer. He speaks again: “It’s no problem, everyone here’s a bit mad.”
Interviewee: “Listen, I’m OK. I’ve got it under control. I just mentioned it out of fairness. I can handle it.”

Interviewer: “Right. You know, I have a nut allergy. Yeah, I’m allergic to nuts. No nuts in the building. Present company excepted.”

The narrator comes on and says, “This man’s got a problem. But he can get help at direct.gov.uk. Learn more about mental health issues.”

Although the commerical was written and performed in a clearly comedic vein, it throws the spotlight on the discomforting fact that there really are people out there with no clue about or understanding toward those affected by depression.

We have bent over backwards in our society to accommodate physically disabled people, as we should. But sympathy for those stricken by mental illness lags far behind. Society still prefers to think of those suffering from depression as either crazy or needing the bootstraps pulling up.

Depression is a disease like chronic high cholesterol or diabetes. It is as disabling and contributes to just as bad a quality of life as does a broken leg. Kidneys, lungs and livers can undergo bad health, so why is it so unsual for the brain – an organ like all the others – to do the same? Yet, instead of being seen for the valid illnesses that they are, mental health issues are too often still relegated to loony-bin territory.

What’s even worse is that sometimes the cure for the illness is stereotyped as well. I have a friend who works for London Underground (the subway system) and he reports that they won’t hire people who take anti-depressants. Rarely have I ever heard of such a discriminatory practice in the contemporary workplace. Because anti-depressants, like any drug, affect some people badly – and probably because they are wrongly seen as narcotic “happy pills” – they are tainted and seen as a hindrance to performance. As if a morbidly depressed state of mind wouldn’t affect work performance. London Underground must be full of happy-go-lucky people! But they wouldn’t bar anyone from employment for using diuretics or cholesterol-lowering medications, would they?

It’s time to start taking depression – and its cure – seriously, which is what the UK government is admirably attempting to do. There is not one person on the planet that has not been depressed at one time or another. So why is chronic depression something that is so often seen as something that is beyond our comprehension? You can help fight depression by understanding it.

Mark Edward Manning, the author of this piece, suffered from chronic depression for many years and currently takes the anti-depressant medication Cipramil.

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  • Gypseman had done a detailed article on the same issue.

    I have known people who have been on the verge of committing suicide and others who have used it as an excuse to get attention.

    As stated above its a common malady, no different from catching a cold but its those who shed tears at the drop of a hat that get on my nerves.

    Not only do they

  • SP got depressed and couldn’t finish that last comment.


  • LOL! You see, Dave, that’s what we need more of to cure depression – comedians!

  • Dave, good one ! Thats what happens when one tries to juggle BC and kids.

    Wish I had the time to think much less get depressed 😉

  • I’ve been at home with two kids for almost a week now with my wife at work and school out – it’s not a pretty scene.


  • Heartfelt sympathies!

  • Mark, I appreciate the suffering of depression- been there, done that. It certainly wouldn’t be nice to mock someone for feeling bad.

    Still though, you have to have a sense of humor. That’s right on the top of the list. Making fun of the idea of depression is very different than making fun of the person who has it.

    Indeed, one of the surer bits of relief in such moods for me is the opening sequence of Stripes, with the “Depression” piano theme as Bill Murray’s losing his job and his girl. “And then…depression set in.” That piano theme is both depressed and inexplicably hilarious.

    My bestest prescription for depression and moody stuff, by the way, is plain old exercise. A nice 3 or 4 mile walk does me personally a lot more good than psych drugs.

  • In the US, the Americans with Disabilities Act covers mental illness as well as physical illness. I couldn’t cite you chapter and verse but I am pretty sure you can’t refuse to hire someone on antidepressants.

  • Justene, I know the U.S. is pretty sharp on disability rights – including mental illness – so by discussing what’s happening in the U.K., I didn’t mean to slight American efforts. Though, doubtless, a lot of Americans also see depression as something you can just wipe away “if only one cared enough.”

    Al, I have no problem making a joke of depression itself. It is possible to make light of it while not attacking individuals stricken by it per se … but don’t forget Al, “pysch drugs” help restore serotonin to the brain that just doesn’t get there otherwise, and recent research indicates that SSRI drugs spur nerve cell growth in the brain. For so many people to deny that these drugs do any good is rubbish. You didn’t know me before I got on the SSRI I’m taking. If you did, you’d agree that the meds helped me considerably. A walk in the park isn’t enough for some people, they need that medical intervention.

    SP, I too get exasperated by people constantly on the verge on tears, I won’t deny it. But I understand that there’s a reason why they’re like that. The one thing about depressed people that I can’t tolerate is the refusal to help themselves. They won’t try therapy, and they certainly won’t try drugs! No, they’d rather live in the black hole they’re trapped in instead? And now, with this stupid “emo” culture running rampant with the younger generation, living like that is encouraged, red marks on the wrist are a badge to wear proudly. I won’t make fun of depressed people who are trying to sort their lives out, but there’s a difference between depressed and stupid.

    Dave and SP, at least no kids around here to get me down! And that’s the way I like it …

  • Mark, I wont call them stupid – drama queens probably.

    I had a troubled childhood with depression as my constant companion. There were times when I thought suicide would ease my suffering.

    Never spoke to anyone till I went to college

    Looking back I’m relieved I hadnt done anything foolhardy but my experiences had given me a small insight into the vortex of depression.

    I’m not too crazy about medication either. My father in law suffered from manic depression. The medication made him sleep through the better half of the day and walk around the house like a zombie at night.

    But there is someone else I know who has everything going for her- a happy marriage,has pots of money, successful career, kids settled well and still she complains- I’m feeling so low etc….

    Rich people like her suffer depression as if its a luxury they deserve.

    I’m this close to telling her to take Prozac and stop her whining!

  • Wow, I do know better than to think money buys happiness, but when you struggle with finances as I sometimes do (and I do work hard), whining while having pots of money really takes the cake! Still, money won’t take away what’s going on in her mind. You’re right though, she should seek help in some form.

    OK, stupid perhaps not, but gluttons for punishment definitely. I don’t see why anyone would choose to live like that. And I know of what I speak – I was the same way, refused to seek help or to be put on drugs. I only sought help after years of being nagged by my family. Now I can’t see what all the fuss was about. I think there’s a stubbornness people get affected by as well – “I’ll get over it, leave me alone!” – that is at the core of why people refuse intervention. Now that I’ve seen proof with my own self that it works, I won’t let others off the hook with their excuses. They’ve got to get help, it’s the only way.

  • Sorry, I must agree with Swinging Puss and Dave Nalle. Depression (which I also battled — without medications) is disabling but hardly a disability. It hurts. It tires. It keeps you tired and tries to prevent you from doing anything to cure yourself.

    Nevertheless, it is something to be fought with work at self-analysis, creative or good works, relationships which do have to be sought and, maybe, some medication for a short time while you sort it out and get busy.

    Otherwise the problem is how other-directed such self-hatred is. “Oh poor me” is usually a cry for guilt from someone else or an attempt to manipulate others.

    In the John Schlesinger film Cold Comfort Farm the old grandmother keeps everyone in line with her reclusive statement “I saw something ugly in the woodshed”. Our heroine, Flor, finally says, “So?” If someone cries “Daddy didn’t love me enough” but is 40 years old — “So?”

    Those of us older begin to understand that there is only one time around (except for Buddhists) and it is shorter than you think. Don’t waste time in useless depression. Do something.

  • i feel more able to cope with when lexapro. my family notices the the difference more than i do larry

  • Mark, we’re all chemically unique. I’m not saying that NO one should take psych drugs. I certainly wouldn’t begin to presume to criticize you. Whatever works for you.

    I wouldn’t necessarily say exercise instead of drugs, but in addition to whatever you’re doing chemically. Good blood circulating exercise will generally tend to increase feelings of well being.

  • I have a very dear friend who all this pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps stuff or lots of exercise and years of earnest Zen meditation just simply did not help. He did try to commit suicide and in rehab was very luckily given a copy of David Burn’s Feeling Good, a brilliant & very approachable cognitive therapy book. For five years of Paxil, plus an anxiety drug, & diligent cognitive therapy on his own, he has at 57 finally been able to have his life bloom. It takes a while to tweak the doses. He has no side effects & seems compltely normal to me, at last.

    Never having had clinical depression, I was always one of these anti-drugs, pro-exercise/bootstraps people. Seeing what happened for him, however, I am a total convert to the cognitive therapy/drug combination. It saved his life, simply. And it wasn’t as if he hadn’t tried in a herculean manner all his life to lift this stinking condition. I watched him try. I shared all my brilliant tricks to no avail for him. It’s no different than something like diabetes — there’s a substance not in his brain that is in yours, in essence.

    I am very humble now. And you can not imagine, you can not begin to imagine how much that damned depression drained both our lives. I could not be more grateful to have it be different.

    Now, of course, we are bleakly & blackly depressed about the insane Bush Administration & its wasting of $820,000 per minute on the Military Budget & another $200,000 per minute on Iraq. Grim reality remains grim reality no matter the drug or therapy! If you aren’t depressed by Dick et Ilk you definitely need a drug to make you see The Ruthless Truth . . .

  • I understand, Al. And I am well aware of the mental as well as physical well-being that comes from exercise. I’ve run at least 20 miles every week for the past 20 years.

    But the confident high I got from running never carried into the whole day for me. So, I knew that medical intervention was a must. The exercise simply was not – nor would ever be – enough.

  • pogblog – thanks for your comments and for seeing things differently about depression.

    But it has nothing to do with Bush and Co. (except, of course, for pro-terrorists and appeasers) and I’d have thought you’d keep your petty politics out of a Culture posting.

  • The remarks about BushCo are an attempt at dark humor — which was what got me through all those almost 30 years with a severely depressed friend.

    My life is all of a piece. I don’t separate it into Categories. Whether we spend our national resources on Education (including to all those teenagers who bleakly suffer from clinical depression and could be helped) or on War doesn’t feel the least bit petty to me. We may certainly disagree, but ‘petty’ it ain’t.

    In a country with universal healthcare instead of the biggest WMD stockpile on Earth, my guess is that my crippled friend could have been helped 20 years earlier — before it got to the special Locked-Door Emergency Room stage of desperation. Until you’ve seen your friend shuffling around a locked ward with thick leather 3″ wide straps on his wrists, I’d appreciate your using the word ‘petty’ a tad more advisedly. Ragingly wrong I may be from your vantage, but wanting to shift funds to tending our fellow citizens isn’t ‘petty.’


  • Scott Butki

    That ad sounds really, well, disturbing and distrressing.
    Thanks for a look at this important issue.

  • Interesting piece, Mark, and sheds light on human nature: if we can’t “see” it, it’s very hard to accept an ailment or disease. Especially depression. Everyone gets “depressed” sometimes so the natural inclination is to “snap out of it!”

    An extreme case that touches on this, incidentally: was just scanning a headline today that talked about the U.S. Army not believing soldiers who claim to have brain injuries… scary.

    This piece has been chosen as a Blogcritics.org Editor’s Pick of the Week, Celery Sticks and the Post-New Year Story Cornucopia edition, congrats!

    You’ve just earned yourself the right to nominate your favorite story (for the period of 1/4 – 1/10) for next week’s Editors’ Picks column. List the link, the story title, and the author in the comments area of this week’s column, and of course tell us why it deserves to be honored!

    Thanks and congrats again ~ EB

  • Scott Butki

    Congrats, Mark.

  • Mark, I wont call them stupid – drama queens probably.

    Um, that’s not much better.

    The last thing you should do for someone dealing with depression – whether situational or medical in nature – is to draw more attention to them.

    If you want to read an excellent book on depression – one that won major book awards and matches my only reading and experiences with this
    topic – check out the Noonday Demon.

    It rightly points out that neither talk therapy nor meds but a combination of both has been found in studies to have the most long-term success.

    One of the problems here that should be noted is that the drug that works for someone with depression and anxiety – me for example – last year may not work at all next year due to changes in the body,the body’s response to the meds, etc.

  • Thanks, Scott, for the multiple kind words. I laughed when I saw that commercial for the first time, but a part of me was also disturbed and enraged by the interviewer character – so it was a nervous laugh.

    Eric, thanks for the honor, and I will try to think of a piece to nominate soon. ~ MEM

  • I get that nervous laugh when I see mentally ill and depressed lumped together.. or when they are to snap out of it.
    Neither is really acceptable or realistic.

    The analogy I tend to use is would you tell a person on heart medicine or with low blood sugar to snap out of it?

  • Robert

    Don’t make fun of depressed people. Ever heard of murder/suicide? They think they have nothing to lose. They’re likely to hurt or kill you or someone you love if you start pushing their buttons.