May is Mental Health Awareness month, and so I thought I'd address a question that has come up a few times recently. I've had a few people ask me why I'm editing the Disharmony of the Spheres anthology. The simplest answer is that metal illness is a major problem in America, but the perception of mental illness is an even bigger problem. For some reason, people differentiate between physical illness and mental illness...when there really is no difference. Another reason that I decided to do this anthology is because there are a lot of people in the speculative fiction community, both writers and fans, who deal with mental illness, especially depression and anxiety. In talking to various people I've realized that there seems to be a disproportionate number of people in the speculative fiction community that are dealing with these issues, so it's important for people to see that even the mentally ill can succeed...and not only succeed, but excel, which is what many of the characters in the stories in Disharmony of the Spheres do.
Even more importantly, depression is something that I've had a lot of experience with, as I've dealt with it most of my life. My reason for saying this isn't so that people will say things like, oh poor you, or wow, you've done well even with depression. No, I'm simply making a point that anyone can suffer from it. I don't need nor want pity or pats on the back.
Although depression can be a debilitating illness, it is something that people can overcome with the right kind of support. Unfortunately, most people don't know what the right kind of support is. Many people think that sadness is depression, and from their point of view, it's easy to get through. Everyone in the world has dealt with sadness at some point in their lives, but this is not the same thing as depression. Comparing the two is like comparing a cold with bubonic plague. Yes, there are some similarities, but they are far from being the same thing. Sadness is only one small part of depression.
Other things that don't help people with depression are saying things like pull yourself up by your bootstraps, or look at all the good things going on in your life. There are times when things like this can do more harm than good, because you're basically implying that a person should just get over their depression. That's the same thing as telling someone to just stop having the symptoms of a cold. They can't just stop being sick, and a person suffering from depression can not simply stop being depressed.
Patience and understanding is what a depressed person needs more than anything else. Most of the time they just need to know that there are people there for them. I can say quite honestly if it weren't for my family and the amazing friends I've had throughout my life, I wouldn't be here right now. Sometimes a depressed person just can't take it anymore, and in this way, suicide is not necessarily a sign of weakness. In many ways, it's like a person suffering from cancer who can't take it anymore and allows themselves to die, even if there was a chance they could survive. In both cases, the person has given into their illness. Most would say it's a horrible thing to say that the cancer patient was weak because of their choice, but many people will say that the depressed person was weak. Many times, there's no difference between the two.
If you know someone who is dealing with depression, or any mental illness for that matter, the best thing you can do is be there for that person. Let them know that you will always be there to listen to them, even if you think what they're saying is silly. To them, it's not. Last year, a very dear friend of mine almost left us because she was dealing with things on her own that no one knew about. Things that maybe we, as her friends, should have been more tuned in to. She's still going through a lot, but now she has a strong support system, and I'm hoping that she will get through this...just as I'm hoping everyone dealing with depression will get through what they're dealing with.
If you are depressed, you're not alone. There are a lot of us out here who understand what you're going through, and there are people that will be there to help you...family, friends, professionals...all you have to do is ask. AND PLEASE DO ASK!