Can You Find the Dog?
Find the dog in the picture below:
I found this picture on the Huffington Post after spotting it on Twitter. Looking at their article, I did my best to spot the dog and (I’ll be honest) it was extremely challenging! I’m sure some of you will have found it instantly but others of you, like me, will have struggled.
Now find the depressed person.
No? How about here:
Still no one? OK, well what about here:
It’s challenging, isn’t it. Yes, these are stock images pulled from Google but the point remains the same:
Mental illness does not have a look.
“But you don’t look depressed…”
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen this on Twitter or Facebook or had it said to me over the past year. It’s something that a lot of people seem to latch onto when you tell them that you have depression or when you are struggling. “You don’t look depressed.”
Tell me…what does depression or any other mental illness actually look like?
You see, stigma has given rise to the belief that mental illnesses have a look. To be depressed, you have to be the person who cannot get themselves out of the house, is covered in self-harm scars from head to toe and has not been able to shower or change their clothes in days. (A generalisation, I know, but I’ve heard it said!) Yet where do people like myself fit into that depiction? I have depression, I am depressed, yet almost every morning I get up, shower, eat, go about my day as normal. Where is the stereotypical “depression look” in that?
The answer: there isn’t.
Just like the dog in the first picture, depression and other mental illnesses can be hard to spot. There is no definable, typical look about each mental illness, despite what stigma and stereotypes might suggest. People will put on masks, they will act the part, they will do what they can to ensure you never find out that they are ill. It’s part of the illness. It’s what we do.
Find the Mentally Ill Person
So, you see there is no definitive way of finding the person suffering with a mental illness. As I’ve mentioned numerous times on this site, mental illness is unique to each individual, manifesting itself in various ways with overlaps between cases but without two cases being completely 100% identical – a little like a Venn diagram.
Take a moment to look around you next time you’re in public. 1 in 4 of those people will have a mental illness. I guarantee you will see several of them as you look. My question, though, is do they look any different? Do they have that “signature look” about them for depression? Can you see it?
Look at me now. Do I look depressed? Is there that signature look? Somehow, I don’t think you’ll see it. I hide it. Perhaps I shouldn’t, but it’s my way of coping.
You will not see it unless you know me very well or I want you to see it.
As one of my former managers said when I had to tell him that I was depressed: “If you were lined up with ten other people and I was told that someone in that line-up had depression, you would have been the last person I would have picked.”
You see? No “one size fits all” or “definitive” look for mental illness.
The Signs are Always There
Contrary to what I’ve just said, however, I would like to point out that the signs are always there. In things I say, things I do, things I write on social media, there are clues in all of them that would tell you I’m depressed. There are signs that everyone gives off. Signs that someone is anxious, signs that someone is depressed, even signs that someone is suicidal. The trick is finding them.
Like that dog I started this post with, mental illness can be quite hard to spot but you can spot it. Things out of character, things done out of the ordinary, other little things that you can pick up on.
But they are there.
Just like that dog.
So my challenge to you is this: look for the signs. Remember that 1 in 4 people suffer with a mental health condition, so look for the signs. Yes, the signs will be different to each person so there is no definitive guide to spotting them, but they are there. Look for them.
Don’t let them suffer alone.
But don’t tell them that they “don’t look depressed”.
Because there is no definitive “depressed look”.
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