The problem for the sufferer of depression is that it can be a very debilitating illness, but to the majority of non-sufferers that you meet you show no signs of having anything wrong with you. There are no no stitches, bandages or plaster cast, and you don't require sticks, crutches, or a walking frame to get around. You can be, however, very seriously ill indeed and yet there are no outward signs that would be obvious to those that you meet. So short of carrying a bell or clapper like the lepers of long ago, or wearing a notice around your neck proclaiming "I have depression; treat me carefully" most people would not realise that there is anything wrong with your health.
I don't know how depression manifests itself in other people, I can only describe what I feel, but my depression is not only something that affects the way that I feel about things, it also has some very definite symptoms that I feel physically. When it is at its worst, depression makes me feel as though my head and body are not connected to each other. My body feels numb, like the numbness that you feel in your lip after having an injection at the dentist's, and my head has a woolly feeling with a tendency to feel very light-headed as though I have drunk alcohol on an empty stomach. All of this is combined with an overwhelming desire to cry, though I have no idea what I am crying about, it is just something that I have to do.
I find it impossible to concentrate; reading becomes something that is unbelievably difficult. I have always loved reading, and half an hour with a good book with good music before I lay down to sleep was the perfect end to the day. Now I find that I have to read the same page repeatedly to stand any chance of understanding what I have read. I have always been shy, but depression makes it incredibly difficult to interact with people that I do not know. Social functions become trials that can cause anxiety to build up days in advance, and small talk something to be avoided because you are likely to become tongue-tied while attempting to have the simplest conversation.
When somebody asks you "How are you?" you answer automatically "Fine" although you aren't really, and that if they ask you anything else you are likely to burst into tears. You hate it when they say "Smile, things could be worse" when you know that there is nothing that could make you feel worse than you do at that particular moment and and smiling is the last thing on your mind because you are finding it almost impossible to just exist. If you were to answer the "How are you?" question truthfully, the questioner would become embarrassed and not know how to further the conversation because they would find it difficult to deal with someone with a mental illness.
Mental illness is something that happens to people. They don't ask for it, and they most certainly would prefer not to have it. Unfortunately, while the medical profession has made incredible advances in the treatment of many of the diseases and injuries that affect us physically, diseases of the brain are not so easy to treat. While we are very similar physically, we are all unique mentally; that is what makes it so difficult to 'cure' mental illnesses.
The next time that you meet someone who suffers from depression like me, please remember that they are a human being just like you, they don't want to feel the way that they do, and that you can't catch what they have got through contact with them. But most of all, remember that they don't like being stigmatized because they have a mental illness. Remember that; because at some time in the future the person with depression could be you.