By the year 2020, Depression will, according to the World Health Organization and on account of high suicide rates, be the world's second biggest killer after heart disease and ahead of road accidents and Aids. It may even play a grim part in exacerbating the primary cause of death: it has been cited as a contributory factor in coronary illness.

Such a bleak prognosis is plausible when you know that Depression will move in with one in four, one in six, certainly one in ten of us. The statisticians' job is thwarted because an estimated 40% of people battling with Depression never consult a doctor. They live in a silent hell whose echoing cold, quiet is made chillier and louder by the isolation of stigma and confusion and not wanting to say it out loud.

I think there's something wrong with me. But I don't know what, as they look at their hands which they wring in their lap. And try not to cry. Again.

My mum did know. She took her diagnosis, confirmed by brief reference to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, (along with her tears and hand wringing) to her doctor. That was thirty years ago. It was just as well she told him what condition he ought to treat. He mightn't have considered it otherwise.

Taking up residence in one person's life, Depression makes it frosty, alienating presence felt in the lives of those around it. Depression is canny like that: not content to monopolize one individual (one in four, one in six, one in ten depending on whose figures you choose to quote) it strives in its characteristic self-centered, all-consuming way to worm itself into the lives of those around it. Depression isn't baldly infectious. Not like a cold. Or the flu. But it's damply, all-enveloping embrace is certainly contagious.

Take my mother's small family as a model. She the sufferer: the - in our case - one out of, we, five. Reduced to a neat number-crunching analyst's one-in-four after Dad died.

One in Four people will suffer from Depression at some point in their lives. That would be Mum, then.

Multiply the model, proliferate proportionately my simplistic representation and you witness the swiftly snowballing and cunningly propagating effects of Depression: if it inhabits one in four, the lassitude and unhappiness it drags in its suffocating wake affects the lives (infects the lives?) of the surrounding, trying-to-remain-supportive-without-losing-patience three (us kids, for that is what we were back then) who stood around feeling, usually, miserably redundant, frequently frustrated and, well, depressed. (Though not Depressed. There is a cavernous difference).

One sufferer to three wretchedly helpless spectators; two to six; three to nine ... fifty to 150.

If we, who live with Depression, recognize that we are not alone, will it make it easier? Will it sustain us in our efforts to be compassionate? Be less dismissive? Less, especially, ashamed if we know the illness lives amongst other families too; lots of other families? Would that help to erode the stigma? A little? If there are more of us who strive to understand, will it make those who suffer feel understood?

And in so doing, might it ultimately make a difference to those whom Depression lives within?


For then we will present an allied front, represent a more encouraging statistic: three out of four people comprehend the enormity of what it means to live with Depression.



About the Author

Anthean Rowan

Anthea Rowan is a British journalist based in Tanzania.

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