Can a blog be a good place to learn how to talk about depression?

Web comic/blogger Allie Brosh, who created the extremely popular Hyperbole and a Half, figured out exactly how to get people talking. 

A year ago, she wrote a post called “Adventures in Depression.” 

And then she didn’t write a single post for over a year.

Many people thought she had died. One commenter on the site Reddit wrote, “I've never been so concerned with the well being of an internet stranger.”

Her latest post, “Depression Part Two,” was crafted over the time that she removed herself from the blogging world. She wrote it while she was still experiencing depression, and though it’s not clear that she intentionally set out to get people talking about depression and suicide, by sharing her story she connected with her readers, who quickly spread the word about the post. (She received 5000 comments on this single “comeback” post.)

If the post was just stand-alone writing, with Brosh’s effective use of storytelling and metaphor, it would be quite beautiful. But the achingly sad face she draws on her cartoon representation of herself adds tremendously to the emotional resonance of the post. Some who’ve seen this post said that they’ve never seen anything that rang more true to their experience of depression.

One thing Brosh does particularly well is illustrate how it feels to talk with other people when you’re depressed.

Midway through the post, Brosh takes the reader through a conversation between someone with a problem (“My fish are dead.”) and a friend offering solutions that are entirely disconnected from the problem (“Don’t worry! I’ll help you find them! Are there any clues where they went?”).

As Brosh states so perfectly at the end of a list of non-solutions, “That solution is for a different problem than the one I have.”

It is human nature to try to “fix” someone who is experiencing depression, especially if that person says things that make you feel uncomfortable. We have an obligation to do something when someone we know talks to us about their depression. But, that obligation doesn’t have anything to do with “fixing.”

It has to do with listening.

It’s really that simple.

Don’t try to fix. Don’t say, “I wish you didn’t feel that way.” Don’t say, “I wish that I could make things better.” Just be quiet, and listen.

It takes courage to say what you’re really feeling when you’re depressed. The act of sharing those feelings can be helpful - that’s why it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to just listen.

It's true that at some point you may need to say something. Whatever you say should be supportive, not judgmental, and not too much about what you're feeling. Some possibilities:

  • “I’m so glad that you feel comfortable telling me that you’re feeling this way.”
  • “It’s very brave/courageous of you to tell me what you just told me.”
  • “Is there anything I can do?”

You can only say the last one if you're going to be okay if you hear "No." Saying "Is there anything I can do?" is different from saying "I wish I could make things better" because it allows the person you're trying to help have control in the situation.

Brosh’s post shows just how frustrating it can be to be ready to talk about depression and to run into well-meaning but unhelpful responses. And, as I hope you’ll see if you click over, it shows how complicated depression can be, both for those living with it and those trying to help.

It’s a post that’s written to make people feel uncomfortable, but with a purpose. It seems impossible to shed light on the realities of depression - an intrinsically uncomfortable experience - without making anyone uncomfortable. From where I sit, as a blogger who writes about depression to inform the public and inspire change, if discomfort allows for growth, maybe it’s worth it.

Copyright 2013, Elana Premack Sandler. All rights reserved. 

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