Why do you get sympathy when you break your leg or have a physical disease but not when you have depression? By Rosie Brown

Rosie BrownThe list of examples is endless. Should someone who has cancer recieve more sympathy than someone with depression? Is it ok to go to the doctors with a stomach ache but not ok to go if you’re feeling low?
I think I have to be careful here. This is a very controversial subject and this blog is really just a way for me to flesh out some of my ideas and opinions on the matter. I don’t want to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t do. I just want to explore the issue from my perspective.

Many people will find it hard to empathise or sympathise with the opinion that depression is just as bad as cancer. Many will be of the opinion that cancer is involuntary and can tragically affect anybody at any moment. Depression on the other hand is more of a choice/ influenced by social factors – it is something people can just ‘snap-out of’. Some would go as far as to say that depression is ‘trendy’, a view only emphasised by society (I am thinking in particular of the ‘Depression’ T-shirt by Urban Outfitters).

Someone with cancer can’t just ‘snap out of it’. I believe the same is true for mental illness.

A widely held opinion is that people with depression can just ‘pull themselves together’, or that they just aren’t trying hard enough to get better, or that they think they are cool/ edgy or current by having depression.

I recently expressed my worries about going into a hospital to my old English teacher from school, who is now a very good friend of mine. She said:

“Don’t worry about going into hospital if that’s what they think is best. You wouldn’t worry about going in for a severe sprain or broken limb, so why for a poorly brain? Same same.“

I think this is a fantastic piece of advice, advice which a lot more people should follow. Unfortunately depression comes with a package. It comes with a sense of shame and embarrassment. You can’t show your friends your lump, or your scar or your leg in a cast. All they have is your word and this is terrifying. Thoughts such as ‘will they believe me?’ and ‘will they understand me?’ run round your brain like little mice. The shame of having something invisible is huge. Whenever I tell somebody I have a mental illness negative voices pop into my head straight away. Would this be the same if I was telling them I was going into hospital for a knee operation? Probably not. If you had a heart problem you wouldn’t be embarrassed about telling your friends, would you? (Unless of course said heart problem was caused by an over-consumption of pizza and chocolate, in which case a small amount of embarrassment might be understandable.) Why is it that every other organ in the body can get sick and you get sympathy, but when it comes to the brain you are filled with dread and sometimes, unfortunately met with borderline hostility.

Mental Illness is REAL. It isn’t made up. I think the best way to get this message across is talking about it. When you realise somebody else has gone through exactly the same thing as you, you are less inclined to think you made it all up. Thinking that your mental illness is all in your head and not real is hugely damaging and can hinder recovery. It is certainly a thought that has passed through my head many times. ‘Am I just making this up?’, ‘If I tried really hard will it just go away?’ etc. However the more I read about mental illness and the more I have been talking to fellow sufferers the more I am appreciating that this is a real illness. An illness which deserves people’s time and consideration.
Thanks for reading.

Remember to follow me on twitter @fighting_stigma

To see more of my blogs please visit http://www.rosiebrownfightingstigma.wordpress.com

Rosie recently graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in Theology and Religious Studies. She is now studying for an MA in Performance at one of the UK’s top drama schools, Mountview. As part of her MA Rosie is writing a play about mental health issues, with the hope to raise awareness. In her spare time Rosie blogs, vlogs and tweets about mental health issues, hoping to raise awareness and fight the stigma associated with mental health. After completing her MA Rosie hopes to pursue writing and mental health charity work alongside acting, wishing eventually to bring these two passions together with a performance of her play.


3 thoughts on “Why do you get sympathy when you break your leg or have a physical disease but not when you have depression? By Rosie Brown

  1. Hi Rosie,

    If only people could see the psychological scars they might stop saying such nonsensical things as ‘pull yourself together’. If people could do that they would have – long before they got any form of diagnosis.



  2. This is brilliantly written, thank you 🙂 and it’s true, mental illness isn’t something that can be easily battled. It is involuntary in its severe cases (unless drug induced of course but still!) and it can result in life ending. There should be no shame in admitting to mental illness.

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