The Stigma of Insidious Depression – From Suicide Prevention Week

What can you do when the gremlin starts to take hold? I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you what I do.

By Jen O’Ryan; cross-posted with permission from the Good Men Project

I struggle with depression and have for as long as I can remember. It’s not the level of depression that impacts my ability to function; I’ve never been unable to get out of bed and do the needful. To an outside observer, things would appear fairly normal. My depression takes a more subtle and insidious form. It’s an undertow of self-apathy that occasionally sneaks in and slowly takes over my life. And it’s time I, and all the others who share this experience, start to talk about it.

It’s difficult to articulate how it feels when depression wraps itself around you, without any discernable cause.

That’s the trap with insidious depression; it’s difficult to talk about it without feeling like you sound ridiculous. People with depression have good jobs. They are strong and have supportive friends. They enjoy amazing adventures and see beautiful places. All the while, they also have this internal gremlin that randomly provides updates on the futility and irrelevance of their continuing to exist. Shame, guilt, depressive feelings all combine to keep the struggle silent and invisible.

If you’ve ever been involved with swimming or water activities, the first lesson lifeguards offer about drowning is how it doesn’t look like drowning. A person at risk of drowning might try to signal for help, but when the situation becomes life threatening, it’s more common to keep silently dropping down until they can no longer break the water’s surface.

This is the imagery I use in describing why depression steals so many incredible people away from us. Through suicide, yes, but also people lost in the destruction of families, relationships, jobs, or basic human interaction.

Depression should not be confused with low self-esteem or being introverted. For the most part, people with depression can feel pretty amazing at times. Life is beautiful. Engaging with others is a joy. Then from nowhere comes an almost overwhelming sense of nothingness. Rather than becoming unable to work or care for themselves, people with this type of depression function day-to-day; even while their gremlin causes them to doubt that their existence contributes much. They slowly erode into the background.

In some ways, this slow creep of depression when everything appears to be fine can be very difficult to pinpoint. I’ve been in social situations where my presence suddenly (and wrongly) felt completely irrelevant. I pulled back from others and didn’t engage or contribute anything because I was consumed by a sense of nothingness. To an outside observer, this response could be interpreted as being ‘aloof’ or ‘uninterested’. Both of which I’ve heard before, and neither of which could be further from the truth. I want to connect with others; sometimes my depression is too big a barrier.

So, what can you do when the gremlin starts to take hold? I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you what I do.

First, it helps to know your signs and signals. When negative self-talk starts tending toward depression, find ways to mitigate. I get outside and go for a run. Being around others and moving disrupts my circular thinking…effectively shutting up the gremlin for a bit. Bonus feature – things seem different after exercise. I have a new perspective. It’s not a cure-all by any means, but it is usually enough to get me back to level again.

Running might not be your thing, the point is to find activities or actions that help you get back to yourself.

Second, talk to people. When you are struggling it may seem impossible to reach out. Do it anyway. Reach out to people who give you energy and not attempt to problem-solve your depression away.

If the people in your life are unable to support you, or things get bad, reach out to a professional. Yes, cost can be a barrier and it’s uncomfortable to talk about personal things to a complete stranger. Do it anyway. Pretend you’re helping a friend out of the water, except that friend is you.

Third, that gremlin in your head is a liar. You matter. Stick with it. Every day you have an impact on people in ways you may never realize. Tell your story, and speak your truth. We need you.

Suicide and crisis resources:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Online chat also available at

For any type of crisis, you can text anonymously with a trained crisis counselor by texting HOME to 741-741

The Trevor Project provides suicide prevention and crisis intervention resources to LGBTQ youth:
1-866-488-7386 or