This wonderful collection of comics about depression brought together by Buzzfeed has been doing the rounds on facebook for a number of days now. It includes this classic post from Hyperbole and a Half on depression, which is the best thing I have ever seen online.
Despite being so prevalent that it is described as ‘the common cold’ of mental illnesses, depression seems to rarely show up on screen. I’m also underwhelmed by most of the written accounts of the condition. My guess would be that these mediums struggle because at a given moment the experience of someone with or without depression are not that different. Feeling sad, tired, apathetic or lacking in self esteem are a regular occurrence for ‘healthy’ people too. The distinction is that a depressed person faces these emotions with stultifying monotony.
That makes for terrible TV or cinema. While somebody suffering from hallucinations or a panic attack is unusual and therefore dramatic, somebody doing ordinary things with less energy and joy is not. Nor does writing tend to be an adequate tool for capturing the numbing normality of depression.
Comics, however, are ideal. The world of comics is often weird and so is having depression. They also thrive on making the abstract real. They make the metaphorical representations of the illness as real for others, as they are for the sufferers who devised them: a figurative black dog becomes real and we can understand what it is like to constantly be pursued by a spectre bent on disrupting your life.
Comics are often thought of as a trivial medium but in discussing depression they are doing serious work. They allow the authors a way to express their pain. They let fellow sufferers know they are not alone. And most importantly it gives ‘healthy’ people a way to decode the bewildering experiences of those with the illness.