"He didn't die by suicide, he died from depression", said quite a few people on the social media networks this week about the actor and comedian Robin Williams. One pointed out that when a person dies of cancer, we don't identify the embolism, or morphine overdose, or cardiac syncope, that was the precise and immediate cause of death, we blame the whole disease, not the immediate presenting symptom.
A very great many people suffer from depression, and thankfully few of us suffer it as badly as Mr Williams, and with fatal consequence. But many need, and some use, medication, cognitive behavioural therapy, silence, music, yoga, meditation, walking, and other ways of keeping what Sir Winston Churchill, who suffered it badly, called "the Black Dog" at bay.
I notice more and more the casual idioms of our culture - "you all right, then?" "cheer up" "chin up" "worse things happen at sea" "never mind" "it'll be all right" "it's all for the best" "smile for the camera" - all designed to squeeze away any possible space for admitting things are not OK, and happiness is for the time being unthinkable. And that most uncomfortable thought for the healthier mind - that it might be OK not to be OK. After all, if my unhappiness is reality, might not your happiness be illusion? It's all rather threatening.
In a culture geared up to maximise the possibilities of success - and therefore of failure - the chances of depression which is geared in part to external circumstances are enhanced. You take a job, it's rubbish, you get crushed by it, you have to leave, you're unemployed, earning nothing, worthless, the spiral spins downwards. It can happen as much to the high achievers - the intensity of expectation that last time's triumph will be trumped again, and funders and backers and fans and all who thrive on other people's success, will be so dismayed if you fail. The pressure is intense. Even just being a parish priest, as a custodian and messenger of the Good News, to sit there at the front of the church with a long face, is to have failed in your ministry.
There is no cure. Some depressives hit good times that never end, and bravo for them. Some live always conscious that below the plank are crocodiles; and some fall off it. But if I have a plea it is for it to be OK not to be OK. That bad days are no one's failure, and if someone in answer to your kindly question says "actually, it's a bit rubbish", that's no reflexion on you, nor a challenge to make it any better. In fact, by just listening, allowing your friend to tell the truth, and by being yourself - because it's their life, not yours - and then making, or accepting, coffee or tea or whatever, you may be making it better. Just allow it. Be a friend. It's OK to be not OK.