"To say that you suffer from depression can no longer be taboo"

Entrevista a Edurne Pasaban

Edurne Pasaban, the first woman in the world to hike up fourteen 8,000 m mountains on the planet, gave a conference on her experience with depression, which she suffered from during the height of her professional career. The conference was given at the university during the presentation of this year's Festa Major, which will take place on 9 November under the name of “Mental Health, Visible and Without Stigmas at the UAB" (“La Salut Mental, visible i sense estigmes a la UAB").


- Is this the first time you speak of your depression in public?

- I have never hid the fact that I suffered from depression, but it is the first time I hold a confernence in which I can explain my experience and the consequences it has had on my life.
- Why did you decide to take this step?

- I think a university environment is the perfect place for it. It is a problem which affects today's youth much more than we think, and in the end, if you can be a reference point for them and explain what you have been through, people can feel more identified. We face a problem considered taboo and if a public person talks about it that can help many young people.
- What was your experience?

- In 2006, at the height of my sports career, when I was climbing 8,000 m high mountains and had already reached seven peaks, I fell into a very deep depression. I was 32 years old, an age in which many women start to think about a change in their lives. I had abandoned my career as an engineer to pursue my hobby, which was mountain climbing, and turn it into my profession, and I could see that I was different from all my friends. They worked more or less on things they had studied, they were beginning to get married, have children, and I had nothing similar. I felt separated from society and I was under a lot of pressure, from society, from my family and from the people surrounding me. “This is going to be your life? What will you do? Don't you think this is the time to settle down?”, people would tell me. And nobody thinks about you, about how much you enjoy what you are doing. The people surrounding you think that you must follow the steps marked by society, but that is not how it works. That is why I fell into a depression, I was hospitalised, first two months at the start of 2006, and months later I had to be hospitalised again. I tried to commit suicide twice. I always say that death is a lot closer here, in our normal life, than up there on the mountain.
- How did you overcome it?

- I was lucky enough o have help. I have faith in psychologists and medicine. I don't think there has to be a problem if you medicate yourself. If someone has problems with their thyroids, they take a pill and think nothing of it, so why should I not take one to take care of my mental problem or anxiety? At the end of 2006 I was feeling better, thanks to clinical help and also thanks to my family and friends, and I began to look at things differently.
But I continued to take pills until I had climbed all 14 of the 8,000 metre mountains. I have climbed 8,000 metre mountains and taken an anti-depressant right before doing it, because I believe in following out with a treatment. It is a serious mistake to stop just because you think you feel better.
- Where do you find yourself now?

- I feel very well. My story with my depression is part of my life, it exists and I have to be aware of that. In the end my life went on, I did what makes me most happy and I overcame depression. There are better moments and not so good ones, of course. I immediately notice when my mood is down, I'm tuned into it. It is important to know yourself so that you can take the necessary actions. I am at my best moment right now, I became a mother five months ago, which is one of the things I have had on my mind for many years. I became a mother at 43. There's time for everything in this life.
- How has your depression affected your personal and professional life?

- It has made me understand the people around me far more. I think I have more empathy with people now. Sometimes we do not realise that there are people who are suffering and we treat them as if they were acting strangely. My experience with depression has made me stronger and has helped me deal with life differently.
- What would you say to someone who is going through the same thing you went through?

- To ask for help and talk about it. Communicating is very important, telling their family or someone they trust about how they feel. Because you can tell immediately if you are feeling sad, if you are anxious or don't feel like doing anything. There is nothing wrong with saying it, it must not be a taboo. Depression is one of the most common disorders in our society, but it is one we speak about very little.
- Does society understand people who suffer from mental disorders?

- I don't know if it understands them, but I do think we close our eyes when faced with the problem. I think all of us has had a family member or friend who has, to some extent or other, suffered from depression or another mental disorder. Therefore, I don't think we do not understand it, because it is something we all have seen. Unfortunately, we live in a society in which we must be the best, and we cannot show any of our weaknesses. This is our biggest problem.
- What can we do to make mental health visible and destigmatise those who suffer from these disorders?

- Those of us who are public figures can help by not hiding what we have or what we have suffered and say it publicly, because this can show other people that overcoming these disorders is possible and we can end with the taboo.
Politically and at government level I think there is a lot of work to do. The fact that a university like yours has decided to dedicate the activities of its annual festival to mental health is very important, and shows us that the ones doing the most to normalise this is society.


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