Depression is the most common mental illness, which is unfortunate, because it’s also one of the strangest, and I think this fundamentally fucks up people’s intuitions about neurodivergence.

First: according to the research on DALYs, severe depression is worse than any mental disorder other than at this very moment being psychotic. Depression is worse than intellectual disability; it’s worse than autism; it’s worse than personality disorders; it’s worse than schizophrenia in the stages when you aren’t psychotic.

(This is confounded because many of the above conditions make you be depressed sometimes. However, in that case, the problem is still depression, and not the root condition.)

If you think about it, that totally makes sense. Other impairments are bad because they usually make you less happy. Depression is an impairment in your ability to feel happiness; it causes directly what other impairments cause indirectly. You can say “well, I can’t walk, but I’m happy anyway”, but you can’t say “well, I can’t experience pleasure, but I’m happy anyway.”

Take it from a borderline: if I had a choice between “your child will have borderline personality disorder but be magically protected from major depression” and “your child will be neurotypical except for recurring depressive episodes”, I would pick the former. No question.

Arguments that one position is less oppressed than another position are always fraught. I would like to emphasize that this is contextual; it is perfectly possible that one depressed person has experienced more oppression than another autistic person has. I want to be clear that I am not saying that depressed people do not experience ableism; of course they do. As an assigned female at birth trans person, I experience less transphobia than an assigned male at birth trans person, but my experiences of transphobia are still very real and hurtful. And I’d like to say that this is based only on my observations, which are necessarily limited.

But: I’ve noticed that it is relatively common for people who don’t have depression, or people who have depression and other comorbid conditions, to try to pass as depressed people when it comes up. Conversely, it’s relatively rare for a depressed person to try to pass as, say, a schizophrenic person who’s currently in remission.

I think, in general, depressed patients tend to be treated better by the psychiatric system. As a borderline, I am likely to get psychiatric care from someone who thinks of borderlines as manipulative, treatment-resistant, and attention-seeking. Autistic children are routinely subjected to therapies intended to normalize them, often using unethical treatment methods. In general, depressed/anxious people seem to be the most likely to assume that the only problem with therapy is that not enough people are getting it.

Looking at this post about kinds of stigma neurodivergent people face: depressed people are almost never considered Monsters, which both means that other people are less likely to consider them inherently evil and that locking them up for other people’s protection is safely out of the Overton window. Victim is also relatively uncommon in my experience: while depressed people’s lives are often presented as miserable, people don’t usually seem to use this to erase their personhood or other interests.

So I think in general depressed/anxious people will have more accurate intuitions about other neurodivergences if they assume that the experience of the neurodivergence itself is less awful than they would naively assume and that how people treat you is worse.