I have experienced bouts of depression since I was 13. The most astonishing thing for me, in others reception of this, is not that they react with pity, embarrassment or judgement. These three are often associated with the coming out of the closet as it were with depression. The one reaction that I have received repeatedly has been denial.
This is a strange habit, that I haven't been alone in coming across and is a response that stems from depression sufferers just as often as the depression free. As a teenager, getting to grips with a very complex mental illness, I was consistently told it was adolescent hormones. I knew it was something different because of the patterns. It didn't come on a day to day basis, but periodically, at almost the same points each year, lasting for just over two months, coming on and slipping away in distinctly perceptible phases. This denial was something that really exasperated me growing up, but something that I believe originates, especially where parents are concerned, from a desire not to put it in a separate box that hangs, bogey man like, over day to day life. If it is written off as something less medical, and denied the official terminology, it's just a confusing feeling that will go away. When I realised that what I was feeling was depression, that it was a specific 'thing' and was something that could be delved into and explained, I actually felt better about it, not worse. It became something manageable after years of just putting it down to inexplicable and contradictory feelings that might one day decamp.
Since acknowledging that the very dismal phases I encounter are the effects of depression, I have noticed that the people trying to tell me I have it all wrongly labeled, fall into these two brackets. I have to admit, I have been guilty of the first. That of people who also suffer from depression, so refuse to accept that you might feel the same. Depression is such a solipsistic illness that the cliched 'you don't understand me' we have all been caught shouting at a spouse, parent or friend whilst in the depths of a black hole holds less gravity if you accept that you share your confused head space with an estimated quarter of the population. Something that I have grown out of the older I have got is a destructive pleasure in how I feel. As a teenager I revelled in it, and felt oddly proud that I was able to feel to such extremes. I managed to shake this off in my early twenties with the awareness that I was acting like a twat and needed to pull myself together. Whilst this hasn't removed the base feelings, it has definitely made them more manageable. I now respect my mind as something that is equally valuable when fill to bursting with endorphins as when it's writing at 2am in a moody funk. But people tend to want a slice of it to themselves. In my first year at art college I naively told my tutor that my work was about depression. As a woman who enjoyed announcing to the class how many valium she had taken that morning, she snapped at me that I should be more careful about claiming I experienced depression, and that many people thought they had it who didn't. I indignantly relayed this story to a friend, who told me I had too good a life to have depression and laughed it off.
This brings me to the second half. People who have never experienced it, so write you off as being melodramatic and self pitying (I just looked up 'self pity' in google and the first suggestion was 'self pity and depression'). I know numerous people who have experienced this with their GP. Upon going to find help, they have been told it's not a 'real' illness. One friend was told by her doctor;
"Look at you, you're gorgeous, what could you have to be depressed about?"
I understand that if it is something that has never personally come up, it is hard to relate to someone who thinks their life is unravelling a week after you saw them dancing around with sunshine on their heels. For parents and partners with a more rational control on their feelings, trying to relate to something so inconsistent and intangible must be bewildering.
But here is where the attitude should change. We should be educated at a much earlier age. I don't think I heard the term depression at school, ever, and whilst sex education and physical issues are addressed, mental health is rarely ever discussed throughout these formative years. It becomes a bogus subject that is associated with very extreme cases. As a sustained, physically natural and very common illness, it is barely touched on. I wouldn't say I ever felt a shyness in talking about it, but I have definitely always felt an embarrassment that I'll be shot down. For anyone who has experienced it, you should be able to allow another to feel it, and allow them to talk about it rather than dealing in one-up-man-ship. For those that haven't, the taboo of the word as something self gratifying needs to be broken. The big news is, loads of us have it. It's horrible, it's confusing, and despite these personal denials, we are in recent years being given figures showing quite how many people live with it. We are neither special nor miserablists for having it, we simply have it, and you don't necessarily show public, outward signs or have a string of suicide attempts behind you to still suffer. It would be a huge help, if we all offered a hand out to those who are bold enough to open up and ask for it.
Standing back from thoughts and just observing them can help to highlight unhelpful patterns of thinking that may be causing someone to feel depressed. For more advice visit www.feeling-blue.co.uk or European Depression Association
Talking things through with a friend or family member can help to lessen the burden of negative thoughts and can sometimes help to find a solution. For more advice visit www.feeling-blue.co.uk or European Depression Association
This can be a way of meeting people who are going through the same things, which can provide great support and understanding. GP practices should have a list of what is available in the area. For example, they might like to contact RELATE if they have relationship problem or Cruse if their depression has been triggered by loss or bereavement. For more advice visit www.feeling-blue.co.uk or European Depression Association
Finding out what someone likes doing and helping them to do it can be beneficial. It could be shopping, listening to music, watching a movie, having a massage – little things all count. Draw up a list of things they enjoy and suggest they do one of them at least three or four times a week. For more advice visit www.feeling-blue.co.uk or European Depression Association
Paying attention to simple physical needs such as eating, sleeping and exercise can all help alleviate mild-to-moderate depression. For more advice visit www.feeling-blue.co.uk or European Depression Association
Some studies suggest omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12 -especially if nutrient levels are low - may ease the mood changes that are part of depression. Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel contain omega-3 fatty acids. So do flaxseed, nuts, soybeans, and dark green vegetables. Seafood and low-fat dairy products are sources of B12. Most people don’t consume enough of these foods and they may need a supplement to obtain optimum benefits. For more advice visit www.feeling-blue.co.uk or European Depression Association
Once they start feeling a bit better taking up a new hobby or activity at the weekend or at an evening class can help lift mood still further. Good options include joining a book club, a knitting circle or having a go at the local pub quiz? This can help to break the vicious circle of loneliness and spending too much time dwelling on negative thoughts. For more advice visit www.feeling-blue.co.uk or European Depression Association
Talking therapies usually involve meeting with a trained therapist either alone or in a group where people talk about their problems and try to find a solution. They may be offered psychotherapy and general counselling. But according to NICE, the most effective treatment for depression is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which should be offered to people by their GP. It shows people how to replace unhelpful negative thoughts, which could be contributing to their depression with more realistic and balanced ones. There are also a number of Internet-based CBT programmes, which research suggests are helping many more people get help with their depression. The reason? They can access them at home in their own time. For more advice visit www.feeling-blue.co.uk or European Depression Association
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