7th April is the WHO International Health Day, this year focused on depression. 300 million people across this planet are suffering from depression right now. By my calculations, that is equilivant to nearly five times the UK population and roughly 4% of the world population. It is the biggest mental health issue today, accounting for two thirds of brain disorders. Why do I care so much? I am one of those 300 million.
I am not writing this for sympathy or likes. I hope to raise awareness of this disability. Its a long post, I hope you can take some time out to read.
It may be helpful to clearly define what depression is:
* a persistent sadness and loss of interest with an inability to carry out daily activities, over a period of at least 14 days
* with some or all of the following conditions: – loss of energy ; change in appetite; change in sleep pattern; anxiety; reduced concentration; indecisiveness; worthlessness, guilt or shame; critical rumination; self harm or suicidal thoughts
* depression is not the same as stress or grieving , although they can lead to it
I heard a quote that I think best defines it – “the opposite of depression is not happiness, its vitality.”
Over the last twenty years key medical advances in the treatment of cancer, heart disease, stroke and AIDS have helped save many lives, albeit that too many people still suffer and die from those illnesses. A significant factor in the improvements of the treatment of those illnesses has been the development of earlier identification and intervention.
Mental health illness is going against these trends and is increasing. Suicide linked to depression now accounts for 90% of deaths amongst 15-25 year olds. In the UK suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45. Every 40 seconds, across this beautiful planet, a person takes their own life.
Studies have shown that the change in behaviour which may highlight someone is suffering are visible in the latter phase of depression. There is still a lot unknown about depression, is it a brain chemistry change, are some people more prone than others, how much is linked is linked to physiological events etc.
What is clear is that the brain is the most wonderful, beautifully complex and unfathomable thing we each have.
Today there are three key interventions, the third of which is the focus of the campaigns that the WHO and others are promoting:
* psychological therapy
As a global society we need to work towards the removal of the stigma, prejudice and discrimination that can be the reaction. Personally:
* Through shame I could not accept I was depressed and couldn’t say the word for a long time, even when talking to health professionals
* I didn’t accept depression was a serious illness. “Cancer is serious not depression, right?” Wrong, aside from the link to suicide, it’s a major disability and can shorten life expectancy.
I am lucky that through a work health scheme I could get to see a therapist, which has played a key part in my management of the condition. On the NHS there is approximately a 12 month waiting list for that treatment. Its estimated that in western, developed countries approximately 50% of sufferers do not receive the right timely support. In developing countries that can be as high as 90%.
I applaud the current campaigns in the media by such groups as Mind and Heads Together, the latter created by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, to help raise awareness. I recognise the bravery of the high profile people, such as those in sports, media and arts, who have spoken about their own battles with depression. However for me it’s the stories of people, those who work in offices, shops, parents etc whose voice we need to hear, to make it more relatable and to ensure its not seen as part of celebrity.
Anyone, anywhere can be effected.
We need to create a society where we talk about how we feel and our emotions without pressure or judgement. We need a compassionate society.
I have learnt so much about myself and new ways of thinking. It’s not reinventing yourself – it’s being authentic and true, living with your imperfections. I now recognise I have had varying degrees of depression for many years and probably could be Oscar nominated for the amount of acting I have done in the past, to cover it up. Only by finally talking about it, did I take the first step to acknowledge that. A combination of medication, meditation, talking therapy and self therapy (painting and music) have helped me. Most importantly I had a support network-alongside the few friends who knew, my family, especially my fabulous wife, have supported me without question
So here is the key bit – It’s okay to talk about how you feel and if you are not ok. This can lead to the earlier intervention which make a real difference.
I cannot express how much two long overdue conversations in December helped me – one with my wife and one with two friends at work. Those conversations were not coherent, I couldn’t explain how I felt or why. But in both conversations, they simply listened and encouraged me to seek professional help.
If you find yourself talking to someone in the same position I was, please listen carefully, don’t judge and please don’t offer platitudes like’ cheer up’. Solutions can be unnecessary , don’t feel you need to offer one – just be there. (based on guidelines from Mind).
And if you feel like I did or are feeling stressed or anxious – please talk to someone you trust to do the above. It will make the difference.
If you would like to leave a comment, that’s fine I don’t mind if you do or don’t. Maybe I’ll write future posts about some of the things I have learnt, about slowing down and living in the present reality, not the illusion your mind tells you.
The last couple of Friday’s I have posted a music link , which has been part of my self-therapy. I love many bands, there have been key ones that get played a lot. I know it’s trendy to not like them, this week it’s Coldplay. One of the imperfections I love of myself is dancing like Chris Martin, arms and legs moving with no rhythm and randomly through the air. This has been witnessed through out our house by family, but it’s at its best when everyone else is out and the music can be loud! While this is a cheesy video, it’s such a uplifting song to me, made for jumping around …A Head Full of Dreams
Thank you for reading