For most of my adult life I believed that depression was just a damn good excuse to throw a “moody”. That was probably because thus far I’ve been one of those lucky people that can have a bad day, a bad week or even longer and shake it off with the, possibly mistaken, tenet that the glass is always half full.
A couple of years ago someone very very close to me was diagnosed with Clinical Depression. For the first time in my life I had first-hand knowledge of what a really serious, debilitating, horrible disease it is. The frustration I felt in not being able to do anything else but be supportive and loving was heart rending because for the sufferer however much that may help it is nowhere near enough to lighten their dark – that has to come from within and that takes expert professional help.
Like most of us I was deeply shocked and saddened by the recent news of Robin Williams’ death. Apparently a suicide and motivated by his long term battle with depression.
We are talking about Mork from Ork, the outrageous DJ in Good Morning Vietnam, Mrs Doubtfire, the Genie in Aladdin the zany stand-up who would wreak havoc and leave us in stitches every time he performed. Rich and famous, loved by millions how the hell could he be depressed?
He had well documented battles with drugs and alcohol and apparently some money worries, his ranch was on the market for close to $30 million but he also had a loving wife and three loving children and no doubt the wherewithal to deal with his problems but depression doesn’t rely on demographics or the bank balance. It is, however, now known that he was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s Disease which no doubt must have been a major contributory factor.
The sad truth is that depression in the over 50s is on the increase.
The reasons are manifold. Psychologist and coach Susan Quilliam explains “Depression can arrive unheralded, perhaps due to an inborn tendency or perhaps to early experiences creating vulnerability. Life events and situations which seem outside our control can often trigger depression.” Redundancies can create a feeling of intense failure. Divorce or death of a loved one can lead to loneliness. Women can feel unattractive and defeminised. Men can feel emasculated and de-motivated. Or, like Robin Williams, they are diagnosed with a serious life altering or threatening illness. Whatever the reasons most people will cope but some just can’t.
The problem is compounded further by the fact that to a great extent when people suffer depression they may not recognise it or they blame themselves for their mental state and so add to the bad feeling.
If you think you may be suffering or if you think someone close to you is suffering there are specific signs to be aware of:
1. Depressed or sad mood
2. Anhedonia (loss of interest in pleasurable activities)
3. Sleep disturbance (increased or decreased sleep)
4. Appetite disturbance (increased or decreased appetite) typically with weight change
5. Energy disturbance (increased or decreased energy/activity level), usually fatigue
6. Poor memory and/or concentration
7. Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
8. Psychomotor retardation or agitation (a change in mental and physical speed perceived by other people)
9. Thoughts of wishing you were dead; suicidal ideation or suicide attempts
The positive news is that there are effective and long term treatments available to everyone. The first step must always be a visit to your local GP. who may prescribe medication, direct you to counselling or refer you to specialist psychiatric care.
Susan Quilliam comments “There are many forms of help available, and there is no need for anyone to suffer. Anti-depressants can ease the symptoms by altering the brain’s responses, while therapy can provide the support we need to rethink attitudes to life, regain our energy and take action to sort problematic life situations. However, and this is vital, the patient themselves is the most powerful force to come out of the “dark tunnel” they have been in. The more they are aware of their own self-worth and deal with whatever the causes have been the easier it will be for them to move on with their lives.”
Quilliam adds “Depression can be hugely relieved – and once it has been, the person suffering will be much better able to spot when they are feeling low once more and get help”
“So if you are suffering from depression, do talk to your GP right away. If you are supporting someone with depression, do everything you can to encourage them to do just this”
In my personal experience the loved one has come through the “tunnel” and whilst they are aware the disease may still exist they are a wonderful of example of the old adage – “The first step to dealing with a problem is recognising there is a problem”.
The organisations listed below are the leading authorities on dealing with Depression and will happily offer free help and advice –
– http://www.depressionalliance.org (all the information in all the colours in all the sizes)
– www.depressionuk.org (self help groups)
– www.samaritans.org (emergency help, not only for those who are suicidal)
Huge thanks to Susan Quilliam for her contribution to this article –
Susan Quilliam – BAHons Psych, University of Liverpool, PGCEd University of Liverpool, DipNLP, MNLP, Accredited teacher-trainer CCI UK/Belgium
Susan Quilliam is a psychologist with particular focus on personal relationships. She works as an advice columnist, writer, broadcaster, consultant, trainer and coach.
Susan has also written 21 self development books published in 33 languages.