Depression, when there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

What is depression?Be the light for someone (1)

Depression is feeling alone, when you are surrounded by people.

Depression is feeling lost when you know your way.

Depression is feeling exhausted, when you have 10 hours sleep.

Depression is feeling empty, when you are full.

Depression is feeling numbness when you are overwhelmed with feelings.

Depression is death when you are very much alive.

There are so many ways to describe depression, some people can eloquently describe what their experience of depression feels like and some people can’t really put their finger on what it feels like.

That is the beast, the big black dog. Depression.

So, what is it? what is Depression?

Depression, or Major Depressive Disorders as it’s categorised in the Diagnostic Statistical manual (DSM 5) is the following –

For a person to be diagnosed with clinical depression, they would have to have
five or more of the following symptoms, including at least one of the first two,
for at least two weeks:

  • an unusually sad or irritable mood that does not go away;
  • loss of enjoyment and interest in activities that used to be enjoyable;
  • lack of energy and tiredness;
  • feeling worthless or feeling guilty when they are not really at fault;
  • thinking about death a lot or wishing they were dead;
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions;
  • moving more slowly or, sometimes, becoming agitated and unable to settle;
  • having sleeping difficulties or, sometimes, sleeping too much;
  • loss of interest in food or, sometimes, eating too much. Changes in eating habits may lead to either loss of weight or putting on weight.

As you can see depression is not a made-up disease.

It’s not just being a little sad about something, it’s not just being upset because your football team lost a game, or because your favourite reality star was kicked off whatever show they were on.

It is much, much more than that.

And I think that has been forgotten over the years. The language that we have used and the stigma we associate with being depressed has really taken away from the real and actual experience that depression is. We have become too flippant with our language. How often do we hear people say, “I’m so depressed…I don’t have enough money for….” or “I’m so depressed I couldn’t go out on the weekend,” or some other trivial, benign statement.

We have created many conversations about depression in recent years and there are plenty of campaigns about depression and anxiety, reminding us to look out for our mates, and asking people if they are okay, but are we really accepting? are we as accepting of someone experiencing depression as we are of someone with cancer?

No one chooses to have depression, just as no one would ever choose to have cancer.

Yet if someone is off work due to a ‘physical illness’ we send flowers and cards and care packages. Do we do the same if someone is off work as they are experiencing depression? Do we ring up to just check in, or drop by with some lasagne or a casserole?

Why not? Do we assume that someone with cancer suffers more that someone with depression? But how can that ever be measured? We can’t measure someone’s suffering and should we really?

How do we change the attitude of people when it comes to mental illness? How do we advocate for someone with mental illness? I really don’t know the answer to these questions, other than to create conversation, to talk about mental illness, to talk about depression, to be careful with the language that we use and understand the impact that our language and attitude can have on others.

We need to make it okay for someone to have depression because the depression is not going to go away if the person asks for help. It’s not going to go away if the person just cheers up, puts a smile on their face and get up to face the day.

Can you imagine saying these things to someone experiencing cancer, or heart disease, or some other physical illness? No because it would be an absurd thing to say. “Your cancer will get better if you just have a shower, get dressed and go outside….”

These are things that people with depression have heard. These are legitimate ‘helpful’ suggestions that people make.

And chances are the person has tried to get up and shower and put a smile on their face and it has not worked. All it has done has made them feel worse, it’s pushed them further down the black hole they find themselves in. And there is no light at the end of that tunnel. It is bleak and endless and full of ghouls.

My own personal experiences with depression were similar. I saw no light at the end of the tunnel, just pain and blackness that was just so endless, no release or escape. It felt like each day, each hour and each minute more heavy relentless bricks were being piled on and I was sinking further and further into a hole that I could see no way out of.

I have never felt like I had reasons to be depressed.

In fact the better I was doing in my life, the worse the depression got. It was like my mind was just preparing itself for it all to crash down, and when it did it was a self fulfilling prophesy. It was like  an “I told you so.” You don’t deserve happiness, or things to be going right. You deserve nothing.

And I would sink into the depths of nothingness for days, weeks, months until I was able to pull myself out, or medications would start working, or things would just start feeling easier. It stopped hurting to breathe and I would then get up, push on and brace for the next hurdle.

Today I know much more about depression, and am often able to ‘catch’ myself before I begin to fall. I have learnt to identify early warning signs, I take regular medication that makes me feel what I like to describe as ‘the real me’ and I understand the psychology behind mental illness.

And by writing this blog and talking about mental illness, sharing my story I want people to understand that depression is real, just as real as a physical illness we can see.

I am in no way saying that we can compare physical illness and mental illness. I have long advocated that this activity is just absurd because what is the point. What I will say is that everyone who experiences sickness or illness, or pain deserves to be treated as a human being. Their suffering needs to be acknowledged, tolerated and supported.

If you would like some more information about depression, please check out the following resources –

Mental Health First Aid – Depression guidelines

Beyond Blue – The facts about depression

Sane Australia – Guidelines and facts about depression

So before you scoff next time you hear someone is off work for mental health reasons, or when someone tells you they have depression. Think about what you say and how you will respond.

If you  know someone who is suicidal, or if you’re feeling suicidal yourself please reach out, use these resources – and if you don’t get the answers you need, try someone else.

Suicide callback service – call 1300 659 467 – available 24/7

Lifeline – call 13 11 14 – available 24/7

Kids Helpline – call 1800 55 1800 – available 24/7

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Men’s mental health – paving the way for a healthy future.

Lets talk about mental illnessThis week the 11th – 17th June, marks 2018’s Men’s Health Week.

The theme for this year is Men and families: Making healthy connections.

Focusing on the healthy connections and family relationships, including how men and families focus on their health and the health of their family.

This infographic  looks at some of the major issues facing men today – physical health issues, alcohol consumption, exercise, sleep and nutrition.

It also outlines the top 3 causes of death for males, which are –

  1. heart disease,
  2. suicide
  3. motor vehicle accidents

Today I would like to talk about the mental health of males.

Because let’s be honest, it’s easy to talk about heart disease and motor vehicle accidents. We hear about it in the media, on the news, advertising campaigns, but it’s less easy to talk about mental illness.

Mental health is an issue for all. It does not discriminate, it can affect anyone and everyone.

It is vitally important to talk about because the more we talk about mental illness, the more we make it okay to talk about.

There are some amazing male mental health focused campaigns that have some really great information and resources –

Livin

Man up

SPUR

Man therapy

I’ve gotcha 4 life

Unfortunately, some men still seem to be hesitant, or uncomfortable talking about mental health or mental illness.

Why is that?

Time to Change.org asked the question of its followers and thousands of people replied – some of the responses included –

“Because a man is ‘strong and courageous’. Mental illness is something that is wrongly thought of as a weakness”

“Some men like to be looked upon as being strong and they think mental health is a weakness”

“Perhaps the thought of being portrayed as weak.”

“Being judged by other men. All about ego and stigma.”

Go check out some other insightful responses to the question they posed here.

Is the answer really that simple?

Men don’t want to be seen as weak?

If so then how do we make a change to something that may have manifested from childhood, when little boys are taught to supress any emotions.

The idea that little boys need to be tough, instead of being allowed to work through feelings and emotions really does impact a child’s capacity to learn about all ‘normal’ human emotions.

How often do we hear people say, “don’t cry, come on, boys don’t cry” or something similar – instead of “Its okay to cry, I understand that you are sad/angry/confused right now.”

So how do we make it okay for men to be able to talk to their peers about mental health, because we can’t change the past, we can’t change society’s view about what they thought of mental illness in the past.

What can we actively do to make it okay for our sons to talk about how they are feeling, to reach out when they are in crisis?

Talk to them about their feelings –

Simple, talk to them. Tell them about times you felt sad and how you managed it. Tell them it’s okay to be sad because it’s a normal human emotion. Make a discussion about feeling and emotions a regular and normal part of your communication with your family.

Check out Kids Matters for really simple things you can do to help encourage your children to express their emotions in healthy ways.

So what about adults, how do we make it okay, for men who have been raised with the belief that they should be seen as the providers, the leaders, not weak emotionally?

  • Just keep talking about it.
  • Challenge people you see who makes jokes about mental illness, or joke about peoples perceived weakness.
  • Talk to your mates about how you feel.
  • Reach out if you see something is not quite right with your friends.
  • Be open and honest about how you’re feeling.

It’s time to Challenge yourself. To step outside your comfort zone and stand up for your right as a male to have a healthy relationship with your feeling and emotions.

Pave the way for the future boys who are being taught its okay to be happy, sad and angry.

Discussing how you feel can save the life of someone who may not have the emotional capacity to say it themselves.

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Why we need to stop saying ‘Suicide is not the answer’.

Comfortable and chicThis week has seen several high-profile suicides, and it’s also sparked a multitude of posts from people talking about suicide, providing support and information, asking questions about suicide, creating conversation and unfortunately condemning those who have taken their life.

I have read some amazingly insightful and heartfelt posts from people who are sad, who understand the impact of suicide from either losing a loved one themselves, or from feeling suicidal at one point in their life.

We have also seen well-meaning posts that really do more impact and damage than people realise.

And that’s the important thing to remember –  the people are being well-meaning when they say these things. They care, and they feel empathy for the person who is in enough pain to take their life, so they say, ‘suicide is not the answer’ and end their post.

And they are right, suicide is not the answer, to the healthy, happy and well people out there. Because when you are well, and everything is going right for you, and you’re not in the deepest darkest pit you have ever been in in your life, suicide just seems so wrong.

But…to the person who sees no way out of their pain, to the person who has tried to seek help but it didn’t work, or they didn’t get the answers they needed, to the person who thinks the whole world would be much better off without them….suicide is the only answer.

That’s hard to hear.

It’s so hard to understand what it would be like to be in that much pain, to be that lonely or lost or just so very tired, it really is, and there is no way we can every understand what it would be like to be in that place.

No one ever wants to think that a person is in that much pain, and they want to stop it. They want to make it better for all people, so they write posts, without understanding the impact their language can have.

By saying ‘suicide is not the answer’……all you are doing is making the person who is feeling suicidal worse.

They know that it’s not always the answer, but it is the only answer they can see. And if it’s so wrong, but it’s the only way they can see out, then obviously they are a horrible and terrible person to think about doing something so wrong, and the cycle continues.

‘I’m feeling bad, the only way out I can see is suicide – but people say suicide is wrong – if it’s the only way out I can see I must be bad – I’m such a bad person I deserve to die.’

I absolutely think that the only way we are ever going to reduce the statistics of suicide in Australia, and globally is to talk about it.  To have conversations, to have debates, to learn and to actively stand up and try and make a difference.

I don’t want to condemn people who write well-meaning posts, I don’t want this blog to be hating on people, because through this conversation, someone may learn something, and that person will tell someone else, who may tell 10, and that is how change happens.

So keep having those conversations. keep writing those Facebook and twitter posts, but before you press enter, just take 5 minutes to think – is what I’m writing beneficial? Is it lacking in blame? Is my language correct?  Is this post going to help someone? If the answer is Yes – then go for it!!!

Another thing I want to clear up is that not only famous people take their life. Suicide is something that can affect people of all ages, all races, all socio-economic background – Everyone is at risk of suicide.

I read a post on Facebook that really made me so upset for the lack of understanding and compassion that some people have.

The person had written ‘this happens every year, always 3 people’.

Dear person who wrote that post – On the day that the famous person took their life, 8 Australians and  123 Americans also took their life.

So, no. It’s not always 3 people every year. It is so many many more.

So let me educate you –

  • In 2016, 2,866 Australians died by suicide.
  • 2,151 males and 715 females
  • Suicide rates have increased over the last 10 years

I’m not going to go into all the statistics, if you want more information  and more detailed statistics check out Mindframe here –

http://www.mindframe-media.info/for-media/reporting-suicide/facts-and-stats

I understand that when a celebrity takes their life people want to talk about it, they feel a connection with the person because they liked their singing, or their cooking, or the movies they made.

And I understand that people don’t always have the capacity to talk about suicide, it’s not something that they have ever seen in their life, they don’t know anyone who took their life, so when a celebrity takes their life, they want to talk about it.

And again – that’s great talk about it. Let’s create a global conversation.

But please be careful, please think about what you write, think about who might be impacted by what you write.

If you do know someone who is suicidal, or if you’re feeling suicidal yourself please reach out, use these resources – and if you don’t get the answers you need, try someone else.

Suicide callback service – call 1300 659 467 – available 24/7

Lifeline – call 13 11 14 – available 24/7

Kids Helpline – call 1800 55 1800 – available 24/7

If you would like to know more about how to support someone who is feeling suicidal, or you would like to learn how to identify the signs that someone might be feeling suicidal check out Mental Health First Aid Australia and look at their Mental Health First Aid for the Suicidal Person program.

(Or send me a message as I am a trained facilitator of this program, and other MHFA programs)

So please take care of yourself, give yourself a break. Know that you are loved and cared for, that you are amazing and resilient and very loved. You are a unique and amazing individual who has so much to give and so much to live for.

Please ask for help if you need it, please give someone a chance to prove to you how much of a fabulous human being you are.

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It’s okay to be sad – Letting go

On the weekend I had a sore back. I don’t know what I did, or why it was so sore, but it slowly got worse through the day and by dinner time, I was laying on the couch with a heat pack, in pretty much agony. My muscles had started spasming and my back was so sore, I was tensing my muscles so much that every time I moved my whole body felt like it was rigid.

I decided I was done with the day and got up to make a cup of tea to take with me to bed. I was standing in the kitchen bent over like a crippled old witch laughing at myself because it seemed so funny for some reason. My husband yelled from the lounge “Are you laughing or crying? I can’t tell”. Through my almost hysterical laughter I think I just spoke some gibberish at which point he realised I was incapable of functioning as an adult anymore and came and walked me to bed like a little child.

Something about the way he did this just opened the floodgates and I stood there, hunched over, one hand on the wall, one hand on the sock I was trying to take off and burst into sobbing, heaving tears. He came up to me, engulfed me in his arms, my face smashed in his ugly but snuggly dressing gown and I cried. He said to me “It’s okay to cry Al, sometimes you have to let it all out.” He put me to bed, tucked me in and by the next day my back had miraculously healed, only feeling a little tender.

A week later, something that my hubby said to me has stayed with me…..“It’s okay to cry Al.” He’s such a good man, and this is obviously something he has heard me say on several occasions. I probably talk about my feeling way more than he is comfortable with, but he very rarely sees me ‘lose it’. I pride myself on my ability to deal with and work through any emotions that I might have in a positive and healthy way, but this time I hadn’t. Something about that day, or the days preceding had been on my mind, and my body had manifested these issues. This incident has made me think that maybe I am very good at preaching but not very good at taking my own advice. Because my hubby is correct, it is okay to cry and sometimes you just have to get it all out. You have to ‘ugly’ cry, you have to shake it off, to exorcise all your feeling and emotions that may be building up, blocking your mind and body.

Sometimes it’s okay to just be sad. We are so busy trying to be what everyone else wants us to be, we have to put our face on when we go in public, pretend that everything is perfect in our Stepford lives, that nothing impacts us, nothing ever goes wrong, and we never have a bad day.

But we know that this isn’t true. We have bad days. Things that happen to us impact us, we obsess about comments people make about us, looks that we are given, emails we are sent. We know things go wrong, a lot! So why are we so scared to just say that? why do we feel that we need to be perfect all the time? Wouldn’t the word be so much brighter if we embraced our ‘wrongness’ we embraced the fact that we are our own type of perfect. And if we have a bad day, we allow our self to feel sorry for our self. To have a cry, to have a yell and just get all the negative energy out of our mind and body.

It wasn’t until a few days later that I understood the connection with my sore back and the things going on in my life. Nothing had physically happened to my back to make it sore, it just started during the day. I was able to really examine my feelings from the day, and from the weeks and months before that day to pin point what may have caused my body to start to seize up.

So I decided to listen to my body. My wonderful friend and I went to a ‘Deep Meditation and Relaxation’ class at the local Community centre, we sat and chanted and listened to the singing and guitar playing, we laughed about it afterwards, but it really was a great tool to remind me to let it go, let it all out. Whether it was being with a non-judgemental friend, who knows me so well, the type of friend you can let it all hang out with and they still love you. Whether it was being out in the community, joining a group of like-minded people, who didn’t care what they looked like or sounded like. Whether it was the guided meditation and the singing. I actually felt better afterwards and feel positive and happy today.

I need to allow myself to be sad, because let’s be honest, there are sad things happening. It was a great reminder of how important it is for me to be in tune with my mind and body and I have made a promise to myself to try and be more in tune with what my body tells me.

Next time body if you could just not make me feel like an old women, that would be appreciated.

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