Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mental Health 104 - Depression, the powerful dog who sneaks up on us ...

About 10 years ago, I worked with a bright young man we’ll call Richard, who was reported to me.  One day, he didn't show for work, and we were told he was unwell.

It was 3 months before he appeared in work again, and we were all a bit concerned for him.  But Richard asked that we didn't enquire about what happened.  So we left it at that.

But then, 9 months later, he fell unwell again, and vanished again for a similar amount of time.  I just happened to be in the lift with a cleaner who was good friends with both myself and Richard, when she said to me “it’s a shame about Richard depression isn't it?”.

She looked shocked when I mentioned that Richard hadn't told me, but I mentioned how glad I was she’d told me.  I tried to be very gentle about it with Richard, but stumbled into a conversation on mental health, and talked a little about my own experiences.  It’s so important with people fighting this battle you don’t try and give glib solutions, but show real empathy.

Bit by bit over weeks of chatting I got some of the picture – it’s a story I've heard now from too many others.  The first year it’d happened it came out of the blue.  But the second time, there had been signs.  It’d started when he was at his aunt’s funeral and realised how she was one of the last of her generation.  It wasn't a crushing feeling, but he felt really down about it.

He thought he was being silly and would be okay, but those dark thoughts just grew and grew.  He didn't want to go the doctors because he thought it’d pass.  But then one day he realised he just couldn't get out of bed it was just impossible.

That might be difficult for anyone who has never felt that depressed to get, but this is a video which explains a lot about how people with depression can feel,

Looking at my own experiences, and talking openly with peers about them, I've come to a realisation of sorts.  As we get older we learn the rhythm of lows.  It’s a mixed blessing – but talk to someone who has suffered from any mental illness for some time, and they will tell you that the raft they cling to during the lows is that they've got through this before, and so they know deep down they can get through it again.

They also get better at noticing the early signs, and seeking help at that point.  This is important - notice early, take action before your depression has become unmanageable and large, and you're a good way to keeping yourself mentally healthy.

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