Coping with depression
‘How do I know if I am depressed?’
Are there some days when everything just feels too much? Where life feels heavy, dark and difficult? I know when I have my moments of depression, my thinking feels fuzzy, my connections to myself others blurred or even broken.
Depression still seems a dirty word, a secret that cannot easily be shared. It’s easier to say I’m ok, or maybe a little off colour, a bit blue. And yet, it’s something that affects many people to an extent during their lives, and for some people it becomes a regular life-limiting experience.
We probably need to distinguish here between what are passing moments of feeling in a low mood, depressed and when there is a persistent feeling lasting over days or perhaps weeks. At its most severe, depression can be a life threatening condition which may need medical intervention.
There are many causes for depression such as being unable to express anger, memories of a difficult past experience, say in childhood, feeling trapped in a situation, physical health symptoms, inherited genes, substance abuse and alcohol and sometimes diet and lifestyle.
And depression, along with mental health issues, is far more common than we might imagine.
The Office of National Statistics has also gathered the following startling data (http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/naturalthinking_tcm9-161856.pdf p22). It reports that about one in six adults suffers from mental health problems at any one time:
Around 300 people out of 1,000 will experience mental health problems every year in Britain;
230 of these will visit a GP;
102 of these will be diagnosed as having a mental health problem;
24 of these will be referred to a specialist psychiatric service; and
6 will become inpatients in psychiatric hospitals.
Of those visiting their doctor with a mental health issue, around 10% report experiencing depression. (ONS (2000) Psychiatric morbidity among adults living in private households in Great Britain)
One of the realities when seeking help from health professionals in anything but the most serious cases is that depression is often treated with chemical interventions. A recent report in the Guardian showed how consumption of anti-depressants has gone up significantly year on year during the recession. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/may/28/-sp-antidepressant-use-soared-during-recession-uk-study
Interestingly it shares the view that GPs are more likely to prescribe medication when there are long waiting lists for talking therapies.
There is no doubt medication has an important role to play in treating or alleviating the symptoms of depression. But some people may be reluctant to take on medication from a fear of developing a dependency. There may be cultural pressures too in certain groups, to ‘keep you chin up’ or just ‘grin and bear it.’
However, there are other avenues of support to explore which, while they may not be appropriate for everyone with depression, may offer some relief. Of course counselling is one of those. It’s unlikely to be a quick fix. I know in my own experience that it can take some time and a lot of trust to peel back the layers of well-developed protection to find what was at the heart of my own depression. And in uncovering that, there was also a shift to new possibilities opening up in my life.
I found Thomas Moore’s Dark Nights of the Soul a great read on this subject. In his introduction (pXIV) Moore says ‘A true dark night of the soul is not a surface challenge but a development that takes you away from the joy of your ordinary life… This is not just a feeling but a rupture in your very being….’ That certainly resonated with me; I felt at the darkest times, that depression went to the absolute heart of who I was and how I was in the world.
I also came to know that depression as a deeply creative place. When I started to really open myself to it and acknowledge it, unexpected things happened. I composed music and returned to poetry after many years, as I explored my depression more and more deeply with the support of my own counsellor at the time.
With the support of a counsellor you can have a companion on this journey who will, of course, help to alleviate some of the symptoms of depression but perhaps also uncover some of the unexpected treasures it may have to offer.
Author: Matt Fox, Counselling In Totnes, Paignton and Newton Abbott
Image copyright Nabil Hasan Rizvi licensed under creative commons