Thursday, 14 August 2014

Depression does not discriminate

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In light of the tragic news of Robin Williams' death I have decided to push through with this blog in particular before my planned switch-over blog.

It has been reported that Robin Williams was found dead today (11 August) after a suspected suicide. Williams had previously been open about past drink and drug issues and was said to be suffering from severe depression. Made famous by his wacky role in Mork and Mindy, Williams became a household name starring in much treasured movies such as Good Morning, VietnamDead Poets SocietyHookMrs. DoubtfireJumanjiFlubberGood Will Hunting and many more to boot.



Pictures from IMDb


Waking up this morning, I immediately felt a dark fog clouding my brain and one word screaming out for attention; SUICIDE.

People generally have very strong views about suicide. Why wouldn't they? It's a hugely selfish act to commit... right...?

WRONG!

Suicide goes against the very nature of human beings. Self preservation is universal amongst almost all living organisms. It is a behaviour that ensures the survival of an organism. This behaviour includes pain and fear. Pain motivates one to withdraw from a situation and fear causes one to seek safety. However, both pain and fear are also linked to adrenaline which increases strength and the senses.


You must have heard the phrase "Adrenaline Junkie"? Adrenaline is a hormone and neurotransmitter secreted by the medulla of the adrenal glands. It is present in our bodies and is known to excite the fight-or-flight responses in our sympathetic nervous system. I don't wish to get too technical in this particular blog however if you have any further questions about the sympathetic nervous system or neurotransmitters in general please give me a shout and I can provide you with further information.

I digress. Adrenaline can be addictive and overcoming this addiction can be one of the most challenging psychological experiences a person has to deal with. When adrenaline initially enters a person's body, it can cause panic and discomfort. This can lead to a further release of adrenaline. This increased production eventually causes the individual to become conditioned to needing production for every day functioning. Following the initial discomfort caused by increased adrenaline, after an extended period, it can have an antidepressant effect. 


I have written a few blogs now discussing suicide but none of them have gone into much detail. I have also written a blog about how depression can affect absolutely anyone. In the wake of Robin Williams' death I have been horrified to hear phrases such as "why is he so depressed, he has everything?" Or "he laughed so much, how could he be depressed?". These statements and more besides just highlight for me the level of ignorance of the general public. 

Depression does not care if you are rich or poor. Of course, those who do have money have better access to treatment but it doesn't mean that they ought to get better quicker. Mental illness is a lifetime affliction. There is no "quick cure". A lot of people who suffer manage to cope because they have the strength. 

Imagine waking up one morning, the sun is shining, you smell your favourite breakfast cooking, you hear your beautiful children laughing and giggling nearby and your favourite song comes on the radio. That's a great way to start the day. But just imagine if you wake up in this scenario and you have a dark cloud looming over you. The sunshine hurts your eyes, you don't have the energy to even lift your head from the pillow the smell of that wonderful breakfast makes you want to be sick, the sound of your children's laughter makes your headache much worse and that song on the radio reminds you of when you used to be happy. What then? 

You can have everything in the world that you have wished for, everything you have worked for. You may have been blessed with a fortunate life, no illnesses, no financial struggles, an idyllic life if you will. This does not make you immune to depression. 

More often than not, depression will take you unawares. Did you know that one in four people will suffer severe depression in their lifetime? There are people who live with chronic depression, these individuals may be able to recognise signs of a depressive episode and divert it but it's not gone forever. It will be back. 

Some time ago, I read a perfect analogy on depression;

Imagine one day you wake up and you've got small pieces of string tied from your arms to your bedpost it confuses you for a moment but you untie them from your bed but realise it's impossible to get them off your wrists. You leave them on and go about your day, you practically forget about them but every now and then they snag on something and you're reminded that they are there.  Now, imagine you have to do this every day and every day they get a little heavier. From stings they turn to rope and then into chains until suddenly you're carrying these huge heavy chains with you wherever you go. You can't think about anything else. Everything else loses meaning because you have lost your ability to focus. The chains are all you can think about. You seem to be the only person with these chains. You can't see anyone else with them. You feel that everyone is laughing at you as they watch you struggle to heave around these heavy chains. Occasionally, you find someone who can hell you with the weight of these chains but you can't help but wonder how long it will be before they leave. This is depression. This is what it feels like. Those chains never leave. They never get lighter. The chains are invisible to everyone around you so no one realises they're there. 


This is depression. For the writer, for me and I'm sure for many other people affected. 

Depression IS real. It DOES exist. People's attitudes need to change quickly towards this "invisible illness" before more vulnerable lives are lost. 

I know many people who don't believe in mental illness. One such individual I believe is actually suffering himself. He has spent his younger years serving in the British Army and recently finished his service. He doesn't seem to be adjusting to civilian life very well. He has taken to drink and drugs seemingly to numb his brain to every day life and even went so far as to beat his girlfriend in front of their daughter. His girlfriend suffers mental health issues and whenever she tried to turn to him for support, he would simply mock her. These individuals are the ones who need he most amount of help. 

Did you know that the suicide rates in the UK in 2009, 2010 & 2011 were 5675, 5608 & 6045 respectively with male suicides in 2011 being the highest since 2002. (BBC news). It has been speculated that the high suicide rate in the UK is mostly down to unemployment and austerity measures. According to research conducted by the Samaritans, mental health issues of middle aged men and the loss of masculine pride and identity are also major factors behind the high rate of suicide. 


Have you (men) ever been told to "suck it up" or "get over it"? Women face this too but it has a more profound effect on men. Depression knows no gender yet stigma does. Have you heard the phrase "man up!"? I'm sure you have. Male or female, people are often told to man up and "face your problems". Why man up? Why not woman up? Because men are "supposed to be stronger". Boys don't cry right? WRONG! Of course they do! Where did society pick up this notion? It's bad and it's dirty and it marginalises men who may have depression or any other mental health issue. 

I recently came across an article looking at victimisation in men and women with severe mental illness. The abstract is as follows;

The problem of violence against individuals with severe mental illness (SMI) has received relatively little notice, despite several studies suggesting an exceptionally high prevalence of victimization in this population. This paper describes the results of an investigation of the prevalence and correlates of past year physical and sexual assault among a large sample of women and men with SMI drawn from inpatient and outpatient settings across 4 states. Results confirmed preliminary findings of a high prevalence of victimization in this population (with sexual abuse more prevalent for women and physical abuse more prevalent for men), and indicated the existence of a range of correlates of recent victimization, including demographic factors and living circumstances, history of childhood abuse, and psychiatric illness severity and substance abuse. The research and clinical implications of these findings are discussed. The full paper can be purchased here


Suicidal behaviour does not necessarily make an individual suicidal. Personally, I suffer with suicidal ideation. This is a medical term for thoughts about or an unusual preoccupation with suicide. On a daily basis I have fleeting thoughts of suicide. Should I jump off this bridge? What if I threw myself into this water? Perhaps I ought to jump in front of this train. This is not to say that I would actually go through with any of these actions. However, I have attempted to take my own life on several occasions. Recurrent suicidal behaviour and suicidal ideation is a "hallmark" of borderline personality disorder. It is also apparently comorbid with bipolar disorder. These are both things that I have been diagnosed with. Statistics show that 73% of patients with BPD have attempted suicide with the average patient having 3.4 attempts. 

I think that the media has a lot to answer for on the stigma of mental health but this is another discussion I will reserve for another time. 

So, in light of these issues, what can you, as an individual do? 

You can challenge the way you think about mental health. My intention here is not to change people's minds about how they think but simply to consider the impact of their thoughts on others. 

Tomorrow (14 August) I will be at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park at the Time to Change Village on the South Lawn. I will be there to speak with members of the public about my own experiences. There are a number of events taking place as well as opportunities to learn more about mental illness. I have it on good authority that Tom Daley will be present. All for free! If you're not busy tomorrow, come on down and say hello! 

There are many organisations you can become involved with in order to spread the word about the stigma faced by those who suffer.  You can educate yourself on matters. There is a whole wealth of information available, especially on the Internet. It is simply a matter of looking in the right places. If you would like further information on any of the issues raised, please feel free to email me with any questions or queries. 

In the UK, you can contact the Samaritans for help and advice. You can also contact Mind. 

If you think a friend may be depressed, speak to them. That's not to say ask them if they're depressed. Simply asking a person how they are doing can change their whole world around. Offer them a shoulder to lean on if that is what they need. On the other hand, it is important to give people space if they ask for it. Often it can be difficult to know which approach is the right one so simply asking is the easiest way around this quandary. More often than not, an individual will let you know one way or another. Failing this use your best judgement of the situation. 

If you are the one who is feeling depressed, try not to shut yourself away. Of course, I appreciate that sometimes it is what you need, however, it is important to try and maintain as normal a routine as possible. 

I shall try to resume more regular blogging and will be back very soon with a switchover blog. Those of you who are on my Facebook page will know what this is about! 

In the meantime, 

Keep Smiling :): 



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