Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Depression - a timely reminder

Depression is a subject that comes to the fore in the media on a regular basis. It has been in the headlines over the past few days for various reasons, including a new book, 'Reasons to stay Alive' by Matt Haig and some sportspeople talking openly about their own depression. 

Primarily though, the subject of depression hit the headlines due to a non-accidental air crash in France and the discovery that the pilot may have had mental health problems. Sadly, the headline writers and some opinion makers have lumped together the word depression and a possible act of cruel lunacy, to the detriment of the thousands of people who have experienced depressive episodes. Statements have been made when the facts are still unknown.

There have been several instances when I've winced at what I've heard or read, particularly when there have been generalisations. The one that made me shout at the radio was, "Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance and a lack of serotonin." This was followed by the implication that a person can't help it and medication is the answer. Serotonin is a chemical which can be found to influence depression, but depression is much more than a chemical imbalance bought on by one chemical. A chemical that can be changed with something as simple as smiling. 

A colleague and friend, who experienced years of depression and Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder after being severely injured in an IRA bomb blast, made this comment. "Depression is nature's way of telling you to do something different." A challenging statement perhaps?  But from my experience of working with people experiencing depressive episodes, not one person has recovered without changing something about their life choices. Choices that may include, thoughts, behaviours, relationships, work, diet, medication, sleep, lifestyle, amongst others.

It can be 'Catch 22', in that to be able to make changes, one has to feel able to make them and when experiencing depression, the ability to want to do anything at all, can disappear. But change can only be brought about by change.

"If you always do what you've always done, you will always get what you've always got." Henry Ford.

Primarily, in helping anyone with any emotional health problem, it is important to look at how the person is getting their fundamental needs met, as well as the basic ones of food, shelter, clothing and money.

  • Security.
  • Sense of belonging.
  • Close relationship.
  • Time for privacy.
  • Feeling connected to others.
  • Having a purpose in life.
  • Physical and mental challenges.
  • Giving and receiving attention.
Stress, anxiety, anger, depression and addiction can be the result of these needs not being met, for a variety of reasons, including the misuse of imagination (worrying). Problems can also arise when these needs are met, but in unhealthy ways. Most people do not have emotional/mental health problems when their fundamental needs are being met in balanced, healthy ways.

In a previous blog, I wrote about a brush with depressive thinking. Most of my needs were being met, but I was misusing my imagination. I likened changing my choices to 'wading through treacle', but it had to be done to regain my sanity.

Sometimes people find change too hard, because it means a loss of a lifestyle that is supplying needs, but ultimately in unhealthy ways.

My own findings have also been informed by seeing, reading and hearing people whose needs were not met in childhood or perceived that they were not met. Many adults experiencing depression, can often be dragged backwards by thoughts of 'not being good enough'. Thoughts that first arose in childhood.

An Emotional Needs Audit:


Free online help:


Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Takings steps to beat depression - York Press Column March 2015

This is the *extended Wellbeing column from York Press on Monday, March 9th.


Last Monday morning and before I settled down to put the final touches to this column, I read The Press, giving special attention to my fellow columnist, Dr Andy Field. I agreed with him about antibiotics, but then winced as I read on. He’d written about what I had written about. Bother! Did I have to start again? I decided to build on his sensible advice.

Dr Field wrote about this time of year and low mood. I didn’t expect to have first-hand experience last month. It is often thought that people who have an optimistic, outward-looking, positive attitude to life, as I generally do, don’t have low moods and depressive thinking. They do. I thought JK Rowling must have experienced depression when she created the Dementors in Harry Potter. “Get near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory, will be sucked out of you…” 

*This from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In workshops, I have used the full, descriptive passage, without mentioning JK Rowling and Harry Potter, to describe depression. Then I inform people, what it's actually describing. Later on Harry is given the antidote - something described as a Patronus charm. But unpack the description of a Patronus Charm and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be indentified in another form.

In the past, I have felt as if I was under duvet made of lead, pressing down, making movements impossible. That’s where, in the past, I have wanted to stay, in bed, not confronting problems, just introspecting and misusing my imagination. But nothing gets solved lying in bed. 

*A client said to me, "As I lay in bed, I suddenly realised that nothing was going to change in my life if I stayed there, so I got up." I recall a morning many years ago, where the Dementors were forcing the duvet down, while I struggled to get out of bed. The force seemed so strong and I wanted to give in to it, but I didn't. From the actions I took that morning, my life changed.

I had a brush with that duvet last month. There wasn’t one trigger, but a variety of all sorts, topped off by a book, which I found demoralising. 

* Someone suggested that I could just live an easy life and I wondered why I didn't make life easier for myself. That led to guilt from not helping those less fortunate. I developed a cold. I read a book called Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre, which confirmed what I already knew, but despaired about.  I was left questioning my actions, as in, "What's the point of trying to make a difference?" and it unsettled me.

The Dementors were nagging away in one ear, while Pollyanna was attempting to be heard in the other.  Age, experience and knowledge has its benefits and I now know how to fight these Dementors. The highly emotional state needed to be broken and only I had the power to challenge and change my thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and actions. (See Patronus Charm above.)

Step by step, I waded through the treacle that my mind and body had become stuck in and the demented thoughts slowly faded away.

These were some of my steps:

1. Get up, showered and dressed. Tough, but crucial. 
*Little can be achieved otherwise and sometimes beating the demons and winning a challenge feels good. Thus releasing the 'feel good' hormones. 

2. Ate healthily. The mind and body need the correct fuel to work properly. I fought the urge to self-medicate with my choice of chocolate and alcohol. 
*I didn't abstain, but didn't overdo it.

3. Fresh Air. I unearthed an old pedometer and set a target of 10,000 steps a day. Gardening.  Helps sleep too. 
*If I managed 10,000 steps by 2/3pm, I knew I would be tired.

4. Enjoyed the simple pleasures in life. Signs of spring and hope. In York I looked at The Minster and wondered at its magnificence.  Another day I sat overlooking the sea, marvelling at the always changing scene. 
*Watching the waves coming in and going out can be relaxing as it slows down the breathing.

5. Spent five pounds on a bunch of flowers. 
*Just putting them in a jug on the table lifted my spirits. Worth every penny.

6. Telephoned two friends and talked about their lives and problems. Counted blessings. 
*In fact, I rang one long-time friend for a long chat and the very next day another long-time friend rang me, out of the blue. Then I exchanged long emails too. Both have challenges in their lives with family members, so it was good to listen.

7. Booked a neck and shoulder massage. 
*A massage, manicure, pedicure etc: can all help aid relaxation for a period of time. Touch is good too.  I believe that these treatments should be offered in all mental health units and elderly care homes. Far more effective than medication. 

9. Restricted TV watching. A demotivating, energy sapping activity.
* Dark days, multi-channels, a comfortable sofa and the remote control makes this activity so easy to get sucked into. 

10. Stopped worrying about what I can’t do in a troubled world and concentrated on what I can do, which is to help a few people, not thousands. 
*It upsets me to see good people having their lives ruined unnecessarily and scandalously.

I also recognised the truth in ‘This too will pass.’ It has. 
*The memory is useful here, as it can act as a reminder of how a change of thinking and behaviour made life better in the past.