One million Australians suffer from depression each year, but often talking about it is the hardest thing to do. It’s time we started.
From the very start I tried to be a high achiever. I was a School Prefect, Debating Captain, Cadet Operations Officer and won numerous academic awards. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in any way sporting inclined but that never made a difference to me — I knew that I was never going to stand on that Hallowed Ground of the G and kick a ball to the tune of the AFL Grand Final opening siren — so I just went with what I had.
Now I’m a paramedic and an aspiring journalist. I have literally pumped the life back into a child’s heart and brought them back from the dead. I have helped little old ladies with fractured hips and drunk teenagers, passed out in their own vomit (“but she only had one drink! She’s never like this…” Sigh.). I work hard, I make others laugh (often at my own expense) and try to stay fit and healthy.
I have also suffered with clinical depression since the age of 17.
Bit of a turn around, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, despite all the press that it has received, having depression still feels like it has a nasty social stigma attached to it. It’s not enough to have to take daily doses of medication to “keep the black dog from the door”, I still feel like I have to hide the illness that causes me no end of trouble, especially when the dark shadows come crawling around my bed at night.
“Stigma against people with depression and anxiety still exists…every Australian has a responsibility to do something about it” said former beyondblue CEO Kate Carnell AO.
Perhaps it’s my own attitude that keeps me from telling others (including those that I would consider close friends) that I have depression, or from writing it on medical employment forms (oh how I have come to loathe that box that asks “do you suffer from any regular medical conditions or take any regular medications?”), but putting my hand up and asking for help is still one of the hardest things I have ever done.
Thankfully, I’m not alone.
According to the Beyond Blue website (an absolutely fantastic and vital resource for anyone suffering from or in contact with someone who has a mental illness), approximately 45% of Australians will suffer from some form of mental health condition in their lifetime, and that around one million Australians suffer from depression each year.
Worst of all, we’re still not 100% sure about what causes depression. Things such as life events, personal and genetic factors, or use of alcohol and drugs can lead to depression. I know that in my case I can’t point to one event in my life and say “that was it, the event that started it all” — it’s just too diverse. Depression can also strike at any age and affect both genders, and can have disastrous consequences for those that don’t get help.
“Every day, around eight Australians take their own life. That’s eight sons, daughters, partners and mates who wrongly think the world would be a better place without them in it. Of those eight people, around six are men, who research shows are less likely than women to get help when they need it” said beyondblue CEO Georgie Harman.
“Men are far more likely to die by suicide than women because too many view conditions such as depression and anxiety as a sign of weakness and don’t want to be a burden on others, meaning that they do not seek support for these conditions when they should” said beyondblue Chairman, the Hon. Jeff Kennett.
I’ll be the first to admit that I hate social media (yes, I can see the irony here). It’s intrusive and half the postings that people seem to put up are asinine comments about The Bachelor or photos of their delicately crafted hippy coffee that was made with 100% organic beans from the backside of some mountain in Bolivia that I’ve never heard of, but for once in my humble opinion, Facebook is being used for good instead of social media evil.
Now, any woman will tell you that getting men to talk about their feelings is next to impossible (just ask my ex-girlfriend) but, like the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge”, posts highlighting the number of men who committed suicide in the past year with the hashtag “#speakingupismanningup and #itsokaynottobeokay” are beginning to appear in my male friends’ profiles.
While we still have a long way to go, it’s good to see mental illness finally coming out from the under the lurking shadows and into the light of day. Just like “R U OK” day, speaking up is often the best help there is.
Even the simple act of writing this has been a cathartic exercise for me. Whether or not I ever get this published really isn’t important to me — just putting writing these thoughts on paper (or typing them into my laptop as I try to avoid yet another freeze — thanks Windows 10) is relieving.
I know that I won’t cure my illness by writing about it, I’ll probably battle the black dog until the day I go to the great newspaper column in the sky but, like taking daily insulin shots for diabetes, the simple act of talking about it is one step on the road to recovery.