For World Mental Health Day, Dr Claudia Bernat, Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital North London, discusses the importance of seeking help and the importance of providing dignity to those that need support.
Mental health problems are a common issue
Right now in the UK, one in four adults are suffering from a mental health problem, and it’s most likely depression. For people dealing with this condition, even just accepting that you have a problem and asking for help can seem like a monumental task.
Stigma and misunderstanding hang around mental health, discouraging people from speaking up and seeking help. Just telling someone that you have depression can feel like an admission of failure. But why is this still the case when our understanding of mental health has come so far in recent years?
World Mental Health Day 2015 revolves around the idea of dignity, challenging the stigma and the damaging attitudes that linger around mental health conditions. It’s estimated that only a quarter of sufferers are actually receiving treatment, leaving the majority to battle their problems alone.
Recognising you need help
Often the most important step in overcoming depression is recognising that you have it. We all have bad days, but how can you differentiate a low mood from depression? ‘Malfunction’ is a helpful word to keep in mind. Suffering from depression can lead to the inability to concentrate on work, find enjoyment in your hobbies, or, at its worst, perform the most basic daily functions.
Simple tasks become impossible. You may also experience anxiety, aches and pains, and a feeling of disconnection from the world. Feeling like you’re no longer able to do the things that you used to do is a strong indicator of the early stages of depression. Symptoms of depression can develop further into feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and thoughts of death and suicide. Life no longer feels worth living.
Recognising depression from the outside is another matter. Friends and family can be invaluable when it comes to noticing changes in your behaviour or general moods, and the people who know you best are the ones to rely on. If they feel as though your outlook on life has changed, or your moods have taken a turn for the worse, listen to them and make sure they listen to you.
People with depression are not always sad
The misinformation around depression can muddy the waters. People with depression are not always sad or miserable (these can be manifestations of depression), but they are just generalisations. Even comedians get depression, which is something worth remembering; don’t overlook the life and soul of the party and assume they’re immune.
Recognising you might have a problem is only half the battle - speaking up and asking for help is the real challenge. The sad thing is that having depression can actually make it much harder to seek help, as you battle with your instinct to either disappear into the proverbial hole in the ground, or to put on a brave face and suffer in silence. An estimated 60% of people leave it longer than they should before seeking medical help for a mental health condition, and this can often make treatment more protracted and difficult.
Leaving depression untreated can only lead to deterioration. It won’t go away without help.
Help is available
Thankfully, help is readily available. Talking to your GP is an excellent place to start. Mental health is achieving parity with physical health within the NHS, so your doctor is well equipped to properly assess your condition and offer appropriate referrals or treatments.
There are also charities entirely devoted to supporting people with mental health problems, such as Mind and the Depression Alliance. These charities provide fantastic resources as well as people to talk to both online and in person. There are also private health groups like Priory who offer extensive treatment for all sorts of mental health problems through their wellbeing centres up and down the country, and if needed, our hospitals.
The treatments available for depression broadly fall into two categories: psychological and biological. Both sound a little dramatic, but really it’s a case of treatment through mind exercises and individual/group therapy, or taking medication. Antidepressants have themselves been the subject of distrust and stigma in the past, but modern medications are safe and effective. Everyone’s symptoms and needs are different, and your GP will listen to your needs and offer the most appropriate treatment for you.
Every one of us is at risk from mental health problems. The most important thing to understand is that depression is not part of a person’s character, and is not self-inflicted. It’s a separate entity that’s treatable, an illness like any other that should invite no more judgement than catching a cold does.
However, many sufferers are still afraid of what people will think or how they will react. The nature of depression is such that people so often fail to see it as an illness separate from the sufferer, and as something they have no control over. Some people see it as self-indulgent, and if only they would snap out of it, they could get better in no time. Such an attitude is as helpful as asking someone with cancer ‘have you tried not having cancer?’
Let’s take the message of World Mental Health Day 2015 to heart; treat mental health problems for what they are, and support the people suffering from them with the dignity they deserve.