Today is World Mental Health Day. As someone who has had a fair bit of personal experience (experience, not expertise) in this area with depression and anxiety I just want to get on my soapbox for a bit…
1. There is not just one kind of depression or one type of anxiety etc. When I hear or see people lumping a whole mental illness into one category like they are experts because someone/people they know handled their depression or anxiety in a certain way it really pisses me off. Depression and anxiety come in many different shapes and sizes. It can be a hereditary thing, a post traumatic stress thing, an environmental thing, a hormonal thing etc. or more than one of these things. The only common denominator they all have is they result in a chemical imbalance in the brain where, in the case of depression, feel-good chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine etc. decrease resulting in the person feeling like shit. While anxiety is a peak in chemicals such as cortisol etc. that makes them feel sick from ‘buzzing’ and can lead to attacks.
2. Mental illnesses are not always ‘transient’. I had this one idiot a couple of years ago tell me because she knew people who got over their depression, it was ‘transient’. Besides the fact this moron had no degree in neuroscience, psychology, psychiatry, biological science, medical science, was not a GP, a psych nurse or anything else in those types of fields, nor had she ever worked in a psych ward AND her sample size would have been no larger than 50 people at the most (and that is giving her way too much credit because her sample size was probably less than 10, 5 even) it is just jaw dropping how she thought she had the intellectual integrity to lump an illness like depression into one generic box and then make her ‘expert’ opinion of zero years study in the field with the beyond stupid claim that all depression was ‘transient’.
Some people have environmental depression. They change the negative environment they are in and their mental health improves. Some people have post natal depression. Depending on the severity it too can pass after some time with or without the help of a Doctor. Some depression can be for life. Hereditary or post traumatic stress related depression is real and it is shit and what people don’t need is for unqualified dickheads to tell them to just “exercise and eat well and you will be right, it’s all in your head” (well no fucking shit Dr No Qualifications, thanks for stating the fucking obvious about the ‘all in your head comment’). Not only are these unqualified statements incredibly insensitive, it is also dangerous, as exercise and diet will not get to the root of the issue/s if the reason you have mental illness is because you were sexually abused or saw someone you love murdered. In these cases exercise and diet will only be a band aid effect.
3. Everyone needs to find their own way/s of dealing with their illness/es that is constructive. There is not one magical way to do so and what works for one person may not work for another. For instance, people always crap on about how exercise and clean eating is such a magical, all out cure for everyone. Yeah, if that was the case Ian Thorpe would never of had depression from his teen years onward because he swam like a fish (he has won five Olympic gold medals) and I’m sure he would have been on a pretty impressive diet too since living on junk food won’t win you gold at any competition. Likewise, some people (who don’t have degrees in neuroscience, psychiatry or psychology) try telling people with a mental illness that going on meds is not a good thing to do, they are addictive, you will never get off of them, they will turn you into a zombie (so much bullshit because when I was on meds I was still highly emotive but so much clearer and better able to function in high stress situations instead of falling apart and running to the loos to cry for an hour). Or they tell others going to a psychologist/psychiatrist is not a good thing because shrinks are just greedy money making entities, or if others find out you are going to a shrink they will label you ‘crazy’ etc. So their advice is basically stiff upper lip and just stuff everything deep down inside and ignore it. Total, ignorant twats!
Successfully dealing with mental illness is not a one approach works best type thing. In order to deal with it you need many crutches, outlets, coping mechanisms, foundations etc. For instance in my own life meds (Lexipro, an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety), psychology sessions along with people-observing (not in the creepy peeping Tom kind of way but in the noting the way people act or what they say and noting what their real motives or drivers are kind of way), philosophy and deep thought about the human journey from prehistoric great ape to Homo Sapiens Sapiens has done wonders. Looking inward and backward across the landscape of humans and our society has helped me to realise mental illness is just a natural phenomenon that occurs across many species but unlike undomesticated species we can get help (if we live in a country where help is available) and we shouldn’t feel like a failure, ashamed or guilty for doing so. We are not perfect robots. We are imperfect, but pretty amazing, results of billions of years of evolution. We are just biological organisms and we need to remember that so we don’t unnecessarily beat ourselves up for not being ‘normal’ (normal in the bullshit way society has constructed ‘normal’ to be which is actually quite unnatural and extremely not normal). We have to live with ourselves for the rest of our lives and we have to interact with others so we should love ourselves enough to work on our own health and contentment.
4. Laughter is so underrated and comedy should be prescribed as a form of medication. When ever I have been too low to leave the house, too low to function, too low to even get out of my jammies comedy has been my saving grace. Some people turn towards a deity. I turn toward the gods of comedy. Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development, The Simpsons, Futurama etc. etc. etc. All these incredible shows plus funny movies and books have managed to dig me up out of my dark, empty grave of sadness and reignite a spark of my usual, happy-go-lucky, saucy self.
Then, of course, there has been Dr Murray Banks <3! How I love that man (he is deceased now. He passed away in 2008 at the tender, young age of 91). His recordings on mental health, his humour, his ability to add that sublime Jewish, New York view point on humans and the unique creatures we are has gotten me through some of the darkest times. He has made me laugh so hard I have cried and has helped the black clouds dissipate on more than one occasion. All of his recordings are on YouTube and in the iTunes Store and I have listed them below. I highly recommend you look him up and give his albums a listen to.
- What YOU can learn from the Kinsey Report (Audio Masterworks, 1956)
- The Drama of Sex (1960)
- Just in case you think you’re normal (1961)
- Dr. Murray Banks tells Jewish Stories Mit Psychology (1961)
- Dr. Murray Banks Tells more Jewish Stories Mit Psychology (1964)
- How to live with yourself…or what to do until psychiatrist comes (1965)
- A Lesson in Love
- How to quit smoking in six days or drop dead in seven (1965)
- Anyone who goes to a shrink should have their head examined (1971)
And lastly, what should you do if you are suffering from a mental health issue??? Book in to see a GP you trust and tell them what is happening. Don’t be ashamed or too stoic to talk about the fact you need a little or a lot of help. Your mental medical concerns are just as valid as a broken leg or a dickie heart. If you are in Australia your GP can put you on the Mental Health Plan and you can get 10 free to partially subsidised sessions with a psychologist. If you are really struggling then your Doctor can prescribe you something mild (or strong if that is what your illness calls for. Everyone is different and mental illness is not a generic condition) until your psychology sessions start helping. Depending on what illness you have you may need meds for the rest of your life and that’s ok!!!
Stop watching the news and any other depressing stuff until you are feeling better able to handle those types of things. Fill your life with comedy, aesthetically pleasing and calming visual and performing arts, try meditating or listening to calm music or sugary pop music if that suits you better. Try a relaxing form of yoga. If you are up to it, exercise. Go for a little walk through a nice park, not along a busy, ugly road. Join a team sports, if you are up to it, but don’t overwhelm yourself. Exercise is a good crutch, when balanced with other crutches, but don’t set your goals so high that if you don’t meet them you will feel even worse. Be gentle on yourself. Take small steps. YouTube has a good range of exercise channels if you want to do some simple exercises at home and Kmart has a great exercise section with mats, weights, balls etc. if you want to set up a little home gym without paying sports shop prices which can break your bank.
Google some healthy meal recipes. Once again keep it simple and underwhelming. Abstain from grocery shopping when you are hungry or super upset as you will be more tempted to buy junk food or food that you won’t eat and will waste which could result in you feeling guilty. Stick to the lean meats and fruit and veg section as much as possible. Sugar is not your friend. The instant pay off of sugar is a drug and when you crash you will feel even more rubbish. Dark chocolate is a good sweet treat as it has some health benefits with less added sugar. Bake something that has wholemeal flour, is low in sugar and fat, if you are up to it. I have wholemeal, low fat, low sugar biscuit recipes on this site under Recipes. Otherwise honey and/or banana on wholemeal toast is always a simple sweet treat to have with a cuppa. Having said that though, if you are not eating junk all the time and you feel like a pizza or some other junk than do it and don’t beat yourself up. Sometimes a bit of a binge can be cathartic as long at it is only occasionally.
Turn to your support network. This may be your family, friends, a support group etc. Find people you trust and who are empathetic, calm and able to keep it simple and authentic. Be aware, and don’t be surprised, if you lose family or friends due to your illness. Unless you have done something wrong such as used or abused them than try not to let their alienation interfere with your progress. They are external to you. They may have their own internal concerns that your illness makes them have to confront and that may make them feel very uncomfortable. They may be scared due to stigmatism, prejudice or a lack of education on mental health issues. Or, and sometimes you just have to accept this, they may just be selfish, self-centred people who only think about themselves and who only want friends of a certain status and your ‘crazy’ stuff may just be too beneath their royal highnesses in which case you are lucky to have weeded a cancerous person like that out of your life.
Likewise, you may find that in your life you have secret/passive aggressive Negative Nancies or Debbie Downers who like that you are feeling down because misery loves company. You may need to limit your time with these people or cut them out all together but whatever you decide to do just make sure you always put your own wellbeing first and in a way that does not encroach on anyone else’s lives in a negative way.
Good mental health is so important and so underrated in this consumer driven, capitalist, greedy society we have created. By getting back to basis, cutting all the phoney society demands of who we should be or what we should have achieved and just being our authentic selves, slowing down to enjoy simple things and filling our life with loved ones and laughter we will not only improve mental health but also physical health and longevity. So I wish you a good World Mental Health Day 2015 and remember to look out for your fellow man/woman/child if you think they may need a little help and an ear to talk to.