World Mental Health Day - lifting the stigma

IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE: Don't ignore the signs of depression, it can be fatal

IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE: Don't ignore the signs of depression, it can be fatal

Today is World Mental Health Day - it is a moment to stop and reflect on our own well-being ... as well as that of our loved ones.

The stigma attached to mental health problems is lessening but it is still real for many - today is a day to do whatever we can in conversations, in our actions, to shift that. It could save a life.

In acknowledgement of this day and those who suffer, one local woman has come forward to share her story:

"All my life people have told me I have a beautiful smile. It is a lovely thing to hear ... except for many years it wasn't.

Because my sunny exterior was a mask, hiding the bleak percolations inside me. The ones that put a translucent veil between myself and the world, dulling my senses and robbing many experiences of their joy.

I now know I had undiagnosed depression ...

It first arrived in my late 20s, triggered by what I also now understand was 'burn out', a not uncommon pitfall of youth - work, travel, party, living overseas, travel, party, work ... it took its toll.

The warning signs were there, but I did not heed them and eventually my body made a stand - an accident stopped me in my tracks, bursting my youthful bubble of invincibility.

Having to return to Australia was hard - I felt I'd somehow failed and didn't know how to remedy it. The words to explain what was going on escaped me, and even if I had them, I would never have told my family.

With a family history of 'mad' relatives, I didn't want to be added to the list.

Today is a day to do whatever we can in conversations, in our actions, to shift the stigma - it could save a life.

I did, clandestinely, seek some help, from a psychologist - who at our very first session, made me solemnly promise that I would not take my own life. I have always remembered that promise - and have honoured it.

Her support helped somewhat but the metallic dry icy feeling of emptiness inside continued. I tried to fill it up with distractions - relationships, moving, self-medicating, eventually my beautiful son - but the dullness persisted.

It was episodic, often triggered by stress. It varied in its intensity.

Over the years I held onto my mask but I kept trying to shift this 'thing' - I did meditation courses, I had massages, I talked to a few wise professionals. I resisted medication. My friends helped a lot. I managed.

In 2010, nearly 25 years later, I had arranged nine months leave from work. I knew I was approaching burn out, again, and needed a break.

I went overseas, I tried to rest, I spent time with those who loved me, but the exhaustion persisted.

The final straw came on my first day back at work - a single phone call left me feeling harassed and drained. This is madness, I thought - enough!

ASK FOR HELP: Don't push up daisies!

ASK FOR HELP: Don't push up daisies!

I went to my doctor and requested anti-depressants. He acquiesced, explaining that it could take some weeks before I would feel a shift and that things could be rocky. That was not a very comforting thought but it was worth a try.

That night I took my first tablet - and experienced one of the most terrifying nights of my life. The darkness was profound and the fear intense.

I was shaken to my core. I contacted my doctor - we halved the dose ... and within 24 hours the veil lifted and real colours and feelings began flowing back into my life. It was the most astonishing sensation.

There was still work to be done - a solid 12 months of regular exercise, psychological support and careful observation of my internal reactions followed.

It was not easy but it worked ... these days life is good. There are still grey days but nothing extreme. My smile is sincere.

I still take my 'happy pills' - they are my 'floor', something to land on when I fall into the black hole ... rather than a bottomless pit.

I know I am one of the lucky ones - medication does not work for everyone, and certainly not so rapidly.

But professional help can and does make a difference - make sure you ask for it. Life is too fleeting and precious not to."

Signs of depression:

Depression can affect different people in different ways and may manifest in a wide variety of symptoms. These may include:

  • . Feeling sad, anxious or agitated
  • . Feeling emotionally numb or flat
  • . Feeling that everything has become too hard
  • . Feeling guilty or lacking in worth
  • . Being preoccupied with negative thoughts and seeing the
  • worst in everything
  • . Finding it an effort to complete even simple tasks
  • . Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • . Thoughts of helplessness, hopelessness or that life is not
  • worth living

You might also experience:

  • . Poor sleep patterns or feeling tired despite a reasonable
  • nights sleep
  • . Changes in your weight or your appetite
  • . Increased use of tobacco, alcohol or other substances
  • . Loss of interest in sexual activity
  • . Physical aches and pains
  • . Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • . Avoidance of social situations
  • . Thoughts of self-harm, death or suicide

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