Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Dealing with Depression

Feeling a bit blue? Not really feeling sociable? Keeping away from friends and activities that you used to really love? Bored with the idea of sex? Losing your self confidence? Maybe this describes you or someone close to you. If it’s been more than just a few weeks, then it might well need treatment.

I’ve diagnosed so many people with depression in the past few weeks in my clinical practice that I figured a post here on the subject is in order.

Men are typically brought up to hide any negative emotion, ‘tears are for girls’, ‘be a brave boy, don’t cry’ … you know the drill. Acknowledging you have depression can be a serious step outside of what society considers normal manly activity. When we have these feelings, we can feel it’s a weakness, a flaw, and so we typically hide them from the outside world. We get angry and moody and behave irrationally. Sometimes it will make us withdraw into our corners and hide from the outside world. It may make us scared to go into public places, or contribute to anxiety problems and panic attacks. Sometimes we want to withdraw from life completely – end it all, ‘life’s just not worth living…’ But invariably the feeling of hopelessness is there, it’s like you’re in a submarine, and the world is happening right above you – you can see it – but you’re just can’t get to the surface, you’re on your own, deep deep down, and it can feel like you’re sinking fast.

But you’re not on your own… Depression is incredibly common. Around one in five people experience it at some point in their lives. This also means that most of us will have someone close to us experiencing it at some point, if not ourselves.

People will do all kinds of things to get around depression. Sometimes the odd drink might seem like a good idea, but being a depressant itself, alcohol will in fact just make it worse; similarly party drugs can give a transient high, but often return to a deeper low.

There are a number of things that can in fact help to resolve depression. Simple things like regular exercise will improve it (aim for 30 minutes per day of whatever exercise you enjoy that keeps your heart pumping at least a little faster than normal), talking to a confidante as a regular thing can help get through down times (and strengthen relationships too), just talking out loud with someone can significantly improve our feelings. Professional counselling with a trained psychologist working with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is very helpful, and this may be combined with prescribed antidepressant medication for optimal effect. St John’s Wort is a natural remedy which has mild antidepressant effect and useful for milder forms of depression. Certainly there are a lot of antidepressant medications on the market which are extremely effective at treating depression, and the right one can be prescribed according to individual needs (if one doesn’t feel right – there is another sure to work for you). In Australia the cost for these treatments is quite low, and recent changes to medicare mean that you can get rebates for the cost of referred psychologist treatment.

Your GP is the first point of call in order to fully assess depression and anxiety issues, and it’s important that you have a GP you’re comfortable with. There are also other counselling and support services detailed at the end of this post.

Suicide in gay men and youth is much more common than in the general population. Depression is commonly connected with this, and a society that is not welcoming, tolerant nor supportive will only exacerbate this. Feeling suicidal is a very scary and alien thing. It's important that you see someone if you feel this way as it IS something that will pass, but you may well need help to get past it.

We need to recognise depression in the people around us and to make an effort to support them. We need to continue to press for law reforms to recognise gay relationships and support them. We also need to become more visible, to provide positive role models for the youth and indeed young adults around us who need something to aspire to that they can identify with. It is easy to be complacent with what we have, but in Australia we still don’t have equality which is itself depressing. Changing these things may seem insignificant but can be enormously powerful for the mental health of all gay men.

The bottom line is Depression is common, it is treatable, but it can have huge effects on our lives and the lives of people around us. Recognise it, treat it and help prevent it, and your world is going to be a better place.

For more information see the links below.

Beyond Blue (Australian National Depression Initiative – highly recommended)
Gay and Lesbian Counselling and Community Services of Australia

The Trevor Project (no not me) an organisation in the USA which operates a 24/7 suicide & crisis prevention helpline for gay and questioning youth.

Do you have useful links from your country / state not included here? Please email or post a comment with details.


Single Guy said...

Great article...interesting links too:)

Tom Cat from Bondi Beach said...

Thanks for highlighting a major issue for many of us.

It is so important to know depression is treatable and that we are not alone.

Kerry said...

Good article.....just don't take St John's Wort with a prescribed antidepressant.

zooplah said...

Ah, depression is just the absence of the delusion that life doesn't suck.

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