The year 2019 has brought with it the extremely sad and shattering news of four young suicides (18-25 years) in my area. FOUR. My deepest and most sincere condolences to everyone affected.
When reading news articles on the devastating and hauntingly similar deaths of these young people in my hometown, statements from friends and loved ones read “I had no idea he/she was feeling like that.. I saw them yesterday and they seemed like the happiest person in the world.. I just wish they would have said something..”. Which makes my skin turn cold. And it makes me wonder what I/we can do as part of a society, and as part of a family of compassionate living beings, to help one another. Or at the very least be aware and understanding of the struggles of mental health illness.
I think I’ve held off from delving into the topic of mental health illness on my blog as I’ve felt I may not really have the right to comment. But then I thought, you don’t have to have Huntington’s to raise awareness of Huntington’s disease. Nor do you need to have a physical disability to help people be more understanding of those with physical disabilities. You catch my drift.. And so here I am.
I am by no means claiming to be a expert on depression, but it’s a topic I’ve covered in reasonable depth in “Abnormal Behaviour” modules, and more scientifically in “Cognitive Neuroscience” modules during my three year Psychology degree.
The first and most interesting fact that I learnt is that typical brain chemistry is when the amygdala (area of that brain associated with controlling fearful and stressful events) works together with the prefrontal cortex (front area of the brain associated with decision making and problem solving), effectively. Meaning, our brain impulses cause our axons to transmit signals/messages in a way that allows chemical messengers to be released (neurotransmitters). And problems with this process are know as brain disorders or ‘mental illness’.
For anyone interested – the most common neurotransmitter is glutamate, and people with depression often show signs of problems with making or using glutamate. People with depression also show lower levels of dopamine (the neurotransmitter associated with feelings of happiness and pleasure) as well as serotonin (the neurotransmitter associated with mood, hunger and sleep). Although this is the most popular theory in terms of the cause of depression, there are others.. such as less grey matter in several different areas of the brain and changes in brain plasticity for example. But I’m not overly familiar with research/findings on these!! (I’d love to hear alternative theories if anyone has any).
It is now widely accepted that mental illness is an umbrella term, which hosts a multiple of signs, symptoms and causes. And as it currently stands, 1 in 4 adults over the age of 16 suffer from a mental health disorder. Depression in particular comes in many forms, but most of these forms have the same symptoms – they just vary in severity and length. The direct cause of mental health illness still is and probably always will be unknown, but there are a multitude of contributing factors. Some of these are as follows:
- A chemical imbalance of chemical messengers in the brain (depleted levels of neurotransmitters) – as touched upon previously
- A history of mental health illness passed on through genes
- Severe life stressors (abuse, neglect, great financial difficulty etc)
- Drug and alcohol misuse
+ many more.
So depression is more than a state of sadness, low mood or a feeling of “the blues”. It is a neurological condition that seriously effects people’s day-to-day life. I know I’ve always been a big advocate for “you are in control of your emotions, and happiness is a choice etc”. Which I still stand by, but only in terms of people with typical gene and brain chemistry – which I have always acknowledged. I know that is not always the case in depression.
In terms of treatment and ways to navigate through dark spells brought on by depression, there are medical and non-medical interventions known to significantly improve a persons mood and ability to handle daily life. I also feel the need to reiterate (as it was to me at Uni) that medication e.g. selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) – which increase levels of serotonin in the brain and therefore levels of happiness and pleasure – should only ever really be considered as a short-term solution. And that, emphasis should be placed on talking therapies such as: CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), counselling or guided self-help for example. A key form of therapy which I feel really doesn’t get enough emphasis is the therapy of getting yourself up and moving. Get exercising and get outside in nature. Go for a long walk, fuck it take your shoes and socks off. Feel the wet muddy grass squelch in between your toes!! I hate how restrained we all are.
I also wanted to use this time and space to give a little shout out to my two best friends and my closest family member in the whole wide world – who are making a conscious effort to turn theirs around. I love you and my life would never, ever, ever be the same without you in it.
Remember: Mental illness is the same as ANY other illness, you can recover from it with the necessary treatment and appropriate intervention and accommodations. You are NOT broken or unfixable.
I’m going to insert some links below that might prove helpful/informative to someone, if anyone. I found them so interesting, maybe you will too.
Text “SHOUT” to 85258 to avoid talking directly to someone over the phone. Responses are quick and it will be a genuine conversation with the same counsellor each time.
Samaritans: 116 123
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CLAM) 5pm-midnight – for men: 0800 585858
Papyrus – 35s and under: 0800 0684141