For the past couple of weeks or so at the media company where I work I have had to fill in for a person who writes a weekly newspaper column on men’s health. Since this is not my field of expertise it has required a lot of research, and this blog has had to take a back seat for a while. One of the topics I decided to cover was depression, and it so happened that a charity in Australia called beyondblue, whose goal is to raise awareness of depression, started a campaign this week to highlight a related issue: anxiety. My reporting on the anxiety awareness campaign launch, headlined “Get a grip on anxiety”, can be found here and there is a related story on depression here.
It has been a very interesting experience talking not only to people in the medical profession and those who work for charity, but also to those who at some stage of their lives have had depression or suffered from attacks of anxiety. There are prominent people – actors, writers, sports stars – who have “come out” publicly about having to battle their demons, so to speak, and by doing so they destigmatise these conditions and hopefully encourage other people to seek help and advice, or at least feel they are not alone. These are people who have done something about it and seem to have it under control. But I have also had the chance to speak to people who are only just starting out on that journey and it’s apparent they are so grateful to have someone to talk to about it and to get it off their chest. I also think it is true that at times, particularly in the initial stages, it is easier to talk to a total stranger, say in an internet forum, than it is to talk to friends or relatives. That is, to talk to someone who does not belong to your ‘real world’ and so won’t have the chance to judge you. This is where website help can be important and I will list the help sites that I know of at the bottom of this post.
A common theme among all this is that modern society seems to expect us to be strong and in control all the time; which means we cover up our faults as best we can and are so shy about confessing our vulnerabilities. This is a pity, because really talking to someone and getting that weight off one’s own shoulders can be so helpful, and it shouldn’t be that hard. So when someone actually does speak out about their own experience, the other sufferers are so grateful and find it inspiring. If only it would happen more often.
We all have spells when we are stressed and we all have our ups and downs. Hopefully, for most these are temporary things. For others they can be more permanent, and that’s when they need to acquire the tools to manage it for life.
Stress is all around us. Today I had to go to my bank. The young woman behind the counter who served me, I could tell, was in some form of emotional distress. She kept sighing, she could not concentrate on what I was saying, her movements were shaky, agitated, and she was a little bit incoherent. It was not very professional but I went out of my way to be patient, and she soon made a mental effort, apologised and said she was having “personal issues”, and became businesslike. I didn’t want to pry into her affairs but just tried to be chatty in a cheery and pleasant way. After the transaction we made some small talk, I thanked her, smiled and wished her a pleasant afternoon. I know I left her in a better state than she was in when I arrived. I thought about going to a shop nearby to buy her a little chocolate to cheer her up even more but felt that would be a bit over the top. I just mention this as an example of how small things can make a difference: if I or another customer had been stressed myself, in a hurry, wanting the transaction done quickly, if I had snapped at her (and I have seen people who can be very rude!) she would have been tipped the other way, into more anxiety. I wonder if I would have noticed her state if I had not been pondering issues of mental health all week?
Anyway, if you know someone who you think may be battling stress, depression or anxiety please pass on the following to them. They are links to charities and research groups in Australia that help people deal with stress and depression and other mood disorders. They have excellent fact sheets, self-help sections, interviews with people who have overcome their difficulties and so on. (Over time I will add links to similar organisations in the French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian or Romanian speaking worlds. If you know of any, please forward me the links). Click on the name at the start of the paragraph to call up the relevant website.
- beyondblue … “beyondblue is working to reduce the impact of depression and anxiety in the community by raising awareness and understanding, empowering people to seek help, and supporting recovery, management and resilience”
- Black Dog Institute … “The Black Dog Institute is a world leader in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder.”
- myCompass … “myCompass is an interactive self-help service that aims to promote resilience and wellbeing for all Australians. myCompass is a guide to good mental health – it points you in the right direction. You can track your moods, write about them and view information and tips. You can also choose to do one of the modules designed to help you manage mild to moderate stress, anxiety and depression.”
- SANE Australia … “SANE Australia is a national charity helping all Australians affected by mental illness lead a better life – through campaigning, education and research.”
- Men’s Health … A weekly column (every Wednesday) in The Australian Financial Review, by award-winning medical journalist and author Jill Margo (except when she is away!)