WORDS Stephanie Lewis & Sarah Windon
One in seven Australians will experience depression in their lifetime. It’s about time we started the conversation.
You probably don’t want to read this, but it is something that should no longer be ignored. The mental health issue of depression has been swept under the rug for far too long. Despite being more aware and educated on the topic than ever before, we can still fail to see the signs, or slip into the comfortable old “it won’t happen to me/my friends/my family” mindset. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2007 National Survey of Health and Wellbeing, of 16 million Australians aged 16-85 years, 45 per cent had a mental health issue at some point in their life. In fact, one in five respondents had experienced a mental disorder in the 12 months before the survey. Of those respondents 4.1 per cent had suffered depression.
Scarily, the link between mental illness and suicide is clear – “More than 10 per cent of people with a mental illness die by suicide within the first 10 years of diagnosis” (SANE 2008). In the National Survey of Health and Wellbeing, over 360 000 people reported having serious thoughts about suicide in the 12 months before the survey. 72 per cent had had a mental disorder in that same time period. According to the Black Dog Institute, at least six Australians die from suicide every day, and a further 30 people attempt to take their own life; “suicide is the leading cause of death for young people aged 15-24”. Despite these statistics that focus on young people, suicide, like depression, isn’t discriminatory.
Even if you’ve never lost a loved one to this disease we’ve all heard the stories, seen the shock, sadness and loss that reverberates through our communities. At the time of writing this article, we heard tragic stories of friends who’d lost workmates and loved ones to suicide in the past few weeks.
Lucy’s* colleague committed suicide in July this year. It was unexpected and his friends and family are still stunned, left behind to pick up the pieces. Lucy said, “we have to respect his wishes not to hold a memorial for him but that’s also hard.” Unfortunately, victims of suicide rarely speak out about their own mental illness and friends and family have no idea about the problems they face.
When Randy’s* girlfriend attempted suicide earlier this year, he said that she was in a place of utter desperation. He could not imagine the pain she was in. He, too, had not seen this coming and the road to recovery is long.
“I regret not doing the research, not knowing the signs off the top of my head. Now that I know what to look for, the suicide attempt became less scary and more of a manageable symptom of mental illness.”
The question is always why? Not why did they do it, but why didn’t we talk about this earlier? We need to start talking about it. By making suicide and depression taboo we inadvertently give them the power to persist. Change is not easy. Support from family and friends is vital. Simply asking someone if they’re ok is a great start.
Before you stop reading, before you close this magazine and before you distract yourself, I want you to think about your community, your society, your friends and your family. Depression isn’t selective. It can affect anyone. It can be seasonal (SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder), hereditary, have different levels of severity and can go unnoticed and unchecked for years. People can have severe depression without even being aware.
If you’re dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts you don’t have to do it alone. It can be hard but simply telling someone close to you or even your doctor can help get you set on the right path. There is support out there and many different ways to get help.
Simple things like grabbing a friend and going for a walk, giving yourself a break from your stressful schedule, eating the right food and placing yourself in a positive environment all help – even if just a tiny bit. Of course seeking professional advice is absolutely necessary and depending on the severity of depression will mean different forms of treatment. There are many options from talk therapy (such as counseling), medication, herbal supplements, exercise and sunshine, art therapy and meditation. Find what works for you and remember there is no one way for everyone. Seek a second opinion if you need it.
If you’re worried about a friend or relative the best thing you can do is be there for them and offer your support.
*Names have been changed.