Depression: it's heartbreaking when someone close refuses to accept help.
I wrote a blog a few weeks back about insomnia and one of the people who commented suggested I might be depressed, as sleeplessness can be a sign of depression.
Initially I dismissed the idea, but it got me thinking. Could I be depressed? I didn’t feel depressed, but I know only too well what it does feel like.
I remember the first time it happened. I was constantly weepy, couldn’t find any enjoyment in life and just felt incredibly heavy. I woke up to myself one day and thought, “Oh my god, I’m depressed”. I was shocked. But at least I knew why I felt like I did.
I also know how tough it is to admit to yourself you’re depressed. No one wants to believe they have a mental health issue. You think because depression is about your own mind, you can fix it yourself. I don’t think that’s the best approach to take. If you have a broken leg, you go to a doctor to get it fixed. It’s the same with your head. If you have something wrong with your mind, get it fixed.
So I interviewed Dr Caryl Barnes, consultant psychiatrist with the workplace mental health and wellbeing program at the Black Dog Institute to find out more about the signs of depression.
“We all have blue days and we can generally bounce back if we see family and friends. So a big difference between blue days and depression is how long the feeling lasts,” Barnes says.
She says if you’re still feeling down after two weeks, you could meet the criteria for depression.
Other signs include not looking forward to future events or your normal activities. “Depression impacts how you function. You’re low or blue all the time and you’ll often withdraw from social activities,” explains Barnes.
There are also a number of physical signs of depression. These include lack of energy and an inability to get out of bed or even leave the house. You might be finding it hard to make decisions. Tiredness and sleeplessness as well as a change in appetite – either not wanting to eat or craving food – could all be signs.
“With depression what you’re looking for is a change from your normal pattern,” Barnes advises.
She says it could also affect your thinking. You become more critical and negative. You might start to blame yourself for problems or feel more guilty than normal.
“If you’re wondering if you’re depressed, complete a self-rating tool,” suggests Barnes. You can find a test here.
Depression can also affect your working life. You might feel you can’t complete work as fast as you normally would. You might be anxious that you’re not doing your work properly.
If you think any of your staff are depressed, Barnes recommends taking the time to talk to them about it in private. “Don’t just say, ‘You seem moody’. You might want to say you’ve noticed they are not coming to work lunches like they used to and ask if there’s anything you can do to help.”
She also says organisations like the Black Dog Institute can provide training on how to deal with mental health in the workplace.
So what if you have a staff member you believe is depressed, and you’ve talked to them about it and they still don’t want to recognise they may have a problem? Barnes says people in this situation can have a ‘self-stigma’ about being depressed and don’t want to acknowledge it for fear of missing out on promotion.
“People can say they’re fine until they’re blue in the face if they don’t think it’s safe to disclose they have depression. So if you’ve been talking to a staff member about their mental health, make sure you follow up or arrange to touch base at another time, because people are more likely to disclose how they feel the second time around,” she says.
Sadly, Barnes says one of the hardest things for managers is people who work for them who flatly refuse to acknowledge there is an issue. She says it is up to the individual to recognise they need help. The worst-case scenario is using performance reviews to manage the situation, which can ultimately lead to them losing their job. Barnes hopes with training and better awareness this will happen less and less.
So how can you get back to good mental health if you have depression? In my case, I put a lot of work into my mental health on an ongoing basis, which starts with taking responsibility for it. I surf every morning and have a regular yoga practice. I’m also fanatical about healthy eating – we grow our own vegies and I make sure I have a vegie juice every day. I also try to make sure I don’t work too hard and see my family and mates regularly. And if I do feel I’m slipping into depression, I go to see my counsellor.
If you think you are depressed, the first step might be to complete the test on the Black Dog’s website. Then it might be an idea to talk to your GP and see if he or she can recommend a counsellor or psychologist.
But please don’t suffer in silence. It can be confronting to admit you have depression and working your way out of it takes strength. But it probably won’t be as difficult as you think it will be, and the rewards – great mental health – are enormous.
I’d love to hear your stories – please post a comment below.
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