Mental health matters
We sometimes rationalise it and call it ‘exhaustion’, ‘overdoing’ it or ‘nothing a club night won’t put right’. They’re reasonable things to say because we do get tired, we can overdo it and a night out might be just what we need to relax and let our hair down. Sometimes, this is depression.
Problems start when you start to feel this way more often than not. Little interest or enjoyment in life, feeling helpless and/or inadequate, feelings of loneliness and isolation and lack of motivation and drive are all examples of this.
You may also have difficulty in making decisions, may no longer feel able to cope at work, and personal relationships are difficult and strained. You begin to feel that life isn’t worth living.
Sometimes the cause is obvious: the end of a relationship, chronic money worries, a bereavement, unemployment or physical illness. However, depression can seem to ‘just happen’ which makes it difficult to comprehend.
Depression becomes an illness and requires medical attention or professional treatment when it won’t go away. Persistent warning signs and symptoms of depression include:
- Lack of enjoyment of activities that are usually fun or enjoyable.
- Poor concentration.
- Inability to sleep properly, lying awake or waking up in the early hours.
- Frequent feelings of gloom and sense of despair.
- Emotional outbursts and crying for no apparent reason.
- Extreme apathy.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Noticeable increase or decrease in appetite.
- Reduced sex drive.
- Loss of self-confidence or self-esteem.
- Heavy drinking or drug abuse.
People with depression can sometimes experience memory problems – here’s why | The Conversation | 9 Feb 2021
Depression strongly associated with risky sex in UK gay men | nam aidsmap | 2 Jun 2015
If the following steps don’t help you then seek professional help:
- Talk problems and worries through with a trusted friend.
- Don’t bottle up your emotions. If you need to cry: cry.
- Take some regular exercise.
- Eat a balanced diet and avoid binge eating.
- Don’t drink alcohol to feel better – the immediate relief will only be followed by a deeper depression.
- Take up a relaxation exercise.
- Don’t cut yourself off from close friends. If you can, tell them the truth.
Not everybody can accept that they are depressed. It may not sit comfortably with how you see yourself or how you like others to see you: strong, masculine, in control. It’s a very male thing stemming from all the macho stuff we pick up in childhood, from family and on TV and film.
Attitudes are starting to change for the better although many of us find it very difficult to show our feelings and emotions. Ironically, coming to terms with depression and acknowledging the need for treatment will probably be one of the truly brave things you will do in your life.
Depression doesn’t usually just go away – its there for a reason although you may not know what the reasons are. You should seek professional help, and in the first instance, this is likely to be your GP. However, if you think or know that your depression is related to sex or your sexual health, speak to your sexual health clinic who may be able to provide support, counselling or a referral service.
If these steps are too much, phone one of the helplines listed below which may give you the confidence to see someone in person. Professional help is usually based on the idea of helping you to help yourself, and the appropriate counsellor or psychotherapist will encourage you to talk about your feelings and explore and confront the possible reasons for them. This can take weeks, sometimes months, occasionally years.
One of the problems with depression is knowing where to start particularly if you’re feeling de-motivated and apathetic. Anti-depressants can kick-start the recovery process and let a little light in. This allows you to see that you can feel better, be more responsive to help and support and that further treatment will be beneficial. Unfortunately, some anti-depressants have had a bad reputation because some of the older drugs have worked but have had side-effects such as drowsiness, blurred vision, heart irregularities, constipation and a dry mouth.
However, a new generation of anti-depressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) has fewer side-effects. It is increasingly accepted that depression can be caused by disordered biochemistry within the brain. Nerve cells (neurons) – which take information across the brain – communicate with each other using electrical signals. These signals have to jump tiny gaps between the cells called synapses but can only do so with the help of chemical neurotransmitters such as serotonin and noradrenaline which are thought to affect mood. Like ferries carry passengers across a river, neurotransmitters carry electrical signals across synapses. Fewer neurotransmitters mean fewer signals can take information across the brain and, in this instance, we can become depressed. SSRIs boost levels of neurotransmitters. Familiar brand names include Seroxat and Prozac.
Antidepressant use in England soars as pandemic cuts counselling access | The Guardian | 1 Jan 2021
New antidepressants can lift depression and suicidal thoughts fast, but don’t expect magic cures | The Conversation | 21 Dec 2020
We can no longer ignore the potential of psychedelic drugs to treat depression | The Guardian | 8 Jun 2020
Antidepressants: Please, PLEASE, do not just abandon your meds! | The Guardian | 24 Jan 2020