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DEPRESSION: THE MODERN MALAISE?

More and more of us, it seems, are finding ourselves suffering from depression. Many figures in the public eye have made a point of publicising their battles with those black clouds that can debilitate and disable. Stephen Fry has been vociferous about his struggle to maintain mental well-being. Newspapers and magazines proclaim various theories and solutions for the low mood that seems to grip so many. There are television phone-ins and debates on how to combat depression. Increased awareness of this illness doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact on the people who struggle to get out of bed each morning. Despite the fact that we’re all much more vocal about mental illness, it still retains a sense of the taboo; and some continue to view mental instability as a weakness that we could cure if only we pulled ourselves together.

If you’ve ever visited your GP because you think you might be depressed, did he ask you about your alcohol consumption? Did he explain that there is a direct link between how much you drink and how you feel? Many of us believe alcohol to be an uplifting stimulant. It cheers us up, makes us more sociable; and ensures that the end of a stressful day reaches a pleasant and relaxing conclusion, doesn’t it? The fact is that these ideas are all mere illusions perpetuated by social conditioning and media brainwashing. Alcohol is a depressant. When you drink regularly, you’re regularly dampening down all your natural abilities to cope and feel pleasure. If you maintain this pattern for any length of time, you’re bound to experience moments of despair, even if you’re not clinically depressed. If you’re already inclined to feel down, alcohol will ensure you are trapped in a cycle of brief moments of pleasure followed by feelings of futile misery.

It would be facile to suggest that diet causes depression, but what we eat has a significant impact on our mood. It has become entirely acceptable to live on a diet of food that is all pre-prepared and loaded with salt and additives. When we’re not eating ready meals, we’re chowing down on takeaways that are loaded with fat and lacking in any real nutritional value. It doesn’t take an almighty leap to conclude that eating like this can impact on how we feel, and on our energy levels.

When you feel depressed, the last think you will feel like doing is putting on your trainers and heading out for a run. In fact, that’s exactly what we should all be doing. Daily exercise has been scientifically proven to improve mood, increase sleep quality and enable much more sophisticated coping mechanisms.

Sometimes, you can be eating all the right freshly prepared food, exercising and limiting your alcohol consumption; but you still feel unbearably hopeless. This is where a visit to your GP and a prescription for medication comes into its own. Anti-depressive medication is certainly not the answer for everyone, but it can change lives. It’s easy to think that taking daily pills so that you have some verve and energy is some sign of weakness, that you’re in some way to blame for your depression. In many cases, depression is not a bad mood you can’t shake off; it’s a chemical imbalance in your brain. There is absolutely nothing weak about taking a drug that will help to correct that imbalance. If you needed medication to help you use your legs, you wouldn’t berate yourself for being ‘weak’; you’d simply take your medicine and get on with your life. Treating depression should not be any different to treating any other illness: we should ask for help, and accept the help that is given to us.

Depression is a complex condition that can be caused by several factors, and for which there is no single solution. The more we talk about it, and accept that it is OK to ask for help (rather than a cross we must bear); the closer we will come to preventing a miserable existence (or worse) for the millions of people who struggle every day.

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