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Asking questions about depression
The death of Robin Williams a few weeks ago has prompted a big debate about mental health awareness. Because he was so well-known, the discussion about depression has taken place across the world. It has also been a chance to challenge some myths about depression.
These are the sorts of questions people are asking:
- How could someone who seemed so cheerful do something like this?
- Why do so many comedians seem to suffer from depression? Is the cliché about the tears of a clown based on truth?
- How can someone who was so well-liked, and loved by his family, lose all of this?
- Why couldn’t someone like this get help?
The heart of the matter
These questions go to the heart of the matter of depression. Depression can affect anyone, whatever they do for a living, or whatever kind of family or friends they have. Depression may be as a result of distressing events or circumstances in the person’s life, but equally people can suffer the severest periods of depression without any outside influences. Just because someone appears cheerful and smiling does not mean that they aren’t depressed or having suicidal ideas. Whilst to everyone else it appears the obvious answer is to seek help for depression, there will be a whole number of reasons why that is difficult - stigma, putting your job at risk, and possibly feeling so low that help seems futile.
Learning from loss
What we can learn from this tragedy, for those of us working with people with mental health problems?
- Be aware of risk factors, alcohol, age, personal history
- How someone appears may not be how they are feeling
- Encouraging people to talk about how they are feeling is a good start to getting help
- You don’t have to be a mental health professional to talk to people who may be experiencing mental health problems
- Medication does work for some people, for others, talking therapies. What works for one person may not be the same for everyone
One of the issues that the QCS policies on depression and suicide explore is the controversial nature of mental health problems. There are different theories and explanations of depression, and as many different approaches. This can make workers feel powerless to help because they feel have to be expert in mental health problems to be of any use. That really isn’t the case. Finding out what works best for the person, or has worked best in the past (and getting that information from the person), is crucial.