The Curse of Depression

A few days ago, I read of yet another tragedy when a 21-year-old man fell to his death from the Tamar Bridge linking Devon and Cornwall in the UK …

You may be wondering why this is of any significance to me. Apparently, it is the third similar tragedy from the same bridge to have happened in the last twelve months, when previously, a 38-year-old male and a 22-year-old woman both died in separate incidents. Sadly, there has been a sharp increase in the number of police call-outs to the Tamar Bridge, rising from 36 in 2015 to 59 incidents in 2016, which is an average of more than one per week.

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The report of the tragedy attracted my attention as I regularly crossed the bridge by car prior to leaving the United Kingdom just over three years ago. On more than one occasion, I witnessed individuals in a precarious position on the bridge, but to the best of my knowledge, situations were resolved and tragedy was averted. Whilst no official reason for the latest incident has been given, it is widely assumed that the person jumped to his death whilst the balance of his mind was disturbed … in other words, he was suffering from depression. So what exactly is depression?

Depression is a mental illness and according to the World Health Organisation, it is currently the leading cause of ill health and disability. It is estimated that over 300 million people globally are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18% in the ten year period from 2005 to 2015. Like other mental illnesses, depression is steeped in stigma, meaning that those who are struggling often find it difficult to reach out and seek help. People are too scared to admit what, to them, are failings for fear of ridicule and discrimination but the simple fact is that talking about their worries and concerns could be life-saving. However, in some form or another, depression affects everyone … either personally or through interaction with family, friends and work colleagues.

To be honest, it can be very difficult to recognise depression as it is more than simply a low mood. It causes mental anguish, impacts on the ability to carry out even the simplest everyday tasks, and can cause poor function in work, education and socially. The worst case scenario is that depression can lead to suicide, this being the second main cause of death amongst 15-29-year-olds. Symptoms of depression develop gradually and affect different people in different ways but here are some of the key causes:

Mood swings・Lack of motivation・Anxiety・Irritability・Feeling helpless・Guilt・ Sadness・Low self-esteem・Intolerance・No hope・No energy・Self harming・Indecisiveness・Avoiding contact with friends and family・Suicidal thoughts・Having work problems・Crying for no apparent reason・Change in sleeping habits・Loss of interest in things usually enjoyed・Change in appetite (over eating or not eating)

Any of the above causes will likely last for several weeks or even months. Most people experience ‘down’ periods at some point in their lives, but these usually pass after a week or so. Unfortunately, far too many people either don’t recognise the onset of depression or see it as a trivial complaint and not a genuine health condition. They could not be more wrong as depression is a real illness with real symptoms. Never think of depression as a sign of weakness that can be overcome with a few mindset changes. Like any other illness, once it establishes itself,  proper medical treatment is required but with that and support from others, most people make a full recovery.

If you think you may be depressed, it’s very important to seek help from your doctor. The earlier the problem is addressed, the easier it will be to resolve. So what exactly causes the onset of depression? Often, it is triggered by life-changing events such as bereavement, job loss or the birth of a child, but more minor things can also cause the illness. There is no age barrier and affects both men and women, and recent studies in the UK suggest that about 4% of children between the ages of 5 to 16 are either anxious or depressed. Treatment for depression will vary depending upon the diagnosed severity of the condition, but will likely involve a combination of medication, lifestyle changes and talking therapies. Medication will not be prescribed automatically in cases of mild depression as lifestyle changes may well be all that’s needed. However, for moderate to severe depression, a combination of talking therapy and antidepressants is often recommended. In cases of severe depression, referral to a specialist mental health team for intensive specialist talking treatments and prescribed medication may be recommended.

In many cases, changes in lifestyle such as reduced alcohol consumption, healthy diet, stopping smoking and taking more exercise will benefit sufferers of long term depression. The most important first step, however, is to entrust other people and talk openly about your feelings, concerns and anxieties. The words of an old proverb come to mind … a problem shared is a problem halved!

Having read this far, readers may be wondering what prompted this blog. Some twenty-nine years ago, I was diagnosed with severe depression although I failed to recognise the symptoms. It was business associates at the time who made frequent comments that I looked very unwell although I saw nothing to confirm this when looking in the mirror. I was working redundancy notice, having been stabbed in the back by a senior manager despite having bailed him out of operational disasters on more than one occasion. As soon as my unemployment became official, and tiring of all the negative comments being aired about my state of health, I visited my doctor. At first, I was disappointed that my usual GP was unavailable and had to see a locum but this turned out to be for the best as he was very empathetic and concerned. I was prescribed a course of non-addictive antidepressants as well as receiving some specialist talking treatment. My depression was mainly attributable to the situation at work where I was demeaned, belittled and made to feel worthless. Although it took many months before I was fully back to normal, I focused on new things and received tremendous support from my mother and friendly neighbours, without whom things might have been quite different. I’m not ashamed to admit that I experienced suicide tendencies but also recognised the impact that would have on my loved ones. The final boost to my recovery was two-fold … firstly, my friendly neighbours presented me with an air ticket to spend a week with them in Tenerife, and secondly, I received an offer of new employment. Yes, I was one of the lucky ones and emerged from the curse of depression relatively unscathed. There were casualties along the way, however, as I lost several so-called friends; people who could not cope with my symptoms and failed to understand the illness. These people are not missed though as I embarked upon a new chapter in my life.

Depression is certainly not the end and can actually have positive effects. I learnt to not let things get the better of me, no matter how bad they appeared at the time. This wasn’t an easy thing to do by any means but knowing where the depression route could lead, it was by far the preferred option. I cannot stress enough how important it is for people who are feeling depressed, no matter how slight, to seek early help and to start talking things through with people they can trust. If necessary, contact the Samaritans who will listen without prejudice and provide guidance and advice where necessary. If you recognise any of the aforementioned symptoms in people you love or simply know, be that first person to lend an ear as this could easily avert a tragedy and loss of a precious life.

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The Farce Of Brexit

It’s now twenty months since the advisory UK referendum advocating Brexit …

Since that disastrous day in June 2016 when only about 34% of the total electorate voted in favour of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, little forward progress appears to have been made. Whilst a small majority of those who cast a vote were in favour of leaving, nothing has been done to address the issue of thousands of people living abroad who were denied a vote for one reason or another. Many of these people actually reside within the EU bloc of countries and are the most likely to be affected by the ultimate terms of the UK withdrawal. In many respects, proposals and decisions made to date are largely regressive and emphasis has been placed on trivial matters such as the colour of passports . The UK has declared its intention to revert to blue passports despite the fact that prior to EU membership, they were black! Furthermore, there is no EU legislation stating that member states should each have a burgundy passport, although this colour has been voluntarily adopted by most countries. So far, political discussions reveal that the UK wants to cherry-pick aspects of the EU, something that is rightly being denied by Brussels. Should the UK leave the single market and customs union, which are major benefits of membership, the country is seeking an exception with regard to the Republic of Ireland as they do not wish to re-instate a hard border with that country. If this is allowed, then one rule will apply to a single part of the United Kingdom, namely Northern Ireland, with the rest of the country adopting different practices. Seeing as both Northern Ireland and Scotland were heavily in favour of remaining in the EU, it could be argued that Scotland should be awarded similar privileges. All in all, the whole débâcle is little more than a farce to date.

Irrespective of the arguments being put forward to leave the EU, the ratification of Brexit will undoubtedly isolate the country and turn back the clock decades. If one looks at the percentage vote by age, there was a majority of people under the age of 50 who wished to remain in the Union. Primarily, it’s voters over 60 who voted to leave, and ironically, few will live long enough to experience the full effects. Through their selfishness, prejudice and ignorance, these voters have deprived a future generation of greater opportunities and options.

There is another major issue … namely the dogmatic and arrogant approach being taken by Prime Minister Theresa May. Whilst she is the elected leader of her party, first and foremost she is a constituency Member of Parliament, and as such, should be representing the views of her constituents who voted for her in the last General Election. Seeing as over 90% of her constituents voted in favour of remaining in the EU, the PM is ignoring their wishes and merely sailing along on an ego trip. Even she is on record as stating that the country is better off within the EU so her stance to leave is nothing but hypocritical and illustrates perfectly that she, and the majority of politicians, cannot be trusted. The current UK government is quick to highlight and criticise corrupt administrations elsewhere in the world but fails to admit that it is equally corrupt and, undoubtedly, one of the worst governments in decades.

For anyone reading this who supports Brexit, I would suggest you consider everything that the EU has done to improve standards and conditions for everyone over the last forty years or so.

Above all else, the EU has been the mainstay of peace across much of the continent of Europe following centuries of conflict. Rather than instigate new political warfare, the UK should remember the sacrifices made by people from many countries to achieve peace and live together in harmony. It is ironic that a Conservative government is removing us from the EU when it was their predecessors who, long ago, advocated membership of what started out as the Common Market. Many continue to argue that membership costs the country far too much money but statistics from HM Revenue & Customs puts this matter neatly into perspective.

It’s too early to predict the final outcome of Brexit or even if the present government will survive to deliver the result. I remain a staunch European and am very thankful that I’m able to live freely in another member state. With so much antipathy towards Brexit now emerging, I believe that a further referendum should be offered to the British electorate, devoid of blatant lies and deception. I am sure that the earlier result would be overturned and would save the country billions of pounds that Brexit negotiations and procedural changes will ultimately cost. Theresa May is adamant that no second referendum will take place, no doubt because she fears losing face and being toppled from her extremely precarious seat of power. However, it would be very rewarding to witness a little honesty on the part of a leading politician that could, ironically, work in her favour.

We shall just have to wait and see!

Caring For The Environment

Nowadays, most of the world is falling victim to the effects of modern-day living …

One aspect of consumerism today is the abundance of plastic packaging. Almost everything that one purchases is wrapped in some type of plastic and many foodstuffs are often in plastic trays with a plastic-derived wrapping. After decades of free supply, supermarkets are now charging for plastic carrier bags in the hope that they will be used more than once. This initiative has often been implemented by governments but to be honest, it is too little too late. Many countries encourage recycling of various products including certain plastics but this facility can be very confusing to the consumer as there is currently no universal directive. The recycling option depends entirely upon the facilities available in any given area which means that far too much refuse continues to end up in landfill sites.

The younger generation no doubt view recycling as innovative and a step forward, but in truth, the practice was a well-instilled discipline several decades ago. To illustrate this point about ‘going green’, just read the following that has been doing the rounds on social media.

An elderly customer was at the store checkout. The young cashier suggested to her that she should bring her own bags because plastic bags are not good for the environment. The woman apologised to the young girl and explained “We didn’t have this ‘green thing’ back in my earlier days.”

The young clerk responded in typical blame-culture fashion “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.”

The customer agreed with her saying that “our generation didn’t have the ‘green thing’ in its day. Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed, sterilised and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled. But we didn’t have the ‘green thing’ back in our day! Grocery stores bagged groceries in brown paper bags that we reused for numerous things. Most memorable besides household rubbish bags was to use brown paper bags as book covers for our school textbooks. This was to ensure that public property (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings. Then we were able to personalise our books on the brown paper covers. But, too bad we didn’t do the ‘green thing’ back then”.

The elderly customer continued. “We walked up stairs because we didn’t have an escalator or lift in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a gas-guzzling machine every time we had to pop around the corner. But you are right … we didn’t have the ‘green thing’ in our day. Back then, we washed the baby’s nappies because we didn’t have the disposable kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-consuming machine indoors. Wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Children often got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, and not the over-priced designer stuff of today. But you, young lady, are right; we didn’t have the ‘green thing’ back in our day”.

The old lady went on. “Back then we had one television or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of  a football pitch. In the kitchen we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send via the post, we used old newspapers to cushion it, not foam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn’t start an engine and burn petrol just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to visit health clubs to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But you’re right; we didn’t have the ‘green thing’back then. We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blade in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade was blunt. But we didn’t have the ‘green thing’ back then!

“Back then, people took the tram or bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their mums into a 24-hour taxi service in the family’s €35.000 SUV which cost what a whole house did before the ‘green thing’. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerised gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23.000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest fast food outlet. Isn’t it sad that the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the ‘green thing’ back then?”

Too many youngsters today are of the smart ass brigade and only too willing to preach to their far more experienced elders. Whilst old age is never going to be easy, we’re thankful still to be around, but it’s easy to be pissed off … especially by a tattooed, multiple-pierced smartass who can’t give change without the cash register indicating how much.

So, basically, there’s nothing new in recycling and today’s generation of industrialists and consumers have much to learn!