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.
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.