I have been overwhelmed by responses to my previous post on the experience of being anxious and depressed.
The comments fell into four broad categories:
1. Commiseration and agreement. The most common response, and I thank you all. It helps to feel supported and that others feel similarly.
2. I should turn to God. I realise this works for some people, but it is not for me. I am not though going to talk people out of it, or try to persuade them that they are wrong (even if I think they are). If you have faith, and it helps you, I am pleased for you.
3. You should choose to make yourself feel better. This sort of comment is fortunately rare, but the underlying belief is unfortunately quite common in society more widely, and misunderstands the nature of mental illness. It essentially says we are choosing to be ill; to use my favourite analogy, would you say that to someone with cancer? Pull yourself together and snap out of it? It is the sort of belief that stigmatises depression because it’s essentially saying that we are weak and can’t be bothered to help ourselves. It’s all our own fault. It just makes me annoyed.
4. It’s depressing. What did you do to feel better?
I’m going to focus on the final point. I’ve covered many of these things before but I’m putting them altogether here. This list covers how, with much help, I’ve made myself better from the nightmare described in my previous post. Note I say better, not well. Rather like an alcoholic, I fear I always be on the edge.
1. Seek help. There is no need to suffer alone. Call your GP or other health professional, call NHS Direct, or, if you are desperate and thinking about suicide, call the Samaritans. They are wonderful.
2. Remember that there should be no stigma attached to mental illness. You might meet the odd person who tells you to pull your trousers up, or that you brought it on yourself, or whatever, but they are wrong (see above). It’s not easy, but just ignore them.
3. Take medication. You’d take medication for flu, or TB, or cancer, wouldn’t you? Yes, many psychoactive drugs have side effects. You might have to experiment, and go back to your GP and psychiatrist, but remember it takes time for some medication takes time to work and for side-effects to settle down. A bit of constipation is a price worth paying for not feeling suicidal, but remember the extent and severity of side-effects varies from person to person. Consult your GP or psychiatrist if you are worried.
4. All things must pass. You will feel better, eventually. When I am bad I always remind myself of this fact.
5. Exercise as much as possible. I know it’s what everyone says (“when I feel down I just go out for a run”, a doctor once helpfully told me), and when you’re really depressed it’s one of the last things you’d rather do, but it does help. Even a brief walk will make a difference.
6. Go outside as much as possible. Nature makes you feel better.
7. Get as much natural light as possible in the morning. If necessary get a SAD light box.
8. Eat well. Eat for the brain, heart, and against inflammation. See below for some links
9. Stick to a routine you have worked out in advance. Routine might be a bit dull, but it helps mental health, minimises stress, and helps you sleep properly. Talking of which …
10. Get enough sleep at all costs, but not too much. Find a schedule that works for you. I swear by an afternoon nap.
11. Avoid toxic people like the plague. Do not make the mistake I have made many times of believing that you can reason with them or get them to change. Do not perseverate about what they say and just do not engage with them.
12. Consider getting a dog. A dog increases your lifespan by over a year. You have to go outside and exercise ever day. And it releases so much oxytocin. Beau (above) has been a lifesaver for me, perhaps literally.
I should say that of course I don’t have any magic bullet for depression, or any form of mental illness. If I did I’d be well myself, and probably rich. These things have helped me though. I apologise if it all sounds a bit trite and simple.
I am Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Dundee. There is much more information on mental health and other things on my website, http://www.trevorharley.com. Please pass details of this blog on to anyone who might find it useful. There is no need for anyone to suffer in silence. If you are depressed or anxious contact your GP, or NHS 111, or a psychology or medical practitioner, or call Samaritans or Samaritans USA.
Links to healthy eating sites
The Mediterranean diet for general good health and increased longevity.
The DASH diet for hypertension.
The MIND diet for a healthy brain and reducing risk of Alzheimer’s.