Just grief or depression?

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My Mother died two weeks ago.  She was 94 years of age, and other than the physical frailties that nine decades brings, she was in quite reasonable health.  She lived in the north of Scotland and looked forward to my telephone calls, catching up on the family happenings.  Her passing was quick and gentle.  Took to her bed on the Saturday and slid out of this life on the Sunday morning.

My sister and I shared the familial grief by phone.  With Mother at 94 we knew in advance that she had to have turned the corner into the home straight, but even so, our grief was one of copious tears followed by an unwilling acceptance that our Mother had “gone”.

Two weeks later I can still get teary-eyed.  Is this still grief, or is it now depression?

Well, if you are a western male, even if it is ‘depression’, you will almost automatically repress the emotion.  You were taught to do this by your father.  You probably even picked up your crying toddler son after a tumble and said, “There, there.  Big boys don’t cry.  You’re OK.”  We are all guilty of promoting this stereotype.

“Men tend to be action-oriented, so they mistrust feelings and tend to regard emotions as a sign of weakness,” says Dr Michael Dudley, a psychiatrist and chairman of Suicide Prevention Australia.  “For men, mental illness is seen as a moral failing, so they bury pain and don’t talk to people about it.  But depression is an illness, not a weakness.”

However, what has to be understood is that just “feeling down” on its own is not a symptom of mental illness.  We all feel down from time to time, generally when something has happened to precipitate it, such as the passing on of my Mother.  We all feel sad from time to time, but depression is an ongoing sadness that lasts for two weeks or more, with a complete loss of pleasure in things that were once enjoyed.  With that description, I can honestly say I am still grieving, but I am not depressed.

Since men have been raised not to have public displays of depression, many adopt strategies to cover the problem, with the common ways being to become workaholics, risk taking to produce ‘highs’, alcohol and illegal drugs.

The incidence in the community is frightening.  The Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing found that one in four women and one in six men suffered from depression.  In 20 years it is predicted that depression will be second only to heart disease as Australia’s biggest health problem.

While the causes of depression are multiple, and men try to mask their problem, the sad part is that depression can be treated.  Modern pharmaceutical medication is not ‘mind altering’ but restores the chemical balance in the brain to allow ‘normal’ thought processes to return.

So here are 10 tips to help beat depression:

1. Stay active – go gardening, take a brisk walk or go swimming.

2. Healthiness is happiness – don’t neglect your health when you’re feeling low.  Eating and sleeping well will have a positive impact.

3. Don’t drown your sorrows – alcohol is a depressant that will make things worse both in the short and long term.

4. Knowledge is power – think it through and systematically pinpoint the things that make you feel depressed in the first place.

5. Don’t isolate yourself – surround yourself with family and friends, they are a fantastic support mechanism.

6. Keep it simple – evaluate the aspects of your lifestyle that put added pressure onto you and try to cut them out.

7. Rationalize your worries – writing them down can help get them out of your head.

8. Feelings are fleeting – the world around us is not depressing, only our own perception of it, which can just as easily turn around in an instant.

9. Altruism enhances moods – a kind gesture here and there will do wonders for your wellbeing.

10. Take responsibility – things will only change when you realize you are the number 1 change factor.

And if you are male, it is very important you recognize your own moods and not be afraid to ask for professional help.