Friday, 27 December 2013

12 Days of Mental Health : Day 2 - Depression

So glad to be sitting down and blogging after spending goodness knows how many hours sale shopping. Mind you, I got a fair few bargains (hello, new handbag) and we had breakfast at the Waffle House, so I'm happy.

Anyway, on wards to day two in "12 Days of Mental Health." Today, a lovely friend of mine, Lucy, will be sharing her story about living with depression and what she has achieved since her diagnosis. First up, here's some information about depression. 

You will find numbers and helplines at the end of this post of where to go for immediate support. 

What is depression?

We will all experience times of sadness in our lives, and for most of us, this low mood will eventually subside. Depression, however, is much more persistent and symptoms can really interfere with a daily routine. 

Depression affects different people in different ways. Later on in the 12 Days of Mental Health we will hear more about variations on depression, for example Post-Natal Depression (PND). 

What are the symptoms/signs of depression?

There's no test that can be done to see if you have depression. Common symptoms often include:
  • A general "low" feeling that doesn't seem to go away, or comes and goes on a frequent basis
  • Being unable to get pleasure from activities you would usually enjoy doing
  • Having difficulty sleeping, whether that be too much or too little
  • Withdrawing yourself from others
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and inadequacy
  • Difficulty concentrating and/or making decisions
  • You may also experience suicidal thoughts and/or self harm (including alcohol and substance misuse) 
  • Feeling anxious
  • Decreased sex drive and appetite (in some circumstances, individuals may eat more than normal)
  • Low self-esteem and self-worth 
As usual, ALWAYS visit a healthcare professional for a formal diagnosis.

When visiting your GP, they may want to do a blood test to rule out any other physical illnesses that may possibly be causing your depression, such as a thyroid problem. Otherwise, they will normally be able to make a diagnosis after talking about your experiences over the past few weeks. In my personal experience, I have often been asked to complete the PHQ-9 questionnaire (have a look at a copy of that here). 

What's the treatment? 

For many people who are living with depression, negative thought patterns can be a downward spiral into a deeper depression, so it's important to try and nip them in the bud. Many people find that learning CBT helps to break this cycle. You can access CBT in many ways - speak to your GP to see what they can offer you. Alternatively, there are some great books and online resources you can work through. 

There's a good case for exercise being beneficial for combatting depression. Whether you're a keen runner, or like to dance while you're doing the hoovering, give it a go and help stimulate the release of endorphin into your brain. Your GP may be able to refer you on to an exercise referral programme. Don't forget that it's also important to maintain a good diet, and keep watch on your alcohol intake. 

Other talking treatments include counselling and psychotherapy. Talk to your GP about free and low cost counselling options near you. 

Having a good social network is also vital. Whether it be family or friends, challenge yourself to speak to someone, even if it's just a phone call. For some people their depression stops them from working, so consider volunteering if you feel able to.

Medication is also another option. It might not always be necessary or the right option for you, and you might have to try a few different types before you find the right one. Your GP will be able to tell you everything you want to know. 

Lucy's Story

"I guess an introduction to me would be a good start. I’m Lucy, 19 years old, from South Wales (the best part of the world, I know). I’m training to be a primary school teacher and I love to blog!

Three years ago in January I was diagnosed with depression. Depression took over my life. I wouldn't go out or eat, had periods of not being able to sleep and also period of constantly sleeping. I lost interest in everything, had no idea what was going on, couldn't see any hope and wanted out of this life.

However, here I am today alive, well and happy, because there is always hope even when you can’t quite see it.

There are a lot of negative perceptions about mental health diagnosis, but just because what someone may be dealing with I given a name, it does not have to become a life sentence. 

All of my major achievements in life have been achieved after my diagnosis. You see, diagnosis isn't a life sentence. It just means you may have to adjust how you’re living to get the most out of your life. It’s OK to deal with mental health issues, it’s OK not to be OK all the time, but that doesn't have to stop you living.

Since my diagnosis I've completed my GCSEs and A levels, I've raised a lot of money for charity, including over £3,000 for a charity which enabled me to go to Australia (and Malaysia on the way). I've modelled for Julien MacDonald, travelled to Switzerland and France, got into university and made some incredible friends and met some amazing people on the way.

Yes, it can be hard dealing with these things, but there’re always more than one way of doing things. You don’t have to be earning millions to achieve your goals or be the best you can. The greatest achievement you can have in life is to be yourself and live your life to its fullest.

If you have a dream, chase it. Don’t let a label hold you back. Don’t let uneducated ignorance get in your way. Use that ignorance to educate. Don’t let a label define who you are, take the diagnosis and live anyway.

Life doesn't end with the diagnosis of a mental illness…It begins a new day of a whole new life."

Follow Lucy on Twitter by clicking here.

Where can I find out more? 

If you would like immediate support, please call the Samaritans who are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year on 08457 90 90 90 (UK). You do not have to be suicidal, and you can remain anonymous.