“I have a pain so deep
you’ll never see
I locked it away
and hid the key.
If I ever could share it
You wouldn’t look at me the same I swear it.”
— (Taylor H.)
Q&A: Noreen Murphy
A teenager wrote these powerful words. Taylor said that writing poetry was the only thing that helped her through the dark times. But unfortunately, not everyone can find release from that insidious condition.
There is a difference between depression with a little “d” and depression that comes complete with a big “D”. We all have our off days, when nothing seems to go right, no-one seems to understand us and our lives seem to be going nowhere fast. But with a bit of luck and a few tried and tested strategies such as a long hot soak in the bath or a reviving walk in the woods, the mood will pass and tomorrow will be another day.
The big D however is another matter. All a person’s energy and concentration is compromised. This mental health illness affects a person’s thinking, energy, feelings and behaviour. And it becomes increasingly difficult for the person who is affected to talk about their problems.
Some of the symptoms of depression are feeling sad, anxious or bored, low energy, feeling tired, under or over-sleeping, poor concentration, low self-esteem, feelings of guilt and suicidal thoughts.
Someone suffering a severe depressive episode may also have delusions or false beliefs or suffer from hallucinations. If symptoms persist for a period of two weeks or more, it is most likely a depressive episode and help should be sought from a medical practitioner. Remember, you’re not alone.
Getting a correct diagnosis is key to recovering. Medication —up to six weeks. Counselling and other talking therapies can take time to be effective too. Engaging with nature can make a difference, as can eating a balanced and nutritious diet.
Alcohol is a depressant and can interact dangerously with medication so is best avoided. Adequate rest and sleep is a must. But sadly, such is the nature of this debilitating illness that there are those for whom none of the above seems to work. They are trapped in a dark, lonely place and which does not allow the sufferer to consider the feelings of others when suicide seems to be their only way out.
October 27 saw the culmination of seven years of hard work and true dedication for Bantry woman Noreen Murphy who, with the help of some fantastic volunteers, has launched Lisheens House, which provides a counselling service irrespective of ability to pay or location. Noreen lost her own husband to suicide in 2007 and is all too well aware of the devastating impact that it can have on all those who are affected.
She told me of her frustrating search for support for herself and her sons as her husband’s condition deteriorated.
Noreen, what happened to you and your family during this terrible time?
It happened over a period of about two years. He had been suffering from a very bad depression and gradually he couldn’t see the beauty in anything. He was a very hard working man, a GAA supporter, a countryman who had a full time job and who travelled to Cork and back every day. As things got worse for him, he would have manic phases and I couldn’t talk to him. Sometimes he would threaten to take the family with him. I fought so hard to turn him around and of course, I was responsible for the children. In the end, I started getting sick and I was a person that never even had colds. I was on antibiotics and always ill.
You must have been increasingly frustrated and worried for your children.
People who saw me couldn’t believe how I looked then. But living with someone who is mentally unwell can take a huge toll. We were resigned to the situation and sometimes we’d have to move out of the house. We even had an escape route planned for if he became really bad. What really concerned me was that there was no specific protection for my children. When he did agree to go for help, it usually came down to the experts saying that nothing was going to work if he didn’t want to help himself. I asked my husband to just talk to me, tell me what was wrong one day. But he said that he would rather put a gun to his head there and then than talk about it. I felt then that if he’d had somewhere to go, somewhere homely where there was no stigma attached then things might have been different. I knew that he was going to kill himself and I knew that there was nothing I could do.
Do you think there’s a particular problem with the stigma that’s attached to mental health issues in rural areas?
Yes. It can be very hard when everyone knows each other. People are always afraid of being talked about. There’s a sense that you should just keep quiet about these kinds of difficulties.
Some people don’t even accept the fact that there is such a thing as depression. But I think things are changing, although it’s very slow. It has been very difficult for the children, particularly the children and myself. After it happened, one of my sons said that he couldn’t stand the way some people treated him as though he was suddenly different.
I want to do my best to help the people of West Cork who have been affected by suicide. We have a free counselling service and we hope to open a drop-in centre soon. But we have a lot of fund-raising to do and we need all the help we can get.
Steps to offering support
Aware points out that family and friends have an important role in helping someone to manage their experiences of depression and that it is vital that everyone involved has access to support and information.
The organisation offers the following advice:
Non-judgemental listening and practical support such as driving the person to appointments or cooking them a meal.
Difficult behaviours are part of the condition. If you are upset by a remark or behaviour, try not to react with anger. It is better to address this upset after the depressive episode has passed.
If you think your loved one may be suicidal, discuss this with him/her. This will not increase the risk of the person harming himself or herself.
Allowing them to discuss it with you may help to relieve some of these thoughts and feelings.
Remember — it is not your fault. You did not choose that your loved one develop this condition any more than they did.
Self-care is essential. Access support services for yourself and mind your own health.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved