Holding it all together

IF your partner or child is depressesd, it can be tough to continue supporting someone who’s looking at life through such a dark lens.

Holding it all together

They don’t want to participate in family activities. The glass is always half empty. You get frustrated with them — you want to run away.

Stick with them, says Dr Pat Bracken, clinical director of the Mental Health Services in west Cork.

“Probably the single most important thing is that someone stays with them and supports them through their journey [of depression].”

Dr Bracken confirms that, in this current recession, more people are being referred to the mental health services. Families are burdened with financial pressures such as unemployment and negative equity.

“Add relationship difficulties into this and you get a toxic mix. It can be very difficult for parents trying to do the best for children, while dealing with their own emotions and problems,” he says.

Mari Kennedy, mindfulness coach and yoga teacher, sees a lot of sadness and depression arising out of fear.

“Our culture is hugely about achieving. We have to be the best. Our children do, too. This doesn’t allow us accept that life is messy.”

Rae Brady Hanley is a poet and counsellor, as well as coordinator of West Cork Counselling and Support Services. She says the core needs of a family resemble those of an individual — safety, security, sense of belonging and of personal and family power, sense of place and creation of a meaningful life.

“Parents are currently going through a challenging time because we have these core needs, but everything around us is shifting and changing at a very fast pace. Many families live in fear of losing their home, of having to emigrate. They have to adjust to being unemployed. The challenge is to hold the bond of family together during times of adjustment,” says Hanley, who sees the ability to make adjustments, to shift and change expectations, as central to wellbeing.

In the area of depression, mental illness and difficult emotions, new trends are emerging — some positive, others less so.

“People are more comfortable talking about emotional states and difficulties, depression, emotional disturbance and mental health. This is very positive,” says Dr Bracken.

He sees two clear benefits. When prominent politicians, artists and sports people speak openly about tough emotional states, they reduce isolation of sufferers and they offer ideas about how to move on.

Another trend is that people grappling with sadness and depression are resorting less to religion, the Church or prayer as a first step in dealing with difficult emotions.

“In my mother’s generation, there were all sorts of religious mechanisms open to people that gave them a sense of purpose and meaning, a positive orientation on how to deal with life’s difficulties,” says Dr Bracken.

He is concerned that we’ve turned very rapidly towards a medicalised understanding of emotional states.

“There is a medical angle to depression and a role for medicine when treating it. But there’s growing concern that this is the first answer when someone has a loss, becomes low in mood or is struggling with anxiety.”

Recent reports confirm that 1.6m prescriptions for SSRIs (type of anti-depressant) were filled in Ireland in 2013. In any month, more than 110,000 people are expected to be treated with SSRIs and more than 40,000 with SNRIs (another anti-depressant type).

“As a culture, we’ve perhaps bought too rapidly into the idea that depression is caused simply by chemical imbalance in the brain. Yet this isn’t really supported by scientific evidence. It limits discussion about how we might understand and respond to states of sadness and depression.”

Helping a person regain a sense of hope (“I will get better”) is an essential ingredient in a journey out of depression and sadness, says Dr Bracken. “We’re trying in Ireland to move to a recovery approach — recovering one’s life again — getting back to work, developing relationships, getting back a sense of oneself.

“The evidence is treatments from the mental health services are important but other things are seen as increasingly important — involvement in the creative arts, in religion and spirituality, in work and leisure, in pursuit of relationships and peer support.”

* This Sunday, The Well at Liss Ard, Skibbereen, will host ‘Lets Talk about States of Sadness and Depression’, a day of creative conversation, inquiry, nature, poetry and music. It is an opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences and generate hope through discussion of the many different pathways towards healing. The day costs €25, including lunch. Booking essential – email Lydia: thewellatlissard@gmail.com.

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