How many times have you had someone ask “How are you doing?” and thought to yourself, “Would you really like me to tell you?” but acknowledge that it’s just a pleasantry and they really don’t want to know. And, they don’t! If you are suffering from depression, it’s unlikely you would tell them anyway.
Having suffered two episodes of treatment resistant, severe clinical depression — the first in 1997, the second around 2008 — if someone had asked me with true meaning, I might have answered. No one did. No one knew how I was struggling to deal with the multiple stressors that had occurred in my life in a couple of years previously. It was almost like one day I was dealing with these issues, and the next day I wasn’t. I’d hidden my struggle from my family and friends, and myself truth be known. I was a strong, independent, intelligent woman and suddenly I wasn’t. I couldn’t sleep, cry or even be bothered to shower or feed myself.
Which brings me to the point of having a national day of action in Australia in September dedicated to reminding people to ask family, friends and colleagues the question, R U OK?. Do we just have one day when we notice that a family member or friend is not coping?! If we do ask the question, do we really know how to deal with the reply if things turn out to be not okay? The majority of people don’t.
If you’ve not suffered the illness yourself, it can be difficult to understand anxiety and depression and how it affects the other person. Trust me, I certainly didn’t know why I just wasn’t coping any more. Even though I had experience of mental illness, in particular, depression in my own family, everyone (including me) thought I would be the last person to suffer from such a debilitating illness. For a while, I was pretty good at hiding the fact.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed in its National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results that one in five Australians experience a mental health condition in a given year and almost one in two will experience a mental health condition at some point in their life. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. In Australia, on average, around one in six women and one in eight men will experience some level of depression. Depression does not discriminate. Rich or poor, young or old — it is an illness that robs you of everything you thought yourself to be. I liken it to a thief in the night, silently robbing your mind until you wake up and realise that you have been burgled.
Educate yourself about mental illness. If it doesn’t strike you, sure as eggs are eggs it will strike someone you love and care about. Don’t wait for that one day on the calendar to ask, “Are you okay?”
If you or someone you know is in need of crisis or suicide prevention support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au/gethelp, or call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, Mensline Australia on 1300 789 978 or the Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.