The fine line between demoralisation and depression 32



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I am not a Mark Latham fan. I don’t like bullies (I was bullied as a child by an overbearing headmaster). Mark has the demeanour of a bully and on occasion has behaved like one. The infamous pressure and disrespectful handshake he bestowed on John Howard who was the Prime Minister at the time typified Mark’s bullying behaviour. In recent times Mark has been the purveyor of extreme, simplistic and unsophisticated ravings about mental health and women in particular.

It therefore rankles that I may agree with him when I see a ring of truth in his recent ravings about the over-prescription of anti-depressant medications and the over-diagnosis of depression in the general population.

Having been employed in a family support organisation I suspected that there was a tendency to incorrectly diagnose demoralised persons as being depressed. While demoralisation may go hand in hand with depression, it can also be a single manifestation that may be more readily treated than clinical depression.

While the same low feelings may be evident in both depression and demoralisation, demoralisation could and should best be treated without medication. Medication prescribed for depression does not always provide results, may have undesirable side effects, and may in the first few weeks make the condition worse and make a demoralised person depressed. It is questionable whether medication is appropriate for a person who is demoralised. Busy General Practitioners may not have the time or the expertise to differentiate between a demoralised and a depressed person and therefore inadvertently contribute to the over-prescription of medications referred to by Mark.

We all know that on occasion life events get too much for us, when the load is too heavy for any number of reasons we can become dispirited, disheartened and cannot see a way forward. We may be demoralised, but are we depressed? Most times in general we buck up. Something or someone will pull us out of it. We may get a better perspective when we see persons worse off than we are at the time.

One of the factors resulting in demoralisation is social isolation. The more a person is socially isolated the more they are likely to suffer a higher level of demoralisation. Studies have shown that demoralisation can increase in proportion to how isolated a person is. As the population ages so does the number of people living alone increase and as women live longer than men, there are more elderly women living by themselves than menfolk.

Poor or declining health is also a predictor for demoralisation along with isolation. The two may go together but not necessarily.

Persons of working age who are unemployed are often demoralised when they cannot find work. So too the under-utilisation of skills and time can be demoralising in the older person if there is too much time on one’s hands and nothing is being accomplished or seen as a worthwhile activity.

Not often mentioned is the high suicide rate in the elderly – which exceeds the youth suicide rate and is highest in single men over 85. Isolation is one of the major causes of these suicides and we hear sometimes of the elderly sometimes being found in their homes, days and weeks after their demise.

Prevention of demoralisation is obviously better than cure and particularly the elderly should pay attention to alleviating isolation and watch their diet and participate in exercise for good health. Isolation can be alleviated by joining in activities at community centres and neighbourhood centres, volunteering, talking to neighbours (if you can) reconnecting with friends etc. In the event that ill health prevents participation, community centres run visiting programmes such as neighbour aid in which volunteers visit people in their own homes.

Once demoralisation has set in may be typified by the loss of meaning of life than of course help needs to be provided so clinical depression does not eventuate. If life has lost it meaning than talk to someone such as Lifeline, Beyond Blue, your doctor, a friend. There is always help available even if you think otherwise and talking to someone is the place to start if you can’t tackle the problem alone. Being over 60 does not make us invulnerable and we should not be too proud to seek help when needed.

Do you agree with Michael’s thoughts on demoralisation vs. depression? Is there truly a distinction between the two?

Click here for more information on dealing with depression past the age of 60.

Michael Whitehead

Michael Whitehead attended uni as a mature age student in his 50s, completing multiple postgraduate degrees in health science and psychology. He has a canoe, a pushbike, a bodyboard, a tennis racquet and a fishing rod. He uses them all. Michael is now enjoying retirement after a wide range of careers, most recently as Manager of a Family Support Service.

  1. I am being very honest when I say that I think there is something mentally wrong with Mark Latham, I am not a doctor but his behavior seems bizarre to me. He seems to be almost manic in his abuse of people and those who don’t agree with him. Medication could be the problem, i really don’t have a clue but in my opinion he is a man who needs help

    3 REPLY
    • Agree Libbi, not sure on the mental illness with him though, the way I see it the saying aggression is the strength of the weak sums him up perfectly.

    • Yes Libbi, he is bizarre and so often irrational. I had my doubts when he became party leader, unfortunately I was right

  2. I have not hear of demoralized as a health problem before. Doctors see us (older lonely woman) as depressed and give us a pill. I have consciously decided to stop taking these pills as they do not seen to assist. I have never been referred to someone to talk to.

  3. Latham is like a rat he gnaws at a left leg and then a right leg , managing to annoy both sides, he may be mentally ill or just cunning like a fox

  4. I think there is a lot of truth in what he says. It seems to me that prescribing medication can often be the quick and easy way out for a busy GP. My own personal experience when I went to my doctor and he suggested anti-depressants, was that I was very hesitant. I had seen family members on this medication and I did not want to go down that road. After much discussion I agreed to see a Psychologist and agreed to take St Johns Wort. It is a herbal medication to relieve mood swings. For me this was the right decision. My Psychologist was marvellous and certainly helped me to confront my demons. I took St Johns Wort for about a year and then slowly came off it. I still have moments but hey life is full of ups and downs. I am sure that there are a lot of people out there who need medication but I don’t think it hurts to explore other options. Everyone is different and we must all find our own way but sometimes for some people taking a pill is not the answer.

    2 REPLY
    • Debbie, I’ve heard a lot about St Johns Wort and as you said you weaned yourself off it. A lot of people make the mistake of coming off medications quickly which have terrible affects or is effects. Lol

  5. I do agree as my daughter has been diagnosed with this and now she has split with her controlling husband lm sure she will be off medication as he was the cause of all her problems.just my opinion

  6. Common sense tells us we feel bad when we can not work or have a decent quality of life!

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    • Ok this is so strange and if it happens again I am sadly going to become an x starts at Sixty reader my comments keep coming up waiting for moderation I do not swear I am not often annoyed but if my comments are not going to be placed I would like to know why and as I can see no reason for the numerous times it is happening I will just give it a miss.

  7. The state of demoralisation is a trigger for depression. It’s sensible to come to the conclusion that if one has been heavily subjected to bullying or any form of degradation one is going to feel low, possibly unworthy, maybe anxious but in all a little depressed to say the least. The issue is how it should be treated and that is down to the practioner and their knowledge of this field. Medication may be necessary in some cases but in any situation it’s important to have some type of therapy and on a regular basis. It takes someone with experience to ask the right questions in order to get the right answers, it’s amazing how difficult it can be to explain how you not only feel but why. It’s my opinion that there is a significant gap in the provision of an adequate service in this area.

  8. I can be progressing through my day quite nicely until Scott Morrison appears on TV. Is there anything more demoralizing than that man treating us like expensive garbage? Dismissing our taxpaying years as worthless.Looking for any way possible to force us into penury. Insulting us with his need to reduce tax for the rich while taxing the healthy food right out of our mouths.

    3 REPLY
    • I can turn the TV off – but living 24/7 with a husband who HAS to have it on (and shouts at it) is a real stress maker for me.

    • Leone, my husband and I have our own TVs in different rooms – his is in the lounge, mine’s in the family room. I like quiet, so I don’t have my TV on very often at all. He uses wireless headphones. Both happy.

  9. I go further than Michael does in regards to psychotic drugs: they should never be used to treat depression or mental illnesses. Mental illnesses require mental solutions, like learning how to be your own best friend.

  10. I think he has a point and will look more carefully at the people who cross my path. We can all do some small thing to break down isolation for people who are alone, and to encourage those around us who may be dealing with life’s setbacks. Thanks for this article.

  11. I certainly agree with his article. What he has described as demoralisation I have called a situational depression. It will get better as opposed to clinical depression that is a lot harder to overcome.

    1 REPLY

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