We can’t ignore depression. So, it’s time to tell my story
PUBLISHED: 10:00 23 August 2014 | UPDATED: 18:41 01 September 2014
Ellen Widdup’s 2.4 children
Depression is not just feeling a little low. There is no way to ‘snap out of it’. It is a physical and mental pain. It really hurts.
I am happy.
It’s risky, making a statement like that, isn’t it?
What if I’ve tempted fate? What if everything starts to go horribly wrong? How would I feel if the bubble popped?
Well, dreadful, of course. But it’s not like I haven’t been there before.
A study last week said women are most stressed at 34 and most content in their early 20s, but the reverse is true for me.
From 19 to 24 I suffered with depression.
It started after a series of fainting episodes, which resulted in a myriad of hospital tests to try to find the cause.
But there was no medical explanation and this inability to help myself – or even predict when and where I would collapse – brought on a bout of agoraphobia.
Having a fear of leaving the house is a problem when you are a university student.
I missed lectures, skipped tutorials and locked myself away while everyone else was enjoying the party scene.
After several tearful conversations with my parents, and an appointment with a doctor who let me sit and sob for a good 20 minutes, I was diagnosed with depression.
Now, I was lucky. I had private health insurance. It paid for several years of counselling which made me stronger, reduced my anxiety levels and gave me coping mechanisms.
But others are not so fortunate.
Earlier this year a friend of mine in Suffolk was referred for treatment via the NHS.
He had to fill out an online assessment form and was told he would be called at a specific time on a specific date.
That call never came.
Now, I am not saying the NHS doesn’t care or doesn’t want to help.
But there are simply not enough resources to help tackle a condition which is the biggest cause of death in 18- to 35-year-old males.
That’s right. Move over cancer; this is an illness that does not show up on scans, x-rays or blood tests.
It creeps, silently, quickly, into the crevices of the brain and wreaks havoc.
It can affect anyone at any time but, for some reason, men who are affected are much more likely to take their own lives.
The latest suicide statistics from the ONS show the greatest gender gulf since records began. The suicide rate for men is now three and a half times that of women.
And this is a national tragedy.
Quite simply, our failure over the last 30 years to even make a dent in the number of men who kill themselves is a scandal.
The death of the actor Robin Williams earlier this month has brought the whole issue back into public consciousness.
A man so funny, so wealthy, so charismatic. A man surrounded by friends, a loving family, who had a glittering career, was adored, hero-worshipped, had so much to live for.
How could a man like that choose to end it all?
Well, guess what?
Depression doesn’t care about wealth, success or even genius.
You can have it all and, yet, have nothing. It takes and takes and takes until you feel worthless, isolated and vulnerable. Until you are clinging to your duvet (because you simply don’t have the energy to get up) pleading for it to go away.
Depression is not just feeling a little low. There is no way to “snap out of it”. It is a physical and mental pain. It really hurts.
And those who do not get help can be left feeling out of control.
Now, this is the first time I have ever written about my own depression.
In the past I have tended to avoid talking about it, too.
And many people feel this way.
They think it makes them seem weak. They worry about other people’s reaction, about being rejected, laughed at, sneered at.
Men, in particular, rarely discuss feelings of emotional turbulence. Macho conditioning that beseeches them to “man up” and demands that “boys don’t cry” are perhaps directly implicated in their reluctance to seek help and support.
But depression is such a vast issue in this country that it’s a crying shame that the Department of Health is not doing more to help and that people simply feel unable to speak up.
An incredible two-thirds of Britons with depression get no treatment at all.
Some of these do not seek help but others do, and don’t receive it.
And the gap between treatment for mental health problems and physical illnesses is so huge now that the incoming president of the Royal College of Physicians, Professor Simon Wessely, has warned it may prove impossible to bridge.
In his first interview since being elected to the post, he said: “People are still routinely waiting for more than 18 weeks, possibly up to two years, for treatment. Some children aren’t getting any treatment at all – literally none. That’s what’s happening.”
If we were talking about cancer, he said, “you’d be absolutely appalled and you would be screaming from the rooftops”.
He is right.
So what can we do about it?
Well, the Government needs to pour funds into this area of medicine with immediate effect.
General doctors, nurses, midwives and social workers need to have more mental health training and there needs to be a faster response between diagnosis and treatment.
Given the tools, the NHS can deal with – and in time conquer − the epidemic.
But their efforts need to be bolstered with a better public understanding of this condition, and we can only do that with more conversation.
So I’m starting here. I am not telling you about my own battle because I want sympathy. I’m telling you because I am not ashamed, I am not embarrassed and depression is no dirty secret.
I’m telling you because to open up about something like this promotes discussion. And this is an issue we need to talk about.
I also hope others will look at me and see that things can and do get better.
Terrible things happen in life but they are nothing compared with the misery we heap on ourselves.
Of course, I still have anxiety but I know now how to control it. I still have days I feel low but I have coping mechanisms to combat them.
I love. I laugh. And I surround myself with people I adore.
The Samaritans 24-hour helpline is 08457 90 90 90 Please find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup.