World Mental Health Day: How To Cope With Depression
Living North columnist Dr Maurice Duffy explains how, so often, we are in denial of our true feelings and how, if we continue to ignore them by putting on a brave face, we can end up in a very dark place indeed
If you met him, you would say he has things together. Yet behind the façade lurks a very different Peter. A worried, anxious, insecure Peter, whose life comprises of smiling in a job he does not like, surviving in a relationship that is floundering, panicking that he will never get promoted, worried that his company will not survive and his kids will hate him. He has an inner critical voice that screams ‘imposter, imposter’ at him every day and his peer group is racing away from him. I meet so many people like Peter who, under the cover of perceived normality, are struggling with depression, anxiety and wondering what to do next.
I know personally what it is like to be crushed under the weight of anger, disappointment and to fail in so many ways. I know what it is like to be so self-critical and never pause for breath. What it is like, and what it takes, to reach the highest echelons of global corporate leadership, whilst hating the culture and demands.
I know what it is like, when negative self-talk can sink its teeth into your very soul, and just never let go. I know what it is like to face numerous challenges where your resilience snaps and you plunge into despair and anxiety. I know what it is like to hate yourself, to put a brave face to the world as the dark clouds thunder through your brain, and you feel your head is likely to burst. I know what it is like to wage war on the demons within you, whilst you allow others to label you uncaring, angry, and lacking in emotion, because by admitting personal emotional weakness, somehow you are a lesser person, and you were taught not to cry.
I also know what it is like not to understand depression, as a parent and carer. To look at those you love and wonder why they just do not get on with it, rather than wallowing in their self-anxiety. I know what it is like to have family members suffering, and those around them, like me, not understanding the tortuous and tormented journey they were on.
My journey in understanding Mental Health is a very personal and complex one. It started by denying its existence, learning to work through its consequences, whilst burning relationships, and relentlessly marching on in search of a greater career, or that illusive holy grail, ‘happiness’, which I thought would come when I had achieved. You know learning to concentrate on daily tasks, let alone banish all negativity and worry, seems like an impossible challenge at times, and sometimes the blackness overwhelms the normal things and they no longer have meaning for you. You must remember that depression and anxiety is not just about negative thoughts or black moods. For some, learning to ease back on the throttle that manages your relentless approach to life might let the hounds of hell catch up and consume you. So, it is better to run from the thoughts than towards the thoughts.
Eventually I realised that what I sought was inside me, not outside me; that I did not have to prove myself to my mum, dad, or family; and that I had made mistakes, but I forgave myself. That other people had no control over me and I would not let them manage me, and that by loving myself more, I could love others more.
I understood at an early point in my journey, amidst challenging circumstances, that I had to draw on inner strengths, source resources and find accomplishments that allowed me to be different.
Over the past 20 years I have worked with thousands of people in more than 30 countries on change, behaviour, competence, health, strategy, mindset, and depression. Some brilliant, brilliant people, amongst the best, brightest, cleverest, and most successful in the world. I have learnt the vital impact our personal health has on our relationships, our performance, our future, our whole lives.
Depression drains your energy, hope, and drive, making it difficult to take the steps that will help you to feel better. Sometimes, just thinking about the things you should do to feel better, like exercising or spending time with friends, can seem exhausting or impossible to put into action. The future can be great. Taking the first step is always the hardest. But going for a walk or getting up and dancing to your favourite music, for example, is something you can do right now. And it can boost your mood and energy for several hours. Long enough to put a second recovery step into action, such as preparing a mood-boosting meal or arranging to meet an old friend.
By taking the following small but positive steps day by day, you will soon lift the heavy fog of depression and find yourself feeling happier, healthier, and more hopeful again.
• Reach out and stay connected.
• Look for support from people who make you feel safe and cared for.
• Make personal facetime a priority.
• Eat a healthy, depression-fighting diet.
• Challenge negative thinking.
• Try to keep up with social activities even if you do not feel like it.
• Find ways to support others.
• Join a support group for depression.
• Do things that make you feel good.
• Get moving.
What follows is the mental filter. If your answer is a strong yes to any of the below questions then talk to someone, or seek help from your GP to establish if the feeling is temporary or you need some professional help.
1. Are you bothered by feeling down, depressed, or hopeless?
2. Do you have little interest or pleasure in doing things?
3. Have you had trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much?
Dr Maurice Duffy is Visiting Professor at Sunderland, consulting coach to the NHS, the Australian cricket team, Durham Cricket Club, international golfers, rugby and many sports people, and also coaches many senior FTSE 100 business leaders and politicians around the world. Find out more at www.mauriceduffy.com or follow him on twitter @thebeaksquawks