When I suffered pain in my chest and I was struggling to breathe, I dialled 999. An ambulance arrived in superfast time and I was whisked away to a hospital filled with expert doctors who saved my life. I’d had the first of many heart attacks.
I got fixed. Easy.
But what happens when someone is suffering acute pain in his or her emotions and feelings. Depression can be a long, slow decline into sadness and darkness; it can also come in the form of a fast, acute panic attack, a feeling of being strangled and being unable to breathe.
Depression and anxiety have been on the rise in the modern world for the past 20 or so years, but never has growth been so rapid as during the Covid-19 pandemic.
I’ve listened to someone close to me say,
‘The pain is leaking out of me – I can’t control it’
Doctors are reporting a 20-fold increase in patients seeking medical help for depression and anxiety.
What can we do to help?
There are so far 9 known scientific causes for major depression. 2 of these are based on a biological chemical imbalance. In these instances chemical anti-depressants will work and I have nothing against them, indeed I take them myself.
However, the other causes, and therefore their solutions, need to be understood in order to help us, as a society, get better.
We all have natural physical needs; food, water, air and shelter. If we are starved of any of those things, we get into trouble pretty quickly.
We also all have natural psychological needs. We need to feel a sense of belonging, our life needs meaning and purpose and we need a future that makes sense to us. Remove any of these are you can also be in big trouble.
So if you are struggling with depression and anxiety, it’s so important not just to think about what is happening biologically in your brain, you also need to look at what is happening to your life.
There is story I read, from a doctor who visited Cambodia in 2001. He was doing a study into depression. At that time, chemical anti-depressants hadn’t been introduced into Cambodia so he was surprised to hear the local doctors talk about treatment for depression.
They told him of a member of their local community who worked in the rice fields. A couple of years previously, he had suffered a terrible accident and had his leg blown off by a landmine, left over from the war. He survived and got fixed up with a prosthetic leg. After a few months recovering he went back to work in the rice fields but became very depressed and cried all the time.
His community noticed the change in him so they arranged to sit with him and listened to what he had to say.
His leg was very painful because he had to work under water in the rice fields. He was also really afraid of returning the fields everyday because this is where the accident had happened.
His concerns were real. I think any of us would feel the same – it would be so frightening and traumatic to keep returning day after day and reliving the pain of the explosion, not to mention having a working environment that caused more physical pain to the injury.
So the community got heir heads together and came up with a prescription for anti-depressants. They prescribed a cow!
Yes, the community clubbed together and bought him a cow. The man was then able to quit his job as a rice farmer and become a dairy farmer, taking away all the pressure and fear and pain that his situation was causing him.
The locals said that after 1 week he stopped crying and after a couple of months his depression lifted.
So what does this story tell us?
When you are struggling with depression and anxiety, I’m here to tell you, you are not crazy or weak and you are not broken, although it might feel like you are. It may be that there is a chemical imbalance in your brain that needs the help of medicine and it is also likely that you have an imbalance in your life too. And it’s probably a combination of the two.
Now here’s the important bit.
No one can fix this problem on their own.
Everyone needs support.
Once the depressed part of your brain gets stronger, it gets harder and harder for you to see a way out. You might feel hopeless and helpless and that is not your fault.
Think back to day dot, when it all began. Whether we came from an atom, an egg, out of the sea or the air, human beings, as a species, have managed to survive this long. There are animals that are faster, stronger and fiercer than us. There are animals that could chew us up and swallow us down without touching the sides, but somehow we survived. Somehow we still exist. We exist to be alive because we are good in a tribe. Other species are stronger than us individually, but when we join together, into a community, that looks out for and supports each other, we are stronger than them all.
When you are in a depressed state, you can’t think clearly. You can’t see what might be wrong with your surroundings, because you are depressed. The depressed part of your brain is very clever at trying to keep you depressed. It wants to win. Because you are depressed you can’t see what changes are available to you. That’s why we all – as a community need to step in, step up and take notice. We need to look at the people around us, listen to what they are saying, watch how they are acting and become their support community and tribe.
So, we have survived for millions of years by being part of tribe.
Now, we live in a modern, developed, busy world were loneliness is rife.
We have been separated from our loved ones, young students are living in small rooms, alone, not able to socialise. Our old folk have been starved of physical contact with loved ones and many of them don’t understand why.
Our lives have become more unstable than ever before, so this is when we need to rebuild our tribes, to support our community, our friends, family and neighbours and notice when depression might be taking hold, before its too late.
We didn’t get to this point of existence on our own. We did it in groups, in tribes.
Please rebuild your tribes, reconnect with your groups, even via video chats right now.
Depression goes deeper than biology, so the solutions need to go deeper too.
Your depression isn’t a malfunction – it’s a signal. It’s trying to tell you something. You are feeling this way for a reason and it can be hard to see – but with the right help you can recover and be happy again.
Respect the signals your mind is giving you; reach out to your tribe so that TOGETHER we can see the liberating solutions.
And if you see someone who is struggling, don’t wait until they ask for help, because they probably can’t see that they can. Just be there, listen and if necessary buy them a cow.
Have less ‘me’ time, more ‘us’ time
Don’t focus on being YOU, focus on being WE
Don’t try solving them, but LISTEN to people’s problems, they are real to them.
I have NEVER come across a depressed person who doesn’t want to get better, so saying ‘pull yourself together’ NEVER helps.
DON’T DICTATE to a depressed person what they should do:
“You need to get out and walk”
“You should get a hobby”
“There are people worse off than you, you should be thankful”
“It’s tough for everyone at the moment”
…Instead encourage small changes in behaviour and balance
People who are depressed understand that exercise will make them feel better, but the depressed part of their brain stops them from doing it.
“Do you fancy joining me on a little walk around the block?”
People who are depressed can find normal everyday events overwhelming – they often can’t focus on a book or film, or even washing, dressing and self-care. So it’s really important that the help you offer reflects what THEY FEEL they need at that time, not what YOU THINK they need.
“Is there anything you’d like me to help you do today?”
“ I can see you are struggling today, what would YOU like to do?”
“Do you fancy a bit of company?”
“Tell me how you are feeling, even if you think it sounds silly – I want to know and understand better”
If you are struggling right now, come and sign up for my
14 day Coping with Depression and Anxiety Course
The usual price is £89
Throughout lockdown the course is FREE
(just a £5 admin fee applies)