Men's Health Month - All About Depression
6th June 2019
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What is depression?
There are times in everyone’s life when we feel down or like we just can’t cope. Feeling depressed, sad or anxious can be a normal reaction to loss, stress, worry, or periods of low self-esteem. But when these feelings last for more than a few days or weeks, and stop us from living life as usual, it can be a sign that something is wrong in our heads.
Depression is the most common mental health condition. It’s characterised by a persistently low mood, feelings of sadness, and a loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable. Depression can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain with the hormones that regulate emotions and mood, or can be triggered by a stressful event.
The average length of a depressive episode is 6-8 months. If left untreated, episodes of depression can keep reoccurring and get worse over time.
What are the signs and symptoms?
It’s normal to feel sad, down or anxious at times, but when these feelings stop us from living our normal life, seeing people, sleeping properly, or going to work, it could be a case of depression.
People will experience depression differently, but common signs include:
- Feeling sad or down for no rational reason
- Having trouble sleeping
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Inability to concentrate or make simple decisions
- Overthinking past situations or constantly worrying about the future
- Being low on energy and not feel like leaving the house
- Drinking to excess or doing drugs to try and stop thinking
- Not wanting to make eye contact or talk to people
- Suicidal thoughts and feeling like the world would be better without you.
Who gets it?
One in eight men will experience depression in their lifetime. There are no typical characteristics of people who are more or less likely to get depressed, although depression can be genetic.
- If people in your family have had depression, you are more at risk of depression.
- Depression can be triggered by stressful occasions and events, so people are more likely to develop depression after stressful or life changing events such as becoming a father, being made redundant, financial loss or the death of someone close.
- Depression has also been linked to a lack of serotonin being produced in the brain, or having low levels of serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical that gives us feelings of happiness or euphoria.
- If you use a lot of marijuana or drugs that release serotonin, you might have low levels of serotonin and be more at risk.
“When you’re younger, you don’t have many health or men’s health issues. As you get older, they just develop. The key is to get them sorted before they sort you out!”
- Rick Myers, Risk Advisor
If you think you might have depression, you can do an online test at depression.org.nz to help determine if what you are feeling is just a blue moment, or if you might have an episode of depression.
The next step is to talk to your doctor or health professional. Doctors are trained in mental health as well as physical health, and can help to determine the cause of your depression, answer your questions and work with you on treatment options.
Depending on your lifestyle, beliefs, and how your depression is impacting on your life and those around you, treatment options might include:
- Other medications to help you sleep or correct chemical imbalances in your brain
- Therapy and counselling
Nothing’s an instant fix, and it might take a few tries to find something that works for you.
Some people will have an episode of depression that can last up to a few months, and then never experience it again, while others might experience depression periodically throughout their life. The good news is that people who continue to have bouts of depression often learn what triggers it, and can take action to avoid being in that situation, or learn mental exercises to cope.
Lance was working as a Senior Detective and Police Negotiator, a high stress high stakes job – talking people off bridges, talking guns out of people’s hands. But, that amount of pressure takes it toll and like lots of NZ men, Lance suffered a burnout.
You may have seen Lance Burdett on the news lately, or heard him on the radio, or read about him in the newspapers. Lance has become a NZ Police spokesperson for hostage negotiations and other issues since he left the police in 2014, and the morning we met up with him was just after the armed incident in the Bay of Plenty. He was busy, tired, and was starting to worry about his own wellbeing.
Like many men in New Zealand, Lance had experienced bouts of depression, and in 1999 suffered a “burnout”. After seeking treatment, he’s back on track, but like many people who have been in similar situations, he needs to keep an eye out for the signs and make a proactive effort to stay well.
In 1999, Lance was working as a Senior Detective and had just started as a Police Negotiator. A high stress high stakes job – talking people off bridges, talking guns out of people’s hands, saving people who were intent on committing suicide, getting them out of situations alive. He is proud to say, he had a 100% success rate over his 13-year career as a crisis negotiator.
But, that amount of pressure takes it toll.
The first sign for him, says Lance, was “cutting himself off from those around him”. At the time, people around him didn’t seem to notice. But he stopped making conversation at work, he went straight home after work to hide away, and he avoided all social functions, making excuses not to go.
When Lance looked out the window at work one day and thought “That’s not high enough”, something in his brain clicked over. He thought how much his family meant to him. Then it dawned on him that something was not right in his head, and whatever it was, it wasn’t going to fix itself.
Through his employer, he made an appointment to see a psychologist who set him homework – tasks to fix his thoughts.
It wasn’t a quick fix. Lance committed to about 10 sessions, one every two weeks. “For it to work, you really need to want to change. You have to drive your own recovery, and do the exercises that are recommended”.
Like many people who have been through a similar experience, Lance now knows his triggers, and knows what he needs to do if he feels he is getting unwell. Which is why on the morning we met, he was planning time to practise a few of his mind exercises on the coming weekend.
Lance is currently writing a book about his experiences as a Police negotiator. He also teaches negotiation and counter terrorism, and runs corporate workshops on how to engage and communicate with highly emotional people.
If you’re worried about a mate or colleague, Lance’s advice is to be up front, but not confrontational. Say something that invites them to speak. A simple phrase can make all the difference:
- “You seem to be a bit down lately, is there something I can help you with?” or
- “If there’s something on your mind, we can chat about it.” or
- “I’m here if you need me.”
If something’s up, and they want to get help, reassure them, “You can get through it, I’m here for you”. You can encourage them to see a doctor, psychologist, or counsellor, and if need be, make the appointment for them. If you’re worried they might hurt themselves, or if you want advice on what to do next, you can call the suicide helpline on 0508 828 865. They’re trained to help, and can give you information and advice about what to do next.
0800 LIFELINE (0800 543 354)
Text HELP (4357) for free
Suicide Prevention Helpline
0508 TAUTOKO (0508 828 865)
0800 376 633
Text 234 for free
The Lowdown for Teenagers
0800 111 757
Text 5626 for free
0800 726 666
0800 111 757
Text 4202 for free
DRUG AND ALCOHOL SERVICES
Alcohol and Drug Hotline
General: 0800 787 797
Maori Line: 0800 787 798
Pasifika Line: 0800 787 799
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
0800 229 6757
0800 NA TODAY (0800 628 632)
Our friends at Engage Aotearoa have put together the most comprehensive list of community support and help services available in New Zealand.
The Key To Life Charitable Trust values and wholly endorses the work by our peers at Engage Aotearoa and we thank them again and again for the important work they do.
If it is an emergency, please call 111 for immediate medical attention.
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