We need to talk about depression

Me, in a room full of therapists, to talk about depression. That was how I spent an evening the other week at a talk hosted by @Leilanimitchel at The Link Centre. Not intimidating at all … except actually, it wasn’t 🙂

I was by no means the only person there with a personal interest or an interest stemming from personal experiences of depression. And I over-exaggerated above, there was one other non therapist in the room with me 😉

My (circuitously made) point: depression affects a lot of us and I am as much a part of the conversation about it and how we as a society approach it as anyone else is. By creating an informal session that allowed for contributions from all those attending as and when points that resonated for individuals arose, that was exactly the feel and teaching of the session run by the lovely Leilani.

Have a read of Leilani’s blog on depression to understand key points from the presentation on what depression is and how we can treat it

So many things came up in a short session (2hrs) both from Leilani’s presentation and from the discussion that ebbed and flowed around it and I became aware just how much talking about depression we have ahead of us over the next 30 years or so … all I can do here is highlight the points that stuck out for me and invite thoughts, responses and interrogations in the comments below.

The symptoms of depression are as diverse as are the ways that individuals experience it, therefore it is easy to misdiagnose.

As a group we found thinking and talking about depression in terms of levels or layers useful. We found it useful to recognise layers of experience that are not depression, but may be part of a journey toward it. Also that recovery is unlikely to be a straight and quick journey back to full health.

Some people experience depression as a numbing of feelings or an inability to tune into your own feelings. I identify really strongly with this, but I know others who don’t recognise that in their own experiences of depression.

That, as mundane as it sounds, is the biggest thing I took away from the session. When we talk about depression, we are not clear what we are talking about and the term is likely to encompass a number of different mental states. Diagnosis relies on the diagnostic criteria, which are ambiguous and have a great deal of overlap with other defined medical conditions. Of course a diagnosis is useful and allows us to put a thing in a box and know what it is. We can’t talk about (much less secure money for research!) for things we don’t have a well defined concept for.

Having the label ‘depression’ is a really useful thing therefore. However, it may also get in the way of further exploring the nuances of depression and the best ways to manage and find ways to ease the ways different people suffer with it in their lives.

So what do I think might help? More discussion, like the event at The Link Centre. We need as many perspectives on this as possible. I’d like to see further clarifications and distinctions of mental being and, ultimately, to dispense with the label of depression as we learn to differentiate, accept and discuss more of our emotional and mental health needs.

Ultimately, I want to see happiness and structures to support long term sustainable mental wellbeing (to include happiness) as a priority for humanity. We all experience pain and suffering. That doesn’t mean either physical or mental pain should be a way of life for anyone. It certainly doesn’t mean we should give up on trying to make it better.

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September

I threw open the balcony doors, first thing, to feel a rush of crisp September air over my skin. It was glorious. I have always loved the bright almost Autumnal mornings where the chill in the air prickles my skin out of complacence. I love having my skin surrounded by the warmth of a sunny midsummer morning, precious because only for a few weeks of the year is it even possible we’ll have that in the UK and even then it is contingent upon ever changing air pressure. Nearly autumn, though, brings a clarity and an awakening that I find delightful. Summer heat is relaxing. Autumn is stimulating.

I recalled another recent experience of sensation that thrilled me. I was in the Grange gardens craft shop and stumbled on beautiful glass coasters made by an artist whose name I cannot remember (sorry!) They were so beautiful I wanted to touch one. I chose one made mostly of clear glass, rounded and smooth like a sea tumbled pebble and not cut smooth like window glass.

I was captivated by gold leaf within the glass, slightly wrinkled, creating a texture I could imagine feeling. A shock ran all the way up my arm as I touched the object and felt smooth, organically shaped glass instead of the crinkled metal. Of course I should have known, but what I saw was so clear, the invitation of the gold leaf to a landscape of such depth and tonality that I had imagined the sensation of exploring it with my fingers and was thrown when I felt something different.

It was a fantastic example of cognitive dissonance perfectly crystallised in a few seconds of my life. This has left me wondering if the sensations I enjoy most include some dissonance. Perhaps only the sensations I find most stimulating, because being enveloped in the warmth of the sun or the arms of a loved one is also a cherished sensation for me and precisely for its lack of dissonance.

Ah, this journey of being a human being! Touch and sensation is so important, it is when and where I am happiest and most alive.