Depression is on the Increase – 2021 June No.1

We are surrounded by uncertainty these days, and much of it is a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, which came out of nowhere and turned our lives upside down in a matter of weeks of its first appearance in China, towards the end of 2019.

According to a recent international survey, South Africans are rated as some of the least happy people on the planet, and for good reason. We are currently being bombarded with negative reports and disturbing news items. With a failed economy, a corrupt ruling party, crime which is rampant, a failed power supplier, potholes everywhere, unemployment (the list goes on and on) it is not surprising that many of us feel despondent and helpless. These negative emotions can manifest themselves in a state of severe depression which may be overlooked by one’s nearest and dearest until the sufferer may need medical intervention.

It is a sad state of affairs that we still have a negative connotation regarding mental illness. If you have a leg in a cast, or a huge bandage around an injury, the reaction from others is more often than not one of concern and sympathy. However, if you are sad and feeling down, and battling to find anything positive or amusing in your life, you may find yourself ostracised to a certain extent as being too miserable to be around. It is often uncomfortable to spend time or energy trying to cheer up a person who is negative and having an internal battle with themselves and their feelings. When the situation becomes desperate, and even possibly results in a suicide attempt, then those closest to the sufferer may feel guilty at not having seen the signs, or having avoided getting involved because it caused them too must discomfort.

Isn’t it strange that we shun the words “mental health” yet we as humans, provided we are mentally intact ourselves, function as a result of our feelings and emotions most of the time. Unless we have succumbed to a frontal lobotomy we are normally bombarded throughout our waking hours with sights, sounds and various other forms of stimulation which result in our having a mixed bag of emotions. Being able to shrug off anything which causes us to feel down and sad, is usually achievable, within reason. However, if you are suffering from severe depression even the slightest trigger can be the straw which breaks the camel’s back. A failed attempted suicide may be the result, and this then creates a situation where the depressive may be given a limited amount of freedom and is watched constantly in case the next attempt is successful. A challenging situation for everyone involved.

I have known several families throughout my life who have had a family member who committed suicide and this has resulted in painful memories prevailing for many years after the event . There are always feelings of guilt from the surviving relatives or spouse and questions asked of how this could have been avoided.  Were there signs that this was going to occur? Could anything have been done to prevent the tragedy? If a suicide note is left it probably helps to alleviate many of the unanswered questions. Without a note, is it possible that the act was never meant to be successful but more a cry for help?

There appears to be a massive move afoot in Western society to accept that mental health deserves as much attention as physical health. Telling people to pull themselves together and to cheer up is not an answer to serious depression. Even giving drug therapy often just treats the symptoms and not the underlying cause. It is a difficult balancing act on the part of professionals and is not as simple as mending a broken bone or removing a malfunctioning body part. A holistic approach is probably the most successful treatment which would be likely to include exercise, diet, counselling as well as the possible intervention of certain medication whether alternative or complementary or resorting to anti- depressants, if all else fails.

We all have times when the trials and tribulations of life threaten to be overbearing, but thankfully these interludes do tend to pass without too much trauma. However, if doom and gloom become the order of the day, it is definitely advisable to seek help so that the condition can be nipped in the bud before all the beauty around us fades into oblivion and is replaced by darkness and negativity with life itself having no meaning at all. Together we can all try to make a difference in the lives of others if we just observe, take notice of disturbing signs in those around us and bother to get involved.  Easier said than done as those afflicted may be resistant to others trying to help them, but help we must in order to try to prevent a possibly disastrous outcome.

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Having studied clinical psychology at an Honours BA level, and later qualifying as a Lifeline counsellor following the Carl Rogers approach, I do believe that many of us are capable of helping our friends and family members just by being a good listener. We all tend to run around like headless chickens being busy with our lives and we often resent having to give up some of our precious time for others. However, those who are emotionally hurting need to be heard. Talking to another human being and unloading one’s worries and distresses can be extremely cathartic. By simply identifying the other person’s feelings and emotions and feeding them back to them can sometimes help them to identify their own way forward. Telling a depressed person what they should be doing to get their lives back on track is totally counter- productive. We all (well, most of us at least) have two ears and one mouth. Let the words we are hearing from the one who is battling depression be received consciously by both our ears and let us be very careful what we utter in response.

Motivation and Covid 19

I am beginning to wonder whether the last 5 months of lockdown, are responsible for my struggle with motivation. Is it all the diabolical rules and prohibitions which have been imposed by our wonderful government, who are not famous for their intellectual abilities, or the wearing of cloth masks? Every time I have to put on that mask, I know that my mental faculties are going to be strained to their absolute capacity.

Right at the beginning of lockdown, it was very frustrating having to stay at home and not being able to go about one’s life in the usual way apart from shopping for essential items. However, biscuit baking, sorting out problems around the home, contacting friends and family members as well as sending and receiving copious quantities of jokes via mobile phones were activities which resulted in a pleasant break from the hectic lives to which many of us were accustomed. That was fine for the first few weeks, but things have changed. Fewer biscuits are being baked, jokes have dwindled and have been replaced by political rantings, and motivation seems to have become somewhat of a challenge in many cases.

Self-motivation is not easy to achieve when one is surrounded by negativity, and due to this virus, we are constantly being bombarded from all sides with negative information. The numbers of confirmed Covid cases, the amount of deaths, the possibility of second outbreaks in various parts of the world are all factors which negatively affect us in our battle to feel positive and happy.  I, personally, have heard of way too many stories of people who have committed suicide over the past few weeks which, in my opinion, must be as a direct result of the pandemic and all its rules and restrictions, as well as for many, a feeling of total isolation and loss at not having visits from family members.

As I conclude this ramble, we are now in stage 2 of lockdown here in South Africa, but things are as crazy as ever. The government is now allowing the sale of alcohol only from Monday to Thursday from 9am – 5pm as well as permitting restaurants and shebeens (alcohol outlets found in townships as well as informal settlements) to serve it as long as no-one is out on the roads after 10pm every evening. This in the misguided belief that it will eradicate drunken driving, gender-based violence and hooliganism! Emphasis should rather be put on policing vulnerable areas, having regular roadblocks to find as many unlicensed drivers as possible and to arrest them all and impound their often unroadworthy vehicles. Maybe then there would be an improvement in behaviour as well as a reduction in the number of road accidents and the victims of violence.

Threatening to ban alcohol outright is a pathetic political attempt to turn what is supposed to be a democracy into a police state, whereas the police are failing left right and centre when it comes to controlling the horrendously high crime rates and many are themselves guilty of corruption and criminal activities.

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 The original reasons given by the government for the banning of the sale of alcohol, as well as tobacco products, was supposed to be to reduce health risks which may have caused more Covid 19 deaths. There has been absolutely no proof that this has been the case. What has happened through this stupid banning is that billions of rand in tax revenue has been lost along with the jobs of thousands if not millions of workers. Wine farms have gone bankrupt whilst illegal sales of both alcohol and cigarettes has created very lucrative blackmarket businesses. There is even speculation that certain politicians have themselves benefitted from such activities. A very clever move indeed, but that’s what we have come to expect these days! The virus has certainly been an eye opener if ever there was one!

I know that when I first started to blog, I stated that I did not intend to write anything political, but sometimes one has to vent a little bit of one’s wrath, and today is the day!

One thing is for sure, if one dwells too much on all the negative issues with which we are surrounded then it is almost impossible to be motivated. Therefore, it is time to listen to some meditation music, find a quiet, uninterrupted spot and focus on making sure that September turns into the most positive 2020 month so far!

“If you wish to move mountains tomorrow, you must start
by lifting stones today. – African Proverb.

Face Book – A Psychologist’s Best Friend?

I am convinced that since the advent of Facebook as well as Twitter, Instagram etc. and the enormous growth of users, psychologists are being inundated with patients needing help to cope with their perceived worthless existences.

In the past few weeks I have seen old wedding photos of people I once knew well. Reading all the syrupy garbage that not only the couple, or one of them (usually the wife,) but dozens of their friends and family members have posted on their Facebook page is enough to make even the soppyist of people puke! Oh come on, let’s get real. How many marriages are so absolutely wonderful. How many partners are these amazing walking demi gods who have been such perfect soul mates? Sure, it’s great to celebrate a long marriage, but scratch the surface and you are sure to find some polyfillerd cracks of various sizes and shapes.

I remember a few years ago saying to a group of female work colleagues that, if anyone says that they have a wonderful, argument free, marriage and that their husband is perfect, then just look a bit deeper. Either he is full of guilt due to extra marital affairs, or he is a closet gay! One of the women in the group piped up with “that’s what happened in our marriage – he was having it off with his secretary!”  I may sound cynical, but all this on-going rubbish that is being posted on Facebook is one huge ego trip and often a load of total hogwash.

It would be really refreshing, when a couple wish to let the social media world know that they are celebrating a wedding or commitment anniversary, to read something along the lines of  “on this day x amount of years ago I committed to sharing my life with a person with whom there have been many memorable occasions, good and bad. We have had our challenges which often involved in-law interference, or money worries but we have survived! We have had our times of fun and laughter along with the difficult days. So, let’s have a toast to more years still to come!” Now, no-one is going to feel sick with jealousy because they cannot compete with this perfect match made in heaven, and hopefully that would stop all the hypocrites from waffling on about the perfect couple – blah blah blah!

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It goes further as far as the bragging is concerned. Everyone out there seems to have children who are amazing, and never cease to make their besotted parents gloat in wonder. The certificates, awards, successes –both in the classroom and on the playing fields -the list goes on and on. There must be many parents who read these posts who feel that they have been dealt a really lousy hand where offspring are concerned. They may be coping with children who are just average or perhaps challenged in some or other way be it academically or physically. I had a good friend for many years who always used to say “there are no throwaway people” – everyone is worthwhile regardless of their achievements. This is the crux of the matter isn’t it? Whatever challenges we have in life, we sometimes really struggle to accept the fact that we either cope with what we have in front of us, or just give up. The latter is not an option in most cases, and that is where the professionals and their counselling can be of incredible assistance. Feeling inferior, hard done by, worthless, incompetent – all emotions which are so readily fed and watered by the many ego-driven postings out there on social media.

It would be interesting to see some statistics relating to the demands being made on psychologists and psychiatrists since the advent of social media-itis and before it raised its often ugly head. I may be wrong in my presumptions, but I do know that there is a lot of evidence that more and more youngsters are feeling depressed, worthless, and inferior and often contemplate committing suicide. There has to be a correlation with the fact that these same young people seem to be spending most of their waking hours using their cellphones, either to send posts themselves or reading what others have to say. It appears that it is no longer the norm to get together with members of your peer group and hang out and have fun. Nowadays it would appear that, in many instances, relationships start and end with the use of cellphones. How devastating to receive an sms or a WhatsApp message letting you know you are no longer the flavour of the month or to see evidence on Facebook that your ex has replaced you and wants the world to know.Depression-flat-simHow far is all this going to go before the bubble bursts and life once again returns to some semblance of normality? Never, only in our wildest dreams and this is the “normal” for all those young people born into a world of social media. Oh well, let’s accept the inevitable and just hope that there is a constant stream of qualified and empathetic psychologists graduating from quality universities to handle all the world’s troubled souls!

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