Wednesday, 12 September 2012

World Suicide Prevention Day

World Suicide Prevention Day was on Monday 10th September this year.  The Irish Examiner reported that there is still a stigma attached to mental illness in Ireland today.  In a survey to mark World Suicide Day, it was found that almost a third of people would not willingly accept someone with a mental illness as a close friend.  62% admitted that they would discriminate against hiring someone with a history of depression, fearing it would make them unreliable.  Some 525 people died from suicide in Ireland last year.  This was up from 486 in 2010.  Almost two years ago now, I attended a counselling session with a “health professional” when I was suffering with Ante Natal Depression.  This is basically Post Natal Depression in reverse; before the baby is born instead of after.  Because I had been in the horrors previously with the dreaded PND I decided I was not going to succumb to those emotions again and at 14 weeks pregnant, I sought help.  I was a public patient and waited eleven weeks for that appointment.  Thankfully I wasn’t at my worst but I did make the point to my husband both before the long wait for this appointment and after the very, very disappointing and it has to be said, scary, outcome, that it was a good thing I wasn’t suicidal or indeed, likely to harm the kids.  But who knew that at the time?  They certainly didn’t.  I have since learnt that such is the way with mental illness; today you could be feeling a bit under the weather and not showing any worrying signs of doing either yourself or your family an injury and tomorrow BAM!  Wipe out!  I am also, I hasten to add, most certainly not tarring every counsellor or psychiatrist with the same brush I am about to use here.  I realise everyone’s experience both with the illness and treatment is different.  This is just my story.  When the appointment arrived in the post, I was having a good day.  The day before was great too, but I knew from past experience, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday could be utter crap so despite feeling somewhat "fixed" I went along.
I had my assessment with the lovely African doctor where I was asked all sorts of questions about my mood, my childhood, self-esteem and my hopes for the future. Then I saw the therapist. Conversation started off like this.
HIM: What has you here today? (He hadn't yet read my file)
ME: Ante - natal depression.
HIM: (Look of total surprise) Depression before you have the baby? Are you sure? That's quite rare, isn't it?
ME: I believe it can be quite common.
HIM: I usually don't get ye until after ye have the baby and are depressed then. Are you suicidal or psychotic?
ME: No! Definitely not. Thank God!
HIM: So you want drugs?
ME: No.  I'm not interested in going on a chemical holiday. Anyway, my GP has said ante-depressants are not safe for the baby’s heart.
He let me talk briefly about my PND history. I said that it went untreated and because I breastfeed long term, I did not want to take drugs. Then the whole thing took a complete and surreal U-turn. He asked me how long did I breastfeed for and I told him all of my kids were weaned by the time they were 16 months old and the then youngest was about 6 weeks weaned. The African doctor who had assessed me was in the room with us.  He looked at her.
HIM: That's a real African thing isn't it? Is she African?
I was then told, by both of them, that stopping breastfeeding at six months was the best option for me.  He said he was "all for breastfeeding" and he was "sure it's lovely and cuddly and all of that" but "was I doing it for me or the baby" and when the mother is “not well,” they would advise that breast feeding stops between 6 - 9 months. I reminded him that statistically you are less likely to suffer from depression if you breastfeed but I got laughed at. I felt very strongly that he was approaching breastfeeding from a personal view point rather than a medical one. He certainly was not professional in his approach.
He described me to the African doctor as "a real earth mother type" and "big into babies." When she gave her very brief opinion on my assessment and said she felt I didn't need meds, he said "she won't take them anyway, she's not interested." It was as if because I refused drugs from the outset, he just wasn't interested.
He then went on to tell me about some study or other that was done on monkeys. Group A were fed from a wire type apparatus and Group B had the nice cloth type feeding apparatus. It turned out that Group B displayed strong social and sexual deviances through having being fed by the cloth mammy (breastfed) over the wire mammy (I presumed the reference here was to formula).
I was speechless. The whole thing turned into an anti-breastfeeding debacle and I left almost in tears. I was amazed at his utter ignorance and unprofessionalism. I made a follow up appointment but knew I would not be keeping it. He wanted to see me six months after the baby was born (usually when my "trouble" starts) and "we'll give you some ante-depressants then." He was like a dog with a bone. I just said, "Lookit, that's a whole 10 months down the line. I'll see how I feel then." I just wanted to get out of there! To top it all off I wished him a happy Christmas and everything. Bastard!   I did not keep the follow up appointment.  Thankfully I didn’t need to but needless to say I also did not receive a phone call to check on my whereabouts.  The main thing though is I am mighty again and have been keeping a close eye that things don’t suddenly go pear shaped.  I am one of the lucky ones.  When I felt depression beckoning last, it happened on an angry day and that made me pro-active.  There are people who are literally not able to seek help; such is the grip of this horrible illness.  And that is all it is.  An illness.  A little more serious than a common cold but an illness nonetheless.  It needs to be addressed and talked about. 
Last November, I put up a blog post entitled Depression.  I was both touched and saddened by the response.  I was touched by the support I received, both in person and through messages on face book, and saddened by the number of people that have experienced depression on some level or other.  They were people I know, people that I went to school with.  To be honest, when I was writing it, the selfish part of me was very much caught up in the poor me syndrome.  Yes, it was about me and my experience, but depression, I feel, is something everyone experiences at some stage or another in their lives. We go through so much in our lifetime; loss, joy, worry, stress, that our bodies have to react in some shape or form.  Afterwards I received a message from someone I went to school with and it made a big impact on me.  It was a couple of days before I could get her and her words out of my head.  I think what made it stay with me was I knew this person once.  We were in the same class together for years and the person I visualised in her message was a far cry from the girl I knew 20 years ago.  She has given me permission to use part of her message.
“I don't know what way us women are made up but we definitely feel guilt more than men and we’re way too hard on ourselves. [Sic]  I was in a strange place for a while - don't even know if that's the right way to put it. During that time I was working [sic] and I know I would have met you in the street. First time I wasn't sure if it was you. But you know I hadn't the confidence to stop or ask you and so because of my insecurities it looked like I was rude and ignorant.  Hard to believe I was the one that was always in trouble for being the gabby aggie in the class.  I don't know exactly what knocked any confidence I had out of me but over the years it got worse. Thankfully things are good now and it’s good to talk about it. [Sic]”
It’s good to talk about it.  Yes, it is.  It is also necessary to talk about it.  Talking about depression strips it of its mystery, removes all the fear and shame from it.  Removes its power.  Who cares what your neighbour/family/colleagues/ think?  People will talk and point anyway.  If it is not happening to them but it is happening to you, then it is also happening to your family. It is insidious like that. Preventing it from hurting your family is the important thing not paying attention to who may be judging you because they have a skewed or misplaced idea of what normal is.   Put a simpler way, one in ten people suffer from depression. Go on; line up ten people you know.  What are the chances?  What about the well-dressed mother who always seems to on top of things?  Her kids are always well presented; they are always at school and involved in plenty of after school activities.  Does she seem depressed?  What about the teenager who is always on Facebook and never without their phone in their hand, catching up with half the school?  Sure, they couldn’t be depressed, they have no time!  The professional young couple that live two houses down with the nice car, nice clothes and busy social life.  They seem to have it all.  Or do they?  What about your parish priest?  The lady who serves you coffee with a smile after the school run on Friday mornings?  The man who always seems to be there to help you with your trolley at the supermarket just when you need that extra pair of hands.  He always has a nice word to say about the weather and a funny comment to make the kids laugh.  What about him?  What about that successful writer who has books published in seven different languages.  You don’t know her but you’ve read all of her stuff so you feel like you do.  She has it made. Doesn’t she? The postman.  Your best friend.  Your father.  Your mother.  Your brother. Your sister.  Your son or your daughter.  One of them has suffered from, will suffer from or continues to suffer from depression.  Are you in that list?   Like the ad the media intones, “It’s your mental health.  Look after it.” But it’s also everyone else’s mental health.  We should be looking after it all!

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