What timing! It is Mental Health Awareness Week and I am slowly, slowly sinking into the mire. She Who Hates Acronyms (SWHA) gently chides me: “Don’t be depressed – it’s boring.” Maybe, but it’s not like I can duck down to the Co-op and buy a happy mood.
The Black Dog* started sniffing around my door a fortnight ago, after we arrived home from a three-month road adventure. Aaah, I hear you say. It’s inevitable that you will go into a slump after a big, carefree colourful adventure, driving around the wondrous continent of Australia. (Theatre people report the same big mood swing when the performance finishes and the cast and crew “strike” the set.)
If I knew why my mood switched from carefree and energetic to pulling the blankets over my head and saying “no” to just about every encouragement to go and do something, then I wouldn’t be like this.
But let’s steer the conversation away from me and look at the numbers on depression in Australia. Beyond Blue is an organisation started to create awareness of depression and anxiety and the tendency of the average male to throw another beer down his throat and ignore his deepening mood.
Beyond Blue reckons that 45% of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. In any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression, and over 2 million have anxiety. There is a tendency among men and women to self-medicate by drinking alcohol and/or smoking marijuana. Neither of these activities eases the blues nor makes one feel less anxious.
Both drugs tend to make the user feel as if he is happy and carefree again, but it is like throwing a doona over you in the nippy dawn – it will slide off and you will feel cold again.
Women often experience depression after childbirth and both sexes can be tipped into the blues after a bad bout of ‘flu’ or similar illness. Depression can be situational – it’s hard to stay upbeat when your partner is physically or emotionally abusive. Unemployment can bring on the blues, and, once entrenched, can cause an endless cycle of despair. Or, as in my case, it can be a biological imbalance.
The politicians who came up with the (now lapsed) plan that the unemployed have to make 40 job applications a month or lose the dole manifestly never suffered from depression or anxiety.
The key solution to combatting depression, I have found, is to get busy. First, make sure you are getting a good night’s sleep, even if it comes to taking sleeping pills. Next, review your diet. Skipping breakfast are we? Working right through lunch? Eat red meat at least twice a week, avoid or cut down on coffee and sugar and drink lots of water.
Exercise is a key tool. Just put on your walking shoes and go for a walk somewhere, preferably at first light. Then find at least one thing you do that brings you optimism and fulfilment (this could be anything from painting or knitting to singing in a community choir, playing guitar or the bagpipes, gardening or tackling all of those long-neglected handyperson chores). Get up on the roof and clean the gutters and the solar panels. If you don’t like heights or don’t trust yourself up there, get stuck into the garden. Bag all those weeds and take them to the dump. You are bound to meet other people there who are also “battling depression” by keeping busy.
Did I mention taking medication? It works for me, but even if you don’t trust anti-depressants and the tendency by GPs to over-prescribe, you can work on alternatives – yoga, meditation, vitamins, herbal remedies and, best of all, spend time with ebullient, optimistic people who don’t suffer from depression. They might not want to hang out with you in your current state of mind, but if you make the effort to be sociable, being around upbeat people can be therapeutic.
Blame the media – why not?
Moreover (archaic word used for effect to show I went to university), the media must take its share of the blame for the nation’s mood.
We have introduced a media ban in this house. After three months on the road and not watching the TV news, mostly not listening to radio news and only occasionally reading newspapers, we deduced that the media in general is to blame for keeping the population in a constant state of high anxiety and dread.
I asked my research assistant Little Brother to have a look at media coverage of terrorism in the past two weeks. He grizzled for a while as he’s not had much to do in the past three months. But as one of my old bosses used to say: “If you want something done, give it to an obsessive.”
LB came back from the local library, his pale English cheeks aflame.
“No wonder we’re all feeling anxious and depressed,” he said. It transpired that The Australian has published 84 items about terrorism and terrorists in just 12 days.
He says the preoccupation with Muslims under the bed is no less intense in the tabloid world, the Fairfax media or on TV or talkback radio. That’s the problem with the 24/7 news cycle – it forces media outlets to follow the herd. The haste with which news is published can force some horrible mistakes – eg Fairfax Media publishing the photo of an innocent party, claiming him to be the unfortunate teenager gunned down in Melbourne.
Little wonder there is an unquantifiable drift to what I call “Fair Trade” media – The Monthly, The Quarterly Essay, the Guardian online, Crikey, The Big Issue, The Epoch Times, The Conversation and the New Internationalist.
What messes with your head is radio and TV news (updates every hour). The nature of the beast demands attention-grabbing headlines. The print media uses the same tactics, either through its online pages or the posters outside newsagencies.
Little Brother told me there was a bit of a stir this week over a headline (“Monster Chef and the She Male”), used to describe a gruesome murder-suicide. “Don’t go there, mate,” he warned.
“Don’t they ever consider those poor people have Mums and Dads somewhere?”
He has a theory that the media is revisiting the era of Yellow journalism in a bid to shore up circulation. Yellow Journalism (using lurid headlines, exaggerations and sensationalism to sell more newspapers) was a technique used in a circulation battle in the late 1880s between William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer.
Sigh. Time to take the dog for a walk (or do some housework – it’s a lot easier now that there isn’t a pile of newspapers to tidy up.)
*this black dog alleviates depression