Monthly Archives: June 2013

Depression (blog 2) is a wake-up call – by Lindie White

In the second in our series on depression, pyschotherapist, Lindie White, writes about the causes of depression:

‘Every cloud has a silver lining’ and, as I wrote last month, with help we can make the cloud of depression our guide and our friend.

Proverbs carry much folk wisdom and the common sense we all share by virtue of being human. As humans we are hard wired for pleasure and pain and the whole gamut of emotions. We arrive in this world programmed to seek life, food, warmth, comfort and with the predisposition to attach and relate. How does the experience of depression sit with these facts? I wrote in last month’s blog about the experience of depression. This month I’m writing about the causes of what we call depression.

Depression is generally labelled a mental health problem and still carries a stigma although many well known people have spoken out about their own experiences: Stephen Fry, Richard Mabey, Monty Don and Will Young’s brother, who lives in the Newbury area.

The causes of depression are variously attributed according to how it is viewed. At one extreme, many psychiatrists name it as a chemical imbalance in the brain. It is seen as a physical illness and therefore comparable with other physical illnesses. From this angle depression is seen as bad, wrong and therefore something to be got rid of, treated and controlled. It is seen as a deviation from ‘the norm’. This begs the question, ‘What is the norm?’ We all know that ‘it takes all sorts to make a world’. Depression is widely seen as negative and, in the current Western mindset, negative is usually thought of as ‘bad’. In fact, negative and positive are like night and day, sun and moon, female and male. They are inevitable partners in creation.

Every sufferer knows that depression is not a purely physical affair. Why else would it carry a stigma? It is not seen in a similar way to a broken leg or cancer. The original meaning of suffering is ‘to undergo’. This comes closer to the mark. Most people who suffer from depression, and those who try to help, are aware that it is a part of being and staying alive. We are all happy and unhappy, we all go through the stresses of separation, illness, bereavement and change, more or less traumatic, in the course of our lives.

But not all psychiatrists approach mental health from a limited viewpoint. Joanne Moncrieff says: “If you want to understand mental disturbance, you have to try to understand how it is a response to an individual’s particular circumstances and history.”

Clearly there are extremes where the depressed person is severely disabled from participating in the flow of life. They are stuck. Dr. James Gordon, a Clinical Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Family Medicine at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, and Founder and Director of the Centre for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, begins his book, Unstuck: Your guide to the Seven-Stage Journey out of Depression* like this:

“Depression is not a disease, the end point of a pathological process. It is a sign that our lives are out of balance, that we’re stuck. It’s a wake-up call and the start of a journey that can help us become whole and happy, a journey that can change and transform our lives.”

So, if depression is caused by being alive, being alive holds the answers to the questions it asks or masks!

Next month I will be writing about ways of being helped, and helping ourselves.

*Dr James Gordon, Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven Stage Journey out of Depression, Hay House, 2008

See also the graphic novel-style books, I Had a Black Dog, and Living with a Black Dog, by Matthew Johnstone (Robinson Publishing, 2007), which use words and pictures to talk honestly about the experience of depression and of living with someone suffering from depression.


Lindie White, 2013

BBC Wilts – Is depression linked to anxiety? by Wendy Bramham

Common symptoms of anxiety

Wendy writes: “The following can be symptoms of anxiety: numbness, feeling hot, wobbliness in the legs, inability to relax, light-headedness, unsteadiness, nervousness, feeling of choking, trembling hands, fear of losing control, fear of dying, difficulty in breathing, wanting to die, indigestion, pain or tightness in chest, feeling faint, and hot flushes and sweats when you are not unwell. These physical problems are often signs of deeper worries about loss or sadness in the past, or a fear of loss or sadness in the future.”

Does depression begin with anxiety?

“Anxiety can precede depression. Depression is often caused when we feel overwhelmed by sad and anxious feelings and can’t access them in a constructive way. We all fear the loss of someone or something we love. Loss is inevitable, and it can give rise to huge sadness and anxiety for a time, which is healthy and normal. However, it can also lead to depression if this process gets blocked in some way, or if it triggers deeper anxieties such as a fear of not being good enough.”

Wendy Bramham, June 2013 for BBC Wiltshire

How can anxiety be treated?

Wendy writes: Anxiety is normal and without it we wouldn’t grow. Often the thing that helps us learn to manage anxiety better is developing a compassionate attitude towards ourselves. To do this, professional help is sometimes required, and regular therapy can be a very important a good choice. However, no one size fits all. Medication can help if someone is finding it difficult to function, and sometimes this can really help people to find the strength to get to therapy in the first place.

Other factors, such as complementary therapies, lifestyle choices (exercise, diet etc) and making sure we are not socially isolated, are very important too.

What is available on the NHS?

Your GP will be able to tell you what’s available on the NHS in your area. You may be referred to their in-house counsellor if they have one, or offered an educational course, or an online computer package. Face to face individual counselling is usually limited to a few sessions and there is usually a wait.

What about private therapy?

The number of different types of counselling out there is bewildering and I advise not to worry too much about the particular ‘type’ of therapy. It’s always good to get a personal recommendation if you can, or visit the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy website and click on Find a Therapist to look up registered counsellors in your area. The first therapy appointment can be daunting, but usually people very quickly feel at ease, then relieved, and say they wish they had sought help earlier. It is common practice for therapists to arrange the first session so that both you and your therapist can work out whether this is right for you. Use this first session to gauge if you feel safe enough with this particular therapist to be open, honest and vulnerable. Trust your instincts about this.

In the next blog: symptoms of anxiety and links with depression.

BBC Radio Wiltshire and Wendy Bramham – anxiety

Wendy writes: “Every one of us is vulnerable and insecure. Anxiety is a normal and healthy part of life. If we didn’t take risks we wouldn’t be able to engage in love or to strive to achieve anything. Healthy stress can be an impetus for growth. I felt stressed about going on live radio – but also knew it would be good for me and would help me grow! But there are times when anxiety becomes overwhelming or disabling. This may occur after a particularly distressing event or crisis, such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job; or it may have been building for some time, only to be triggered by a seemingly small event. Sometimes anxiety affects your relationships, work or school life; you may have difficulties with sleeping or eating patterns; or lose interest in the sorts of activities you would normally enjoy.

“Anxiety can also present itself in physical symptoms such as digestive problems, racing heart beat, chronic fatigue, migraine etc. You should see your GP first to have any physical causes ruled out, but these can be signals which we should pay attention to, telling us that something in our life needs to be addressed or changed. Seeking therapy is a sign of strength and self-responsibility. I myself have had therapy and not just because it was an important part of my training, but also at times in my life which were difficult or when I felt at a difficult crossroads.

“So, if you are struggling with anxiety, it’s OK to admit to yourself that you may have a problem which requires professional help. Then tell someone you trust. It may be that you contact your GP first, a trusted friend or colleague, or start looking for a reputable therapist privately.

“Seeking help and having therapy is not a sign of weakness or failure, in fact quite the opposite; it requires courage to face our fears and insecurities and be honest about how we really feel. This step can be the most loving thing you can do, not only for yourself, but for those who are close to you.”

Wendy Bramham, May 2013, for BBC Wiltshire series on mental health

Over the next few days we’ll be blogging with more information about treatments for anxiety, how therapy works and what types of help are out there. And we’re always keen to hear others’ experience. Wendy will be on BBC Radio Wiltshire again on 3 July, talking about self-harm and eating disorders.