According to the latest research released this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that incidences of depression worldwide have increased by over 18% between 2005 and 2015. It is a huge concern in many countries and for that reason, this year, the World Health Day on the 7th of April was focused on the theme of Depression.
Most of us are aware of how depression is becoming more prevalent. In the UK, the leading cause of death in men under 45 is suicide. In Gibraltar, we are also concerned about the increasing rates of incidences of self-harm and suicide attempts amongst children and young adults. Even young schoolchildren are suffering more from anxiety and other conditions which can and do lead to depression.
Developments in recent decades affecting the way we interact with the world and each other seem to make it harder for people to maintain a healthy state of mind. Advances in technology, changes in the way we socialise, pressures to succeed, perform and achieve in a world which appears to be full of opportunity, are complicating our lives. We stress ourselves to fill our lives with superficial and material gains, removing ourselves from simple pleasures that are naturally fulfilling. Relationships which are the source of love and can bring contentment seem more challenged than ever to satisfy what we confusedly believe we need.
2017 World Health Day
The WHO’s campaign is called “Let’s Talk”. As a talking therapist, I believe there’s no better aide for a depressed person than the opportunity to talk to a trained professional. I also advocate an overall healthy lifestyle for optimum wellbeing; the importance of diet and activity cannot be overlooked. However, it seems that talking about our feelings is the biggest barrier we are faced with in our Gibraltarian community when it comes to addressing the causes of depression. Although this issue is being addressed worldwide, some cultures are less open to talking about emotional difficulties than others and Gibraltar does suffer particularly from very unhelpful stigma around issues of mental wellbeing.
The stigma around mental health angers me. I believe that the field of mental health has suffered from being enmeshed with issues of power and control. I really don’t see any logical reason for shame to be attached to the very challenging conditions classed as mental illness, which are already laden with the most burdening states of affect. The shame just gives the sufferer more pain and difficulty in accessing help.
Shame itself causes depression. Depression makes people withdraw and shame makes us withdraw even more. When withdrawn, we are cut off from help. Add to this reduced capacity to reach out for help, the lack of understanding that can be experienced from important others. When we start to unpack the situation in this way, it really starts to look bleak.
This is part of what can be so tricky about depression. When one is depressed, we feel no hope. We somehow get ourselves into a dark hole and in some cases, we can’t imagine ever having been anywhere else, let alone the possibility of getting out of there.
Why is it good to talk?
Talking is not just about ‘letting it all out’ or giving your problems to someone else to solve for you. If you have read my articles in the last couple of months, you will know that I believe that loving and nurturing communications towards a person helps them feel well. On the other hand, unnecessary, critical, and shameful talk is harmful to our hearts and minds. This painful mental beating up at times comes from others but most powerfully, from our internalised dialogue. Talking to someone who understands how to treat depression will address this core dynamic.
Part of this dynamic of lacking love includes cases where low self-esteem and abusive relationships cause depression. Isolation and loneliness which continue to increase in today’s world are other faces of this problem. Also, when we don’t allow ourselves to feel some emotions such as sadness, anxiety or anger, the habit can cause symptoms described as depression.
Trauma is another leading cause of depression. We can also be driven to despair by experiences of difficult socio-economic situations where we can’t find support to help us get on with dignity. Other causes include illness and loss or grief that we require help with managing. In all these cases, speaking to someone trained to empathise is likely to benefit those suffering.
Getting help in Gibraltar
Most of us are aware of the presence of counsellors and psychotherapists whom like myself offer private work in Gibraltar. There is also a counselling service provided by the GHA, to which people can be referred via their GP. In addition to this, I am glad to see that there are an increasing number of services in the third sector, dedicated to giving people the opportunity to talk.
Several charities have had a consistent presence in our community and people are welcoming additional and specialised support that is now being offered in response to the increased demand for assistance with depression and associated states.
One of those is our local branch of Baby STEPPs, established by local women in 2012. Chairwoman Kate Llufrio states that their purpose is to “support new and aspiring parents through all the highs and lows of starting a family, mostly through peer support groups so that nobody need feel alone, unsupported or not understood”. Having identified that there was a demand for support with post-natal depression; BabySTEPPs has been running a therapy group which gives mothers the space to talk.
Another initiative that is generally recognised to have been lacking and yet much needed in Gibraltar, is that of a helpline where people can anonymously call anytime they feel that they need to talk about anything they might be having difficulty sharing. For this reason, Marie Lou Guerrero is currently working hard to set up a branch of the Samaritans in Gibraltar. This new project has been very gratefully received as it will provide us all with the opportunity to anonymously speak to someone, at any time we may need to.
As is the case with BabySTEPPs, our branch of the Samaritans will be run by local volunteers, for our local community. As Gibraltar’s newest charity, the Samaritans currently needs a large number of volunteers to sign up and help it become fully operational. This organisation is looking for funding as well as volunteers to help with all aspects of running a charity. The biggest need at the moment is for people to man the telephone line and specialist training of volunteer listeners will be starting shortly. An information day will be held on the 13th May for anyone interested.
I urge anyone interested in supporting this increase in opportunities for people in Gibraltar to talk in a confidential setting, to get in touch with me; whether you would like to sign up for one of the short courses or support these local charities in any other way.