Depression: Let’s Talk

DR YANSIE ROLSTON Monday, April 3 2017

AS someone working in the field of mental health I was elated to find out that “Depression: Let’s Talk” was the theme for this year’s World Health Day which is celebrated annually on the April 7. As a society, we are still not forthcoming when it comes to discussing mental health, so World Health Day provides the opportunity to initiate these conversations.

In recent times, there have been increasing numbers of international celebrities openly sharing their lived experiences of depressive disorders –postpartum, clinical, suicidal, and bipolar (formally referred to as manic depression). Halle Berry has spoken about coping with suicidal depression having reached her lowest ebb following the breakup of her marriage; Beyonce has been open about struggling to feel OK and her reliance on her mother for emotional support; and Dwayne Johnson aka “The Rock” has made a number of YouTube videos for Oprah’s Master Class discussing the strategies which aided his recovery.

The untimely passing of comedian Robin Williams in 2014 made headline news across all media platforms around the world, and that encouraged others to open up about their own challenges. However, because stigma and discrimination is still so prevalent in Trinidad and Tobago there is a reluctance for the same level of openness.

There are those individuals, such as Caroline Ravello, who go against the status quo (at times to the detriment of her own well-being) to ensure that discussions on mental health is removed from its secret hiding place and positioned in the mainstream. By way of her weekly column, her Facebook page, and her various interactions with support groups, Ravello openly shares her experiences of living and thriving with bipolar disorder.

It was also refreshing to read the feature on Overcoming Manic-Depression by Nicole Cowie last week. I sincerely hope that this is just the beginning, and that many others will follow suit and share their own lived reality of mental ill health. After all, the brain is the most complex organ in the body controlling our thoughts, actions, memory, feelings and experiences, so it is time we all felt comfortable to talk about the disorders that affect it. The Royal College of Psychiatrist advises that as many as one in ten people are affected by serious bouts of depression, and that it can run in families.

There also seems to be a gender disparity, in that it affects women more than men – though the men are less likely to talk about their illness.Depression is an illness like any other, so why in 2017 is it still such a fight to get society to be receptive to open honest engagement with people living with the disorder? Last year, a group of us with a special interest in mental health held a successful Talk and Tea session in Port-of-Spain. Not only were we honoured to be given a peek into the private lives of those living with mental illness, but we were also privy to the effects it has on family members and care givers. Engaging and compelling conversations were had on obstacles, challenges, and their possible solutions, and participants shared their aspirations and priorities for a mental wellness vision.

In keeping with the theme of Let’s Talk, my rallying cry is for a cultural shift in thinking and behaviour so that mental health conversations are no longer taboo.

The research shows that those living with depression and other mental health challenges would welcome an increase in the number of safe spaces where open, confidential conversations can be had. So, bearing in mind that depression is for the most part an illness of social isolation and disconnection, acute loneliness and fragmented family support these safe space conversations will go a very long way towards aiding recovery.

They will create platforms to tackle stigma, raise awareness, encourage others to open up, and support self-care.

At present, there are a range of communities and support groups for those who wish to have conversations online for example –www.beatingthebeast.

com and www.moodgarden.org.

Others can be found on www.

psychcentral.com/resources. I am, however, not aware of any national, culturally appropriate online forums in TT , however, there are a number of Facebook groups such as Mental Health Matters, T&T.

Remember it is good to talk.

Dr Yansie Rolston FRSA is a UK-based disability and mental health specialist advisor. She is a social change trainer and facilitator who works internationally, at various levels of government, business, and civil society. Contact her at yr@efficacyeva.com

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