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Understanding mental health issues

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In recent years we’ve seen a massive increase in awareness of mental health issues, as more and more people appear to be openly discussing the subject based on their own experiences.

It can be one of the trickiest things to not only talk about, but also to provide the right support for. However, social media and new technologies have helped us to stay constantly connected to important conversations on a global scale. One such talking point centres on our mental health and the fight to remove the stigmas associated with it.

Arguably, one of the key catalysts for this recent surge in awareness came about in 2014, following the sudden death of much-loved actor and comedian Robin Williams. Best known and admired for his roles in films like Mrs Doubtfire and Good Will Hunting, it came as a shock to many that Williams had been suffering from depression.

The conversation of mental health has been a prominent one ever since, encouraging people from all walks of life to open up and share their thoughts and feelings. This was notable earlier this month, when millions of people on Twitter engaged with the hashtag #TimeToTalk, led by the mental health organisation Time To Change.

This charity aims to change the way we think about and approach the subject, hoping to put an end to the stigmas associated with mental health. With a more visible conversation – supported by many public figures and celebrities – more people are feeling comfortable in discussing their mental and emotional state.

What causes depression?

Depression can affect anyone, no matter their age, living situation or physical health. What’s more, it can develop for a number of different reasons, including sudden changes in lifestyle, stressful life events or bereavements.

Each person is different and the impact of such events can affect some people more than others. Whether it’s one major disruption or a number of things occurring around the same time, there’s no definitive way to pinpoint what it is exactly that triggers depression.

When depression does develop, however, it’s been discovered that there’s often an imbalance in the chemicals or hormones affecting the brain. Stress or trauma can disturb hormone production, while lack of natural sunlight can also be a factor.

During the winter months in particular, longer nights and shorter days often bring about Seasonal Affective Disorders in people. With the #TimeToTalk conversation kicking off on 1st February, we’re now looking ahead to the days becoming gradually lighter, bringing about more positive outlooks.

Offering the right help

It’s often a struggle for someone dealing with depression to open up, which makes it harder for friends, family members and loved ones to recognise when someone’s in trouble. Understanding a bit about how depression affects people can be extremely useful for identifying the signs and how to offer effective support.

Depression is a real diagnosable illness, affecting people on a much deeper level than simply just being a bit sad or fed up. Common symptoms include loss of motivation to do anything, lack of appetite and an increase in negative thoughts. However, there’s always the worry that their low mood might be dismissed by others as a trivial issue.

That’s why it’s important to provide caring company and gentle reassurance to encourage daily activity and seeing things from a more positive perspective. By adopting an attentive and non-judgemental attitude, we reduce the likelihood of inadvertently causing any further distress.

The worst response to someone dealing with depression would be to use tough love. Telling them to “just get over it” or “pull themselves together” will only reaffirm their existing fear, making them less likely to discuss their thoughts and feelings. Fortunately, increased awareness of mental health now means that many more people are respectful of this, but it’s still a vital point to remember.

Further information

There are various ways to combat depression, from taking medication to making lifestyle changes. Seeking advice from a medical or mental healthcare professional can seem daunting, but simply discussing issues with them can help both as a form of therapy and to diagnose the situation.

On top of this, many charities and organisations are also equipped with the knowledge and suitable contacts to help anyone dealing with mental health problems. Prominent organisations include Samaritans, Heads Together and Mind, as well as Time To Change, providing support, guidance and further information for those affected.