Many years ago I slipped down the deep and dark abyss of depression. I had moved to a new city, had no job, next to no life experience and times got really tough. I came to the city a size sixteen, and within six months I was a frail size six who had lost every shred of her former self and longed for a permanent escape.
Some people thought I was physically unwell, some thought I was addicted to drugs. It wasn’t until a trip to the doctors’ for a medical certificate after yet another missed day at work that I got the shock of my life. “Perrie, my sister-in-law recently died from anorexia. She looked just like you did, please don’t let that happen to you.” Anorexia and drugs weren’t my problems, but the message was loud and clear. I was soon after diagnosed with depression.
The wonderful thing is that in recent years the Australian public and the majority of the western world have been standing up and smashing the stigma surrounding mental illness. Guess what? It’s not uncommon and there are so many organisations out there willing to help steer sufferers toward a happier and healthier life.
Being able to recognise when we need help, however, isn’t always clearly defined. It is only in hindsight now, after years of treatment that I have been able to notice the changes that happened in me. Often it’s the people around us who notice alterations in habits, which is the main focus of this month’s article. How can you look out for the people around you? By recognising the signs, and knowing the places you can turn to for assistance can immensely help your loved one who is suffering.
1. Poor Personal Hygiene and Presentation
This covers the physical aspects of any individual. If you’re noticing a decline in someone’s effort toward their personal presentation, such as showering less, not going to the same amount of effort with beauty therapy regimes, cosmetics and fashion than they would usually make, this can be a warning sign. This needs to be directly measured against the usual presentation of any individual, as it can’t be assumed that because someone doesn’t present themselves like you do, they are automatically depressed.
Sometimes it feels like it’s easier to avoid problems than face them head on. Feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and social anxiety can impede the desire to get out and interact with others. If you’re seeing less and less of someone and can’t pinpoint why, (you may also need to look deep within yourself to answer this) then maybe it’s time to reach out and force yourself back into their world.
3. Personality Changes
Have you noticed something completely out of character from someone you know? Have you noticed small changes to their personality that just don’t seem right? Has somebody you know lost their “spark”? If you’re familiar with the Four Temperaments, (sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, and, melancholic) you would notice that certain personality types can reﬂect someone with depression, however, this is not always the case. By using the four temperaments as a rough guide, you can ascertain changes to a personality like you would have done earlier with an individual’s personal presentation. Personality changes can also include saying things which are normally out of character, as well as erratic and risky behaviour such as participating in activities that pose signiﬁcant risks to the individual. These could include, but are not limited to increased alcohol consumption, frequent absence from work or school, getting into physical altercations, and participating in illegal activities. Take note of impaired speech, serious confusion, and delirium, and in extreme cases, auditory and visual hallucinations as they all fall into this category as well.
4. Being Quick to Anger
Do you ﬁnd someone getting agitated or quick to anger very easily? Anger is one of the easiest emotions to express when you are confused and overwhelmed by your feelings. More often than not it drives people away; however, if you’re willing to stick around and give that person a chance to recognise their feelings and ﬁnd help, you could be saving a life.
5. Feelings of Hopelessness
We all have moments of optimism and pessimism. Yet, if you’ve noticed a startling change or prolonged pessimistic outlook on life from a friend, this can be one of the strongest and most obvious signs that someone is struggling. If there is no perceived hope, there is no perceived need to maintain positivity or enthusiasm for life. Sometimes it could be the manifestation of an individual’s distress, and only once it is recognized, can a mental health condition be diagnosed and managed. With that spark ﬁzzled out, motivation and hope are forgotten. “What’s the point?,” “I just don’t care about anything anymore,” and seemingly endless complaints and criticisms from an individual with no desire to change, are key things to keep an ear out for.
Health professionals are available to do the hard work with helping manage depression, although, they aren’t always able to be on the front line looking out for people in distress. By providing you with these five indicators, you should now know what to look out for, if you think someone you care about needs help. Australia’s most well-known mental health awareness organisation Beyond Blue go as far as providing ways for you to help people with depression, even if you aren’t a qualified professional.
The hardest part about supporting someone who needs help, is getting them to recognise that they need help in the first place. If you have noticed changes to someone that just doesn’t seem right, speak up! Imagine how you would feel if something happened to that person. As an acquaintance you may have noticed changes in a person, which they could be masking from their loved ones. Having those difficult conversations can often avoid longer term heart ache. The other person may not respond well to your offer of support, but do it anyway, just approach it as tactfully as you can.
If you, or anyone you know is struggling and is trying to find help, there are many organisations out there to reach out to:
Lifeline, 13 11 14 (24 hour crisis hotline) www.lifeline.org.au
Kids Help Line, 1800 55 1800 Online counselling available at www.kidshelpline.com.au
Mensline, 1300 78 99 78, www.mensline.org.au
Suicide Call Back Service, Free nationwide counselling 1300 659 467, www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au
Tresillian Parents Help Line, http://www.tresillian.net/ 1300 272 736 (7am-11pm)
Tresillian Live Advice. An on-line advice service, open Monday to Friday from 9am to 3.30pm.
Carers Australia, 1800 242 636 Short-term counselling and emotional and psychological support services for carers and their families in each state and territory.
Headspace 1800 650 890 Free online and telephone service that supports young people aged between 12 and 25 and their families going through a tough time.
MindSpot Clinic 1800 61 44 34 An online and telephone clinic providing free assessment and treatment services for Australian adults with anxiety or depression.
Relationships Australia 1300 364 277 A provider of relationship support services for individuals, families and communities.
SANE Australia Helpline 1800 18 7263 Information about mental illness, treatments, where to go for support and help carers.