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Depression and recovery in Australia

Messages to others

Most people we talked with wanted to pass on what they had learned from their own experience, and spoke about a range of things people could do to improve their lives. The majority of messages people wanted to share were directed to others with depression, and a few were directed towards health professionals.
 
Advice to others with depression
 
Talking with others about their depression was found to be helpful by most people. This included either talking with people who had been through similar experiences, with trusted friends and family, with health professionals, or with all of these. Sharing experiences was motivated by a desire to help others with similar experiences, but also to raise awareness of how it feels to live with depression. A number of people talked about the importance of acknowledging that they had a problem, as a first step towards addressing it. Many also advised looking for help as soon as people start feeling ‘something is wrong’, as delays in help-seeking might prolong suffering. A few people pointed out the importance of being well-informed about the latest developments in understanding depression and following information provided on relevant health websites, in the scientific literature, and in self-help books.
 

Stewart talked about sharing his experience with other people being of mutual benefit.

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Age at interview: 46
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 45
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And so we made the decision to very publicly come out within the franchise group and tell people, you know, about my experience. You know, in the hope that anyone who was out there that had been having issues, you know, might be, might be encouraged to go and seek help, you know. And subsequent to doing that at we have an annual convention and at our annual convention in August one of the keynote speakers spoke at length about depression. And so that was a really, a really good thing. 
 
But yeah, the experience of telling people about it, you know, I it's kind of two-fold. I mean it it's been really good because anyone we've told has been nothing but supportive, really supportive.
 
And then on the other side I feel good about talking about it, because I feel like I'm in a very small way helping other people, you know. Because, you know, clearly the more, the more mainstream the illness can be then the quicker people are going to acknowledge that they might have a problem and seek help, you know.
 
Peter said it was important not to identify with the illness – in his words, ‘I am not my illness and perhaps that’s the greatest gift I can give anybody that’s going through the same thing’. Others suggested living one day at a time. Amelia suggested that it was helpful to think about depression as an enemy that ‘has no right to get inside of us’ and that it was not peoples’ fault if they experienced depression. A few other people spoke about the importance of setting the goals, and challenging one’s own thoughts about depression. Some advised patience and understanding that recovery will not happen overnight but require effort and time. As Sara put it: ‘You just need an inordinate degree of patience when you are at your most desperate’.
 
Others stressed the importance of taking responsibility for oneself and encouraging people with depression to help themselves. Dani said that while she thought that someone else was going to ‘fix’ her, this did not work. As she explained, ‘I can ask for all the help in the world but inevitably I have to make the first few steps and look after myself’. Phil suggested taking an active approach to one’s depression: ‘And not just sit back and expect people to be knocking at your door going, "Can I help you with this?"’
 

Kymberly urged people to take up moderate exercise, and spend time with people who were inspiring...

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Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 45
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People, people do this big, they start running or jogging and they buy bikes and they start riding bikes. They put themselves under so much pressure and time pressure - we're all busy. Like I go, like I said, to the gym half an hour twice a week, first thing in the morning, and that's all I need to do. And I need to fit in a walk every two or three times a week as well and, and I can manage to fit that in. If you put yourself under too much pressure you won't do it. 
 
So don't put yourself, I mean if you, if you, especially when you have depression it just, that, that adds to your stress and anxiety. Because you're trying to lose weight, you're trying to regain your fitness and if you don't get to the gym you feel bad and, and you know what I mean? You just have to keep it simple and you don't have to have it, keep it big. But it's been very important in my recovery, absolutely.
 
And if people have depression if they can find something that they're passionate about, that they can really focus on, almost to the OCD degree, it, it takes you mind off of a lot of the other stuff that you're thinking about all the time.
 
And going to the gym and staying fit is important too. And surrounding yourself with the right kind of people. You can have people in your life, I think, that you've had in your life for 20 or 25 or 30 years and you can still be their friend. But if they are bringing you down and if they're putting you down or if they're a negative in your life in any way, you don't need them right now, you know? And, and sometimes there's going to be casualties. The casualties of war. 
 
It was also acknowledged that families of people with depression need to look for support, as they ‘definitely get the side effects of depression’. Several people emphasised that families being supported helps the person with depression as well, as their family is better equipped to support them (see Family, friends and partners’). A few people mentioned that joining support groups could be very helpful for people experiencing depression. Some advised that everyone should put themselves first from time to time, and also let friends and family prioritise them and show their care.
 

Andrew felt that, in order to get better, people have to look within themselves.

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Age at interview: 51
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 43
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While I don’t like giving advice cause yeah I think change has to, change has to come about from ourselves. And there’s a piece of program in the book, in the (name of book), called responsibility. I have, in the past, never taken responsibility for me and my life. So one - change comes about, from my point of view, from taking the responsibility of what one needs to do in order to change one life, one’s life. If you want to change your drug dependency, your alcohol dependency, what - the dependency on your mother, whatever, you can only enact that by the gaining of knowledge. 
 
Getting help from if I can term it, not just from the medical fraternity but from people who seem wiser than you are. And understanding that change doesn’t happen overnight, it happens within time. Maybe not your time, but it happens gradually.
 
 

Belinda thought it was important to seek help when needed from people who love you for who you are.

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 25
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Talking. Talking with people who are, you know, talking with people that are non-judgemental, talking with people who you know love you and love you the way you want them to love you. So, you know, supportive you know but not, not making out like you are a child or anything. Letting people know when things are not okay. And I would say to somebody if things are feeling like you are going to get out of control or that you are going to do something that might hurt you, let somebody know that that might happen and let somebody you know that you trust and is not going to create a drama for you, but who will look out for you. That’s what I think. And people have said that to me as well. 

 

Ron recommended taking a proactive, critical approach towards understanding depression and its...

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Age at interview: 62
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 27
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Firstly understanding what depression is, in terms - but just what does the word mean? And what’s the physical, emotional, even spiritual sensations a person will go through with “depression”, or clinical depression which seems to be different than other depressions. So understanding what’s happening to you is really important. And then understanding that it will pass, like the weather, it changes. Understanding what are my choices in terms of taking any medications, what I could do in terms of my physical health as well, like as I said before, on exercise, and even working on my brain through mindfulness, that - all those things that I actually have experienced and I know work, or are there for me. 
 
And even just the word depression itself, and it's just, again it’s just a word, and not realising that I am a depressive. I’m a just a human being, going through the human condition and occasionally uh being overwhelmed by life and not having the resources to overcome that. And that's letting go of stigma, I don’t have any shame, as I’ve said before, and uh I have a lot less baggage, (interviewer’s name), a lot less baggage, even just moving here I left a lot more stuff behind. And I’ve continued to do that, 'cause I can’t take any of it with me, and I don’t want it because it collects dust as well [laughs].
 
I think the most helpful thing is uh something that’s been thousands of years old - ‘know thyself’. I think it’s actually written on one of those old Greek temples somewhere. Know thyself. And you have to actually get help to do that, initially with helpers, it could be doctors, could be friends, could be books, know yourself, and understand yourself and understand your behaviours and thoughts and feelings. And, and secondly having choice and choosing to try things differently, choosing not to just stick with the authority, 'cause the authorities will always be authori- can be authoritarian and tell you what to do and this is it. 
 
A few people were confident that it is best to look in the first instance for support and reassurance from medical professionals, particularly trusted GPs who had known them over a long period of time. Ivan commented: ‘Professional treatment by a good doctor can bring a satisfying result. I am a living example.’ The main reasons outlined for talking to GPs were that GPs could provide appropriate referrals and prescribe medication, if this was the preferred treatment option. A few suggested that people experiencing depression should be willing to spend time and effort looking for the right GP and experimenting with different treatments until they found what worked for them. Others argued that there was no reason to be afraid of trying medication for their depression.
 

Chloe suggested seeing a doctor as the first point of call.

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Age at interview: 25
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 19
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Best advice is to see a doctor [laughs]. Just to yeah make an appointment with like a doctor; either one that you’ve seen before so that you know them or just - I mean you might not get the right doctor first but just keep persevering until you find one that you can talk to about what’s going on. And hopefully they will refer you in the right directions. And also, equally as important is just to open up and talk about it with someone, like even a phone helpline. Just that initial getting it off your chest, it doesn’t matter who to, just people really underestimate how powerful that is. And I think that’s really important - to just talk about it, yeah. 

 

Colin suggested seeing a GP because they were the ‘gateway’ to treatment.

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Age at interview: 74
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 67
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Feeling depressed - don’t be frightened to go and talk to your GP. Go and talk to your GP. If they appear not to have time, you’ve got the wrong GP, but you must tell them because they are the gateway through to treatment because they can give you the prescription for medication, they can give you the prescription to go to the correct person. They have their networks of who to go to and they are invaluable and that would be I think the best thing to - if you have depression you’ve got to go through those things. If you notice it and it’s been picked up, it’s the thing is GPs - they’re getting a lot of I think pressure at the moment to perform, but for goodness sake they’re the start, they really are the start. They know more about you than you think because they record everything. 

 

Stephanie talked about the benefits of medication, and the importance of being straightforward...

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 29
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My advice would be don't be afraid of medication. Lots of my friends have been afraid - not my friends, but people who I know who've for some reason talked to me about it, have been afraid of medication. Don't be afraid of medication. Sure there are side effects, but it may work. It might not, but it did for me.
 
And my thing is to try and be straightforward with what the problem is. If there's something, if there's something that you know is what is bothering you, then you've got to say it, because if you lie to your psychologist or you lie to your doctor, you're never going to get the help that you need. And it's sometimes, it's not a lie, it's a keeping something because it's too hard to say, but that's what they're there for, yeah. So that would be my advice. 
 
A couple of people who had been bullied at school for being different talked about strategies for avoiding this.
 

Millaa’s advice to others with experiences of being bullied for being different was to befriend...

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 15
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Well, with being queer and, and at high school for instance, because I know that's very, very, very difficult because you're coming to terms with your own sexuality and, and people are coming to terms with theirs, - and a lot people do get showered with abuse that are out, or that want to be out, or that are very feminine for instance for a man, or very butch if you're a girl. I think what my best advice would be with, with high school, for instance, is that [inhales] in retrospect it was good to keep my head down. But it was also probably better to fight for my beliefs and fight for my right to be a fellow student. Not just a fellow human but just a fellow student, you know. And you talk to the teachers, talk to the teachers because they're the ones that can, can help you the most. 
 
You know, and also make friends with, try to make friends with likeminded people. Maybe if they’re even a little bit crazy, but just try and make friends with people that are more accepting and more open. And you can usually tell with people who are and who aren't, but. And you know what? I mean, a lot of people who tease you for being queer or whatever turn out to be queers themselves. So you know what, just say, ‘Go back to poofter-ville,’ to them. And you know, they might go crazy or they might just be like, ‘I'm too shocked to react to that!’ 
 
So but yeah, my best advice would be to - if you're a shy person and you don't feel courageous enough initially when you start school, keep your head down and just keep to yourself and try to just keep away from the bullies. If you are not, and you feel that - or if you get to a time when you feel courageous and determined enough to really - like what I did, to speak for your beliefs and to really stand up and, and, and you know say something and, and really reinforce what you want to be as a person and your identity, then really, like, go for it. Just go completely for it. Like, splash on some slap. Put on some makeup, put on some cheap perfume and just go for it. There's no point in holding back. Just, if you're going to do it, just do it. Take a deep breath, hold your nose and dive in. That's all I can - you know, for that. 
 
A few people recommended undertaking psychotherapy or counselling available through the government initiative 'Better Outcomes in Mental Health Care' and associated mental health plans.
 
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Troy talked about the benefits of knowing his experience was not unique, and of psychotherapy.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 21
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So is there anything that you would like to give as an advice to other people experiencing similar problems that you went through?
 
It's funny, I've never really thought about that question actually. I guess, I think I've - and I don't know - I think I've felt that my experience is relatively unique, but it's probably not. 
 
…probably my biggest advice is that, would be the helpfulness of psychotherapy. I think the, I think, and, you know, certainly in the, work that I've come across this idea of counselling or psychotherapy being for something pathological really scares or puts off people. whereas I think actually everyone could probably do with a good little bit of psychotherapy so that they can start becoming a little bit more aware of how they're actually acting in the world. 
 
So I think possibly if I was saying to people in the same situation, get on the mental health plan, it's a really helpful thing, and go and see a psychotherapist. Yes, I hadn't thought about it but that's what, yes, a good thing.
 
Advice to health professionals
 
People provided a range of suggestions to health professionals treating people with depression. These included giving enough time to their patients, providing information that is easily understood, carefully explaining the diagnosis and antidepressant medication, if they were prescribed, offering various treatment options without favouring one above the other, and providing people with choices. Those seeking help were advised to find an understanding doctor who ‘knows your pain’. Other important components of depression care included a need to feel reassured, timely and accurate diagnosis, access to doctors when needed, doctors who conveyed a genuine interest in and compassionate care for their patients, and doctors who kept up with the latest knowledge about depression and treatments and made this available to patients. Another piece of advice was the importance of conveying a sense of hope to their patients and working together with them on getting better, even if this took a long time. Others described occasionally encountering patronising approaches while involved in depression awareness campaigns and other activities. Ron suggested it would be useful for the health system in general to focus on prevention, early intervention, and look at other potential causes, including the family situation, or the role of alcohol, which he said was a ‘cultural norm in our country’.
 

Clinton talked about the importance of receiving from health professionals an accurate diagnosis,...

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Age at interview: 38
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 19
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I used to want them to tell me what was a - what my diagnosis was. And then after - after psychiatrist number, 10, I guess, you know, you start to think look, this may be, hope beyond hope. And my last diagnosis, is, I think, is very accurate. Not entirely, but very accurate. Enough to give me some big - big helps. I think what I want from medical experts is support. I want to walk in there expecting that I'll be treated with dignity and respect. I want information delivered to me in a constructive and proactive way.
 
So I want the - I want to - I want that experience my interaction with a medical expert to be positive first, because I need to be in a positive mindset - as positive as I can be when I'm there - so that I can absorb the information, and really make the most of it. But I - one really important thing is I can expect anything I want from these people, but what I can do is plan before I go and see them to find out what I want. 
 
 

Stewart described his experiences with his GP and outlined what he thought every GP treating...

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Age at interview: 46
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 45
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Well I think that firstly having a genuine interest in the illness and so therefore understanding the illness, which obviously she does. And, and, and being able to express, you know, to express that to a patient in such a way that, you know, the patient feels differently about it, you know. I mean I went in there very cynical, very, you know, I'm not, very negative and really I was looking at myself as only going in there because I'd reached rock bottom, you know, and I didn't know what else to do basically.
 
And her approach and attitude and understanding of the illness and understanding of the patient's experiences totally turned that around, you know. And it was the, I guess it's that credibility factor to a degree, like the way she questioned me about my feelings and, you know, and the examples that she used showed me immediately that she understood. 
 
And that, so then you, she's then got credibility in my mind, which means that I'm going to open up and listen more. And, you know, by the end of it she totally turned me around in terms of the way I was thinking about it.
 
So, you know, I think the, the key attributes for the for the GP are that firstly they do totally understand the, the problem and that they're willing to give more than the normal 10 minute appointment or whatever it is that they normally give, you know. Fast, fast food dot med- medical services. You know, and they're willing to spend that time and, and have the, have the tools and the skills to make the patient realise what the whole thing's all about. 
 
And you know, what causes it and why it's not something to be, I guess, ashamed of or, or negative about, you know, and that there is a path out, you know. Because by the time I walked out of there I was like, yes, look she knows what she's doing and I’m going to be okay.
 
 

Ron was critical of impersonal, insensitive attitudes towards people with mental health...

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Age at interview: 62
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 27
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Yes but it’s also the reality that, uh oh either with, with your, with a doctor, who’s another authority figure, that they are the authority figures and we look for authority, we look for guidance, we look for the experts of knowledge and we believe them usually. 
 
And uh I remember once I was giving a talk in a pub - you know, public or private hospital and this drug executive came in promoting a new antidepressant, or anti psychotic, and he started a conversation with all these nurses and others, because I was giving a, a talk also, an in-service to staff, and he started off by saying and looking at the group, ‘How many psy - how many psychotics do you have today? How many uh schizophrenics are here at the moment? How many of this and how many of that?’ And I was thinking, is he asking this lot, the nurses and the doctors, of - how many of those are psychotics and schizophrenics? Of course not, he was asking about the, the, the patients out there.
 
And uh I thought, how impersonal is that and that attitude, it’s really horrible, and in fact uh when the person had finished, he sat down and he brought all his show bags and, you know, umbrellas with the drug company thing on the brand and cups and, and all these freebies that the staff grabbed and put in their show bag and I said, ‘Well look I can’t beat that, I have nothing to offer you but hope’. And you know, and I did say to them, ‘So none of you admitted to being a psychotic or a schizophrenic or a depressive?’ And there was silence in the room. I said, ‘Well, you know, I’ve had episodes of depression in my life but I’m not a depressive, you know, I’m a person’, and I left it at that. 
 
So the system itself does depersonalise people and removes hope because we believe the experts. From early childhood we, we believe our mother and father, then we believe our kindergarten teacher or our ministers and all these people, or our policemen, all these authority figures can influence our lives, if we haven’t got the courage to find our self and to challenge that belief and become - uh believe in our self. And we, we - the laws help us to do that, the Mental Health Act and other laws help us do that. But many of us don’t even know they exist or know that they, they’re there to help us. 
 
So it’s really about empowerment and part of the work I do now is trying to let people know you have a right to use your power, you have, as a citizen of this country, you have rights. But you also have responsibilities as well and that, sometimes they’re hard to do, to be responsible and to speak out. So - but that’s the choice all of us make, some of us lose our mental health because of it and that’s very sad. 
 

Last reviewed January 2016.
Last updated January 2016.
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