Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Wayne Campbell | Growing up depressed

Published:Tuesday | April 18, 2017 | 4:55 PM

“I can’t remember the last time I was happy. I have never been happy for 24 hours straight, ever in my life.” These are the words of ‘Paul’, a 40-year-old university graduate, who has been battling depression for most of his adult life.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are more than 300 million people living with depression, an increase of more than 18 per cent between 2005 and 2015. The WHO states that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. Depression is just one of the many common mental disorders that affect a significant percentage of the Jamaican population. Data show that one in every four Jamaicans will experience some form of mental disorder throughout his/her lifetime. Depression can begin at just about any age and can have serious implications for the depressed person as well as for his/her family.

DISTINCTION

Nonetheless, there is a distinction to be made between the daily emotional challenges of life and the short-lived sadness that is a direct response to such stresses.

Recently, Paul and I sat down in Kingston for our discussion.  Paul is approximately 5 feet 6 inches, a rather unassuming man. Paul vividly recalls not wanting to attend school in grade six. While many of us can fondly remember our days in primary school, which were characterised by happiness and excitement at the thought of attending high school. The opposite was true for Paul. His life of depression was just beginning to take root and would haunt him ever after.

Paul’s tone changed from one of eagerness to one of subdued caution as he brought to mind the many days of feeling sad during his primary-school days. “I felt like I just had to deal with it. There was nutten I could do. I couldn’t fight, so I just dealt with it. I didn’t know I could tell my parents. Even if I did, I am sure they would not have done nutten.”

In dealing with depression at an early age of 12, Paul said, “I just went to school and did my schoolwork the best way I could.”     

Persons who are depressed do not walk around with a placard announcing the fact. The face of depression is that face that looks back at you when you look in the mirror. Depressed people look like you and me. Many depressed persons manage to hold down a job while fighting the demon of depression. Sadly, not many depressed persons have been so diagnosed. Paul, however, was diagnosed with depression in his 20’s.

The stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness often serve as barriers to treatment. These hurdles frequently prevent those who experience the symptoms from getting the medical intervention necessary to adequately manage this medical condition. In many instances, our association with mental health comes from seeing an insane person on the road eating from a garbage bin.  This perception of mental illness needs to be interrogated and brought into reality that a vast number of persons with mental disorder do not live like this. Whether we choose to believe it or not, in every family, there is at least one depressed individual.

Support Services

Paul bemoans the fact that there are not enough public-health facilities in Jamaica to address the needs and concerns of those who are living with depression. He recalls that the doctor who diagnosed him as being depressed referred him to a psychiatrist. He visited the facility on three occasions and was unable to see the psychiatrist despite having an appointment.

Paul added that while there are more professionals in the private sector to treat depression and mental illness, the cost associated with seeing a psychiatrist can be prohibitive for the average Jamaican. It has become quite common for Paul to be stressed daily for up to two to three weeks at a time.

Paul needs help! He ended our conversation by saying that he often thinks about jumping off the roof. In spite of those frightening and poignant words, there are many success stories regarding life after depression. 

Some chronically depressed persons complain of feeling worse when they take the medication. This was also Paul’s experience; as a result he rarely takes his anti-depressant medication. This side effect of feeling worse can be addressed by the physician’s re-evaluation of the medication and making the appropriate changes.

Depression is an illness like any other medical condition and needs the attention of those trained to treat it.


- Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com or tweet @WayneCamo.