herald

Friday 15 December 2017

Love on hostile ground

It's hard to look at a celebrity, especially one as lovely and talented as Ashley Judd, and imagine that anything could possibly go wrong in her world.

In 2006, however, the singer and actress admitted that she suffered from depression, and checked in to a centre in the US in order to receive treatment for it, and for an accompanying eating disorder.

As a child, she was often left behind when her mother Naomia went on tour, and Judd is quoted as saying that her childhood was "very unsafe and unstable".

"There was a time when I skipped a whole week of school because my mum was on the road, I didn't have a ride and I'd gotten ashamed of calling friends. I had my first childhood depression at eight -- severe, intense, hole-in-the-soul loneliness. No one noticed."

While the essence of depression is the result of an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, nature isn't the only factor that comes into it: your relationships are a contributing factor as well. Since women are 'relators' by nature, what happens when their own nurture isn't up to scratch?

HOSTILITY

A recent psychological study has found that the hostile behaviour of husbands towards their wives increases the woman's chances of becoming depressed.

Now, hostile behaviour is, at the best of times, merely discourteous. If one is predisposed, via family history for example, to sink into the maw of the illness, then the slightest mistreatment can cause the underlying condition to blossom.

In the study, 416 couples were videotaped interacting in their home environment, and two types of behaviours were used as measures that indicated whether or not the depression of the women involved was increased.

The first behaviour was designated as 'anti-social', that is, those which displayed evidence of self-centredness, defiance or lack of constraint. The second, the hostile sort, embodied angriness, criticism or rejection.

It is the second classification that is the most insidious.

The researchers determined that eye-rolling, constant interruption during speech and sneering was hostile behaviour; this is rather worrying, because while not by any means subtle, this class of treatment can slowly, over time, completely erode self-esteem -- and self-esteem is a key component of keeping depression at bay.

It's extremely difficult, if not entirely possible, to defend yourself against these small, disrespectful actions if you're not feeling strong in your self.

GUILT

Judd has said that one of the reasons she was able to successfully battle her demons was down to the care and support of her husband, racing driver Dario Franchitti.

It could be argued that his success as a stalwart through her time of need is directly related to her willingness to focus on her decision to achieve wellness.

As someone who had been partnered with someone who suffered from depression, I know that all the goodwill in the world can't 'make them better'.

SHOCKING

There's an enormous feeling of guilt that accompanies living with a depressed partner, a feeling that one shouldn't feel well when the other clearly isn't.

There's also an increase in the duties that are required to keep things -- normal things like food in the fridge, social life, and bill paying -- ticking over, which adds to resentment.

Life is not 'normal'. For me, it often felt like the depression was a third person in the relationship, dictating responses (or lack thereof) and determining the tenor of the day. . . or week. . . or month.

I am fortunate that I didn't get depressed myself, as the influence of the other's mood was that powerful. It was difficult to keep my own spirits up at times, and the change from, say, spending the day over lunch laughing with girlfriends, to then returning to the black pit was shocking at times.

And it was black: depression is not the 'blues' or the 'blahs' -- it is black, black as pitch at midnight, and not something that should be treated lightly.

It should be treated, and all encouragement on my part to support his acceptance and treatment of the illness were for naught, as he chose not to take his meds and to continue to spiral out of control until it became unsafe for me to remain.

HELP

Given that women are two-to-one more likely than men to become depressed, I feel very fortunate. I was able to look to my own health, and do what was necessary to secure it.

It was painful process, and while I didn't engage in the hostile behaviours listed above, the tendency to nag and to constantly monitor the other's moods and reactions -- which were like red flags to this bull -- couldn't have been beneficial for either of us. As Judd and Franchitti proved, two heads are better than one when approaching this condition.

Luckily, we in Ireland have a great resource in Aware. Formed in 1985, this voluntary group of mental health professionals, patients, and loved ones is solely concerned with providing support for those who are grappling with this illness.

More than 400,000 people in this country, at any given time, suffer from depression, and Aware is there to give much-needed education, and emotional and practical support.

They offer lectures covering a variety of topics, as well as a Life Skills Programme, in which one can learn about the disease and learn ways with which to manage it.

The good news, which is vital when dealing with this situation? There is hope -- for everyone involved.

Information can be found on www.aware.ie; the Life Skills Programme is free of charge and details can be obtained by emailing info@aware.ie.

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