herald

Sunday 21 October 2018

Waters' words are the last ones you'd link to depression

"IT'S an invention, it's bulls**t. It's a cop-out."

John Waters' comments on depression yesterday in the Sunday Independent may have come in the heat of the moment. However, that does not mitigate the level of ignorance displayed.

When you see a teenager unable to speak, to eat or even move because they are in deep depression, it is hard to equate that with "an invention".

When you see men and women struggle with mental torment for years, "bulls**t" is not what comes to mind.

When you have seen a body fished out of the river, "cop- out" doesn't sit easy.

I understand that, not withstanding the 40 grand libel settlement, John is upset over his treatment in the wake of Pantigate. When we are wounded we can attack. Perhaps that is what is behind this most damaging of statements.

For people who struggle with this illness, to be blamed for it is inhumane. For sure the term "depression" is bandied around a lot. We all suffer in life, but there are very specific features of depression that separate it from normal ups and downs.

We have carefully evolved a decent set of clinical and cognitive criteria for classifying someone as depressed.

We know that if for a period longer than two weeks, despite your best efforts, you cannot lose debilitating feelings and thoughts of worthlessness, you may be suffering from depression.

There are behavioural factors such as how someone is sleeping, eating and functioning in other parts of their life. The criteria are specific and blow Waters' "invention" out of the waters.

Whether you believe that depression is a result of chemical imbalances, particularly the neuro-transmitter serotonin, or that it is a result of our reactions to life events or a combination of both, it needs to be treated.

Whether psychotherapy and/or medication is appropriate, it is vital to get help. Either way, it is rare to meet a "chancer" who can meet all the criteria so that he/she can "cop out".

I have had to do emergency interventions where people were about to take their own life, and once where they sought to take their children's lives.

These people were deeply depressed. They needed help, not condemnation. All recovered with appropriate help.

Depressed people used to be told to 'snap out of it.' Thankfully today we have discovered more Christ -like compassion for those who suffer.

John Waters might consider that one in eight adolescents will suffer a period of depression. Because of their vulnerability it is essential that we not stigmatise them.

Last week I addressed hundreds of school children about positive mental health. The key thing is to give them the skills to handle emotional challenges.

The context of the interview means that we should not demonise John Waters.

But if you use the media to discuss your situation, you must expect a reaction.

We are losing more people every week to suicide. Depression is a significant clinical factor in many of these deaths. To stigmatise someone like this only adds to the likelihood of prolonging depression.

COMPASSION

It is interesting that in his interview, John Waters is able to have compassion for himself. As a Christian I am disappointed that he cannot extend the self -empathy to those who suffer with depression.

John is a humane person and perhaps does so in more private ways. However, public concentration on one's own situation to the exclusion of others raises questions.

The savage and cruel suffering that is depression deserves better comment.

EAMON KEANE IS A MEMBER OF THE INSTITUTE OF GUIDANCE COUNSELLORS. VIEWS EXPRESSED ARE HIS OWN.

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