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Getting tangled up in blue

TELEVISION Declan Lynch welcomes the new focus on depression but wonders if it's getting mixed in with something else

As regular readers will be aware, there is nothing that I do not know, and no problem to which I do not have the solution. Yet for once I approach today's column in a genuine spirit of enquiry, even of confusion.

It was sparked by a debate on the subject of depression on The Frontline, which was itself sparked by the fact that it was Blue Monday, supposedly the most depressing day of the year. And on this occasion I do not have an issue with The Frontline itself, which "covered the ground", as they say.

But I kept thinking of a related matter which has been troubling me for some time, but which has not been acknowledged at any official level, or at any other level either. No programme such as The Frontline has discussed it, no media doctor has even casually mentioned it in his column or on the radio. Which partly explains this spirit of enquiry, of confusion, on my part.

You see, some time back, maybe about a year ago, I started to notice that a lot more people were starting to talk and to write about depression, which is obviously to be welcomed. But the reason it stood out for me, was that so many of these people would also make some passing reference to their problems with alcohol. Which they would usually interpret as one of the knock-on effects of the depression.

Yes, we are in a deeply complex area here, and again I acknowledge my own doubts on this matter. But one thing I do know, is that terminology is of the very essence here. For example an alcoholic cannot start the process of recovery until the moment that he actually describes himself as an alcoholic, nor can depression be treated until it is correctly named as such.

Yet of late it seems to me that the names are getting increasingly tangled up, that diagnosis in this area is becoming somewhat unreliable. To take one example, a public figure who has spoken openly of his struggles with depression, also spoke of the fact that in the darkest phase, he was drinking about 15 pints of beer every day. Clearly, at that rate of going, if such a man were to stand up and say that he is an alcoholic, no-one would question the veracity of his statement.

So what, in fact, is he?

Is he a man suffering from depression which caused him to drink alcoholically? Or is he an alcoholic whose condition and whose lifestyle, for obvious reasons, would tend to make him depressed?

I raise these questions because I don't see them being raised anywhere else, and because I believe they are so fundamental, it would be absurd not to raise them. Yet the fact that many serious people can appear on programmes such as The Frontline, and say nothing of these matters, clearly makes me question my own perspective here.

I will go on anyway, and make the suggestion -- just raise the possibility -- that even in these more enlightened times, alcoholism still carries a stigma that persuades people it is safer to say they are suffering from depression. But then, what do I know?

WELL, for a start, I know that Pat Rabbitte's idea of a Household Broadcasting Charge to replace the TV licence, has much potential. Even if you don't have a television, the argument goes that you are still "accessing" the "content" of RTE in myriad other forms. Which is fair enough.

But I can't help thinking of how this might apply to other areas of the media, such as newspapers for example, and this paper in particular. Because as we know, people who don't own a copy of the Sunday Indo are always managing to read it anyway, often in the most extraordinary circumstances.

They might be out visiting their wife's auntie's second cousin, in whose home they find this paper and find themselves inadvertently reading it from cover to cover, apparently unable to stop themselves.

And I was particularly taken by the story of the blogger who found himself in an emergency situation when he went climbing in the Wicklow Mountains in poor conditions.

As he waited for the rescue helicopter, he tried to make himself comfortable on the bleak mountainside.

And there, stuffed behind a rock, he found a recent copy of this paper. Which of course he read in its entirety, just to pass the time.

So the question for Pat Rabbitte is this: if we are going to be charged for all the different ways in which we consume today's media, should everyone in Ireland not be paying for the Sunday Independent?

Sunday Indo Living