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Depression is frustrating and misunderstood

'TALK to someone" is the advice always given to those of us who may occasionally or frequently suffer from that most complicated, debilitating and still frustratingly misunderstood illness: depression.

I've used the phrase myself, unthinkingly, I realise now, as if that one simple act of personal communication is a cure-all in itself.

Recently, during a conversation about the tragic, untimely death of Kate Fitzgerald and the consequent fallout from the posthumously published account by Kate of her own anguish, a friend -- who also happens to be a therapist -- made a most unwelcome yet baldly honest comment:

"Many people, even close friends, just can't deal with depression."

Not because they don't care, or are too busy or don't think you worth the effort, but because they have no idea how to deal with the demands of a depressed person. And because they don't know what to do, they can sometimes become embarrassed, frustrated and even dismissive. Similarly work colleagues.

Many people, lucky enough not to suffer from this potentially fatal illness, have absolutely no idea why a colleague can suddenly become irritable, over-sensitive, argumentative, distant or uncommunicative. People suffering from depression can be hard work. They can be a right royal pain in the neck. They can be irrational and selfish.

They don't realise it at the time and consequently suffer even greater hurt when they feel abandoned by those they trust.

But we're never supposed to admit that.

In Ireland there is still great stigma attached to seeking professional help for mental health issues.

"What, don't you have any friends?", was the smug retort I used when young, living in New York and confronted with people unashamedly telling me about their weekly therapy sessions. And whatever about talk therapy, in Ireland, being admitted to a psychiatric unit is often a humiliation too far.

'Many people, even close friends, just can't deal with depression...'

In her article for the Irish Times one can sense the embarrassment and hurt that Kate felt when she revealed:

"I was encouraged by friends to voluntarily check into a hospital -- they said they could no longer take care of me... For all intents and purposes, my admission was voluntary. In reality I was too mortified not to follow the wishes of my seemingly put-upon friends..."

People suffering from depression sometimes don't realise that they have to have professional help. Even the best of friends are just not equipped to deal with such a serious illness.

And friends and colleagues have their own lives, their own problems and stresses, taking on someone else's -- no matter how much they care for the person in pain -- may not be possible or advisable.

We need to believe that we would act with empathy toward the person in distress, if it was a friend or colleague of ours, we would not ignore or dismiss such pain and suffering, we tell ourselves, we would "do the right thing", wouldn't we?

In this area, mistakes are made every day. Most certainly there are many workplaces -- I would think the majority -- who fail to understand, or know to how cope with a severely depressed employee.

Yet when a tragedy occurs and a beautiful life is uncomprehendingly lost, it's also human nature to attempt to pinpoint a specific reason, a trigger, something we can relate to -- because many of us still fail to realise, refuse to understand, that depression, all by itself, can be a killer.

Aware: 1890 303302

Samaritans: 1850 609090

Sunday Independent