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A far from depressing show

IRELAND'S Depression Epidemic, a three-part series, would perhaps have benefited from a less provocative title.

At what point does the increase in the incidences of an illness qualify as an epidemic? It's a hard one to pin down.

If you Google the words "depression in Ireland", revealed Ray D'Arcy, whose light-hearted radio persona belies his background as a psychology graduate, you turn up 122 million results.

"There's no getting away from it," he added, "depression is on the rise." Yes, but how is society to measure the severity of the problem? Various websites say between 300,000 and 400,000 people -- which is close to the number currently unemployed -- are suffering from depression at any given time. The condition ranges from the milder manifestations to what one GP here called "depression with a big D": bipolar disorder and clinical depression.

One in four of us will have a mental health problem at some point in our lives. Four out of 10 women suffer post-natal depression, sometimes as late as two years after giving birth. The suicide rate is running at 500 a year; increasingly, it's young men who are killing themselves.

Tying all these statistics together and making some kind of sense of them has been hampered by Irish people's traditional reluctance to acknowledge their own or their loved ones' depression, let alone seek treatment. There's a lingering whiff of stigma associated with it still.

That title aside, this was a commendably thoughtful and low-key start to the series, if a touch pedantic in places. It was at its best when sufferers were doing the talking.

"It's the loneliest place," said Agnes (59), who's been battling depression since she was 21. "It's a very vague illness, but it's still an illness." Agnes, who said she's had what outsiders would regard as "the perfect life" (i.e., plenty of material wealth), recalled that her mother also suffered from depression.

She remembers her refusing to leave the bedroom for weeks on end, yet it was never openly discussed. "If we don't talk about it, it doesn't exist."

Agnes began drinking heavily at home and attempted suicide. "I really felt my kids would be better off without me," she said.

Liz was an extrovert high-achiever in her final year at college when depression took hold. Medication prescribed by her GP worked for 10 years, after which her disorder returned with a vengeance. She too tried suicide. "I felt empty," she said. "I felt like I'd no meaning in life. I just felt hopeless."

Medication is still working for Padraig, who's middle-aged now and had a serious psychotic episode when he was 19. He was diagnosed as bipolar. "I lost touch with the real world," he said.

Ireland's Depression Epidemic was less successful when canvassing the opinions of passers-by, which felt superfluous and tended to link the onset of depression to a lack of money. It's certainly a factor (particularly right now) but, as Bruce Springsteen once said, "Money makes life easier, but it doesn't make living any easier." Just ask Agnes.

Nobody can accuse RTE's commentating strike force, George Hamilton and Ronnie Whelan, of failing to add to the gaiety of the nation, despite the result against Croatia.

"They're taking no chances," said George as an army of cops moved into position near the end of the 1-1 draw between Poland and Russia. "The Russians are not taking any chances, either -- none of them are getting in the box!" Ronnie shot back, his tongue as fast as his feet were during his 443 first-team appearances for Liverpool.

Marvellous stuff! We're not even a week into Euro 2012 and it's already RTE 5, Everybody Else 0. And that's not even counting the sterling efforts last night of Eamon Dunphy, Didi Hamann and Kenny Cunningham, owners of the three most agile pairs of eyebrows in football punditry.

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