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Life in the shadows

Bestselling author Marian Keyes is on the ground with depression and has said she cannot sleep or eat or talk to people so debilitated is she by the illness. In an online newsletter to fans she described her life as "living in hell".

The 46-year-old author, who is known for her bubbly personality, wrote: "The worst thing is that I feel it will never end. I know lots of people don't believe it, but depression is an illness, but unlike say, a broken leg, you don't know when it'll get better."

Marian is not alone, and instead it is estimated that one in four people will suffer from mental health illness at some point in their life.

Stress and anxiety can affect mental health, which explains why Christmas and New Year are two times of the year when people are most vulnerable to succumbing to feelings of depression and despair.

Mental Health Ireland is a national voluntary organisation which aims to promote positive mental health and to actively support persons with a mental illness, their families and carers by identifying their needs and advocating their rights. Here are the organisation's tips for not letting tensions get to you, for coping when you feel distressed, and for protecting yourself when times are tough and you need to be extra kind to yourself...

1 Talk it over Don't bottle up your worries but talk them over with someone you trust.

2 Escape for a while When things go wrong it often helps to get away from the problem for a while -- to lose yourself in a film, book, sport or a brief break away for a change of scene.

3 Work off your anger If you are using anger as a general way of behaviour, remember that anger may give you a temporary sense of righteousness, or even of power, but will generally leave you feeling or looking foolish. Do something constructive with pent-up energy -- try some physical activity like DIY, sport or walking.

4 Give in occasionally If you get into frequent quarrels with people and feel obstinate and defiant, remember that frustrated children behave like that. Stand your ground on what you know is right but do so calmly and always allow for the possibility that you could turn out to be wrong.

5 Do something for someone else If you are worrying about yourself all the time, try doing something for someone else. You'll forget your worries and will have a warm feeling of having done something positive.

6 Don't be a perfectionist No one can be perfect in everything. Decide which things you do well and then put your major effort into these.

7 Make an effort in social situations Many of us feel that we are being inadequate, excluded, slighted or neglected when in the company of others. Instead of shrinking away and withdrawing, occasionally try making the opening move yourself.

8 Plan your recreation Don't drive yourself so hard that you allow too little time for recreation: you'll find it hard to relax. Set yourself definite hours when you engage in some recreational activity outside your normal routine.

For more information log onto www.mentalhealthireland.ie