Depression is a broken arm
There’s a broken cog inside the minds of many depression sufferers but few understand what they can’t see.
WE read stories every week about murder-suicides, often involving the most unlikely people: good parents, the nice neighbour next door. ‘‘Why didn’t she ask for our help?’’, ‘‘I knew he was under pressure but I didn’t think that . . .’’ and ‘‘I didn’t know he/she was depressed!’’ are among the most common reactions from disbelieving family and friends.
As a community, we try to comprehend what goes on in the mind of a seemingly untroubled human being who feels they can’t go on, and then feels it’s right to take their loved ones with them. Are their minds different to ours? How is such a thing possible?
Having spent more than a decade attending and talking at neuroscience-related conferences — for instance I chaired the Mind & Its Potential conference in Sydney two years ago — the answer is usually faulty chemistry and/or synapses.
To put it simply, there is something broken in the minds of chronic depressives that can’t be seen. It’s like a broken arm, but invisible — which is what most people don’t seem to grasp. No one would make a person with their arm in a sling carry a box of bricks.
Yet the brain is a mystery. Often even sufferers themselves have no idea what’s going on until they are diagnosed. And if they are not, it’s tantamount to put- ting brick after brick on to the broken arm. It’s a matter
of time before it ‘‘snaps’’, with severity unknown. It can be the cleaning lady or your neighbour suffering under the radar.
I have a depressive condition that draws me to such conferences. Thankfully, I don’t have suicidal tendencies, but I know the thinking that leads to false conclusions. There’s a profound darkness that descends. It isn’t just in the head, it spreads to the entire body like a spilled bottle of black ink. The body becomes paralysed, as if the muscles have been poisoned. You are no longer yourself — rather, an organism in pain.
I’m well looked after by my doctor, but less fortunate people will try desperately to escape their own skin, using sleeping pills, alcohol or other addictions, as the brain becomes depleted of the chemical ‘‘food’’ it needs to think straight. Into this Petri dish come illogical thoughts. The idea of suicide can grow in people who don’t have access to proper medication and therapy.
It’s impossible in a few words to say what needs to be said. To remind people that there is no lifting a box of (psychic) bricks with a broken arm. It’s the presumption that depressives can, that can lead to tragic outcomes.
The Black Dog Institute https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au
Beyond Blue www.beyondblue.org.au