Acts that defy easy explanations

IN the wake of Charlotte Dawson’s suicide, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s drug overdose and with Michael Hutchence’s death again on our minds, many people are wondering why and how. “But he/she was so talented and beautiful …”

As a sufferer of depression myself, I will try to answer that question. I’ve found that the least known fact is that, as with cancer, there are many different types of depression. These different types affect the severity and length of episodes. Space is limited so doctors, please forgive my simplicity. The most common form is non-melancholic depression. This is brought on by events such as grief or hormonal changes such as childbirth and can be effectively treated.

The most severe form is melancholic — characterised in films by the tormented artist. It’s biological in origin (faulty wiring) and chronic. Sufferers I’ve known will often do anything to quell the omnipresent pain.

Atypical depression is another form of the illness with excessive sleeping (rather than insomnia) and weight gain (not loss of appetite). Unlike with melancholic depressions, sufferers can be positively affected by pleasurable experiences, which can confuse onlookers. “But she was fine yesterday.”

Ironically, the narcolepsy that comes with atypical depression can be a safety valve. In my case, before effective medication (thanks to the Black Dog Institute), I’d be useless for days or weeks, in a fog with limbs like paperweights. But being knocked out was a blessing. It forced me to heal without great damage to myself or to others.

Depression can be concurrent with other disorders such as bipolar, anxiety, or obsessive compulsive, and this can complicate diagnosis and treatment.

There’s also a strong link between depression and an addictive disorder attributable to faulty brain chemistry and misfiring neurons. Those who self-medicate with drugs and alcohol are playing Russian roulette. The aim is to clarify the mind not muddy it. I’ve been there, and learnt my lesson.

But there can be a reason. Even if prescription meds are magic, they can sometimes lose their efficacy (a state called “poop out”) and need regular monitoring. Transition times when meds need changing can be the most dangerous if the sufferer is masking the problem through addictions. Rehab or talk therapy is great but the mind often forgets its “realisations” and lapses back into habit. Health regimes are invaluable. But depressions are like a king hit and can affect motor function. It’s often difficult to lift an eyelid let alone exercise. I’ve found meditating to be the best preventative.

There’s no definitive answer as to why one person will self-destruct and another won’t. It’s as complex as finding the cause of an electrical short circuit. Vigilance and constant monitoring of ourselves, friends and family without judgment is the only way forward.

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