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

Beyond Blue



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5 Responses to Depression is a broken arm

  1. Elizabeth 22 July 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    I understand.

  2. Peter C. 24 June 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    I’ve only read this item today (24 June) and have to speak. Yes, chronic depression sits on my shoulders like a lead weight. I’m 65 now and oddly, I can almost pinpoint the day it started. When I was about 22 I’d asked my GP about a persistent rash or something. He said, is anything worrying you at the moment? I said, no, nothing I can think of. Then driving away I remember it was like opening Pandora’s Box. I hadn’t thought about any problems up to then, I just didn’t think consciously that I had any.

    From then on, age about 22, they all came to the fore and I’ve suffered ever since. It’s that clear.

    I have reason to be depressed – if you knew me, still alone at 65, always have been, always will be, cannot be with anyone all the time, have to get away. But also, how do you get a woman to love you? I honestly don’t know.

    I’ve seen doctors, seen a psychiatrist (very briefly and unsatisfactorily), had excellent results with my present psychologist over 18 years. Overcame my shyness brilliantly – can talk to anyone now!

    I’ve tried all the a/d’s, used Zoloft a lot, but am only now realising the cost! I virtually lost a year last year.

    I liken it to being in a cotton wool lined wire cage on Z. Y’can see out, light gets in, sounds in and out, but you can’t and don’t want to leave that wire cage. Stops me doing, planning, deciding what to do and getting going. And totally removes libido!!

    Now I’ve weaned myself off it (carefully, long experience) and it’s like being in a small boat on a rough, storm tossed lake. Exposed to the blasting wind, smelling all the good things, seeing the beautiful sights, planning, doing things, wanting to do things, actually getting up and getting going.

    But also feeling all the hurts, realising that certain people are fair weather friends, being so disappointed in some people, feeling all the bumps and bangs and crashes and ups and downs of life. That’s life, isn’t it?

    I’ve been told “you can’t self assess!” I have no choice, I’m alone, but I’m documenting it all to try to be aware of the effects of Zoloft. Three months off it so far. I have a packet of Edronax right here if I need it, but I don’t want to start unless I have to and this time, I’ll observe closely and document the effects.

    Despite overcoming shyness, I’m still alone, though, and there’s a glass wall about hip high surrounding me that I just can’t get over. Bit late now, I’m used to it. (I’m not gay, if that’s not clear enough.)

    I should go around and see some friends this afternoon who have been sick, but I’m not sure I’m wanted there. They haven’t invited me so I probably shouldn’t go. That’s the way I think.

    I’ve just always known I’m not wanted much and I’ll die alone. Too bad, that’s the way I am.

    Btw, my way of explaining about my condition is to say, “How many times a day does a normal person think about suicide?” There is not a single day goes by when I don’t think about it in some way. But if I’ve reached 65, I would have done it by now. Probably a bit late to do it now. Maybe next week. No, I’ve got that new lens arriving next week. Maybe another time.

  3. nomadd 17 June 2012 at 1:46 pm #

    Yes, I am aware about this condition. A former Premier of Victoria – Jeff Kennett suffered from this condition.
    What I cannot understand is the complete lack of discussion by the medical profession, we need to blitz the television and internet with talks by highly qualified medical people.
    This would be a good topic for the ABC program Q & A on Monday nights.
    In contrast we are bombarded by information on cancer, heart attacks and obesity.
    I have always thought we needed a huge amount of money placed at the medical fraternity disposal to discuss and explain about this illness of the mind.
    However, the elite in the medical field seem to push this topic into the too hard basket.

  4. Jo 17 June 2012 at 11:53 am #

    I work in a project team at the Hunter Institute of Mental Health called Partners in Depression. Readers may not know about this wonderful resource which is an education and support group program for people who love, live with or support someone experiencing depression. Further information can be found at

  5. Tony Alexander 17 June 2012 at 8:04 am #

    I seem to have suffered depression for most of my life without realizing it. I finally accepted the diagnosis when my GP offered me anti-depressant medication which I had refused on other occasions. The difference the medicine made is amazing. I know there is much debate about the benefits and hazards of SSRI’s but I have no doubt they work. A friend told me a story of her former husband who became suicidal while on Zoloft. The jury is out on this one. What seems to be unsaid about depression is the other symptoms of as panic attacks and anger which can seriously transform a personality. Depression is not just about suicide.

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