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Black dog isn't really invincible

By Geoff Gallop - posted Thursday, 10 May 2007


Recently Beyondblue released the results of a survey on the evidence of depression within the professions. The survey, designed by Beyondblue, was integrated into Beaton Consulting's 2007 Annual Professions Study. The survey revealed higher than average depression scores among professionals as well as significant use of alcohol and other non-prescription drugs to manage the feelings of sadness and depression.

Six per cent to 16 per cent of the respondents from the professions indicated moderate or severe symptoms of depression, with lawyers recording the highest score.

These revealing figures provide cause for concern, particularly when coupled with the discovery that there is a lack of understanding about the nature of depression and what may be helpful in dealing with it. For example, more than half the sample indicated that it would be helpful to encourage someone with depression to take time off or a holiday. All this does is give the mind more time to stalk its victim.

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Since my decision to seek medical help for depression early last year, I have learned a great deal about myself and the condition.

However, to learn these things, I had to acknowledge that I had a problem. Not talking about depression is part of its definition. We hold it in: it's personal and it's deep. Imagine a world in which every second feels like a year and the ability to laugh has been extinguished.

Abraham Lincoln described the feelings associated with depression with unerring clarity: "I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would be not one cheerful face on earth. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible. I must die or be better, it appears to me."

The guilt that depressives feel in the face of their and the world's many imperfections also works against their own liberation. They want to please and they feel everything that happens is exclusively their responsibility. The more they do, the more they feel they have to do. They act for others and they work beyond reason to achieve at the highest levels. To do otherwise - to put themselves and their wellbeing first - is to fail the test of life that has been created in their minds.

Herein lies the problem for many of our professionals and high achievers: they have lost control. That which drives them also has the potential to destroy them and, tragically, all too often it does.

As Mamta Gautam said of the legal profession in her Tristan Jepson Memorial Lecture in Sydney last year: "These personality traits are all very socially and professionally valuable, but personally very expensive."

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In saying these things I find myself asking: "Why didn't I take action earlier?" We don't because the nature of the illness prevents it. It feeds off itself and in a world of individual ignorance and social stigma it claims many victims.

Prejudice and melancholy feed off each other like psychological twins. The more the prejudice, the more the concealment; the more the concealment, the more the depression.

However, I have also learned that liberation is possible. The causes and consequences of mental health (and illness) have at last emerged as an important subject for serious scientific analysis and proper public discussion. We have learned much from neuroscience and have at last discovered the wisdom of Eastern religion, psychology and philosophy. Depression can be treated and wellbeing sustained.

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First published in The Australian on May 2, 2007.



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About the Author

Former West Australian premier Geoff Gallop directs the graduate school of government at the University of Sydney.

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