The black dog

THE subject of mental health; its recognition and treatment, has been at the forefront of much discussion in the media over the last 12 months and rightly so.

But there are signs already that the momentum is lessening and that the media may be looking for the next hobby horse to get its teeth into.

A close friend of mine in the 70’s was a manic depressive, which in line with today’s politically correct need for readjustment, is now called bipolar disorder.

Of the six of us who hung out together, he was the best looking; had a good income as an engineering draftsman, and was popular with everyone.

In other words he pretty much had everything a young man in his 20’s could wish for.

The other side of him, when it raised its ugly face, was a deep depression that could sometimes engulf him so quickly, that from a laughing, joking, life and soul of the party, he could become morose and withdrawn.

To his credit, whenever this happened he immediately disappeared, not wishing to inflict himself on the rest of us.

One minute he could be dancing with an attractive female, and the next making for the door. Depression was not understood and we could never comprehend how someone with so much going for him could possibly get himself into such a state, and at times we told him so.

It was bewildering, but understanding can be painful. Depression is nothing to be ashamed of, but the toughest barrier is first admitting it to yourself, then later finding the courage to explain it to others.

Putting simple things off until another time and encountering an invisible barrier that is as solid as a brick wall when trying to put into effect important projects; waking in the early hours of the morning with the hard stone of dread lying in the pit of the stomach for no apparent reason: these are things that only the sufferer experiences and because they make no logical sense, are kept to themselves.

On the face of it they can still be the usual happy, affable individuals that everyone expects and have come to know, but sometimes this is simply a cover for a seething irrational mass of anxiety.

Occasionally the mask slips, and manifests itself by way of short temper and rudeness. Aggressive self-opinionation is also a trait, but this is only an over compensation for self-doubt. It is important that people begin to recognise what depression really means and they try to look beyond the mask. Understanding leads to discussion and discussion is a vital part of therapy.

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