A glimpse of silent suffering

Catherine Zeta-Jones suffers from depression
Catherine Zeta-Jones suffers from depression

WHAT do Catherine Zeta Jones, Stephen Fry, and England cricketer Mike Yardy have in common?

You might say all three are well-known celebrities with lifestyles anyone would enjoy.

But despite that they share one thing in common: they all suffer from depression or affiliated mental health problems.

Zeta Jones is the latest famous person to announce she is receiving treatment for bi polar 2 disorder, which used to be referred to as manic depression.

And last month Yardy was forced to quit the England cricket world cup squad after admitting he was battling depression, something most people - let alone celebrities - are unwilling to reveal because of the wide misconceptions associated with the illness.

Sarah Williams, of Alfred Street, St Leonards knows first-hand how destrcutive depression can become.

Her 19-year-old son Tyrie, also known as Ty, tragically took his own life in March 2009.

She said: “Most young men who suffer from depression don’t admit it because it’s not seen as the manly thing to do. Ty just went to work and carried on until he couldn’t cope anymore. More needs to be done to raise awareness.

“It’s seen as a stigma whether you are a man or woman and that is ridiculous.”

Martin, 51, of Hastings, suffered a multitude of problems in his life which led to him succumbing to depression and he believes there is still a lack of understanding and stigma from the wider public, as regards mental health problems.

He said: “People don’t understand that it’s like any other illness. When you read about celebrities who announce that they are suffering from depression people ask what have they got to be depressed about but depression is an illness that can affect anyone.

“One in four people in the UK will have had a mental health problem so chances are you’ll know someone who has suffered or who is suffering from depression.

“People don’t understand how ill it makes you. You literally can’t function as a person, can’t concentrate on anything and depression therefore stops you leading a normal life.”

Martin confessed that he had been overwhelmed with the illness and did not really understand what was happening to him.

He said: “I ended up in a great big black hole. It started years ago when I was married aged 21. We had two children but they sadly died at birth. My wife then lost both of her legs and eventually died in 1994 after we were married for 13 years.

“I didn’t know how to deal with the feelings I had so suppressed them.

“Years later I married again but then lost my job and found out she was having an affair and drinking. This led to me having a breakdown three years ago.”

Martin fell into a deep depression which he described as “part of his brain dying”.

“It was only after many counselling sessions that I realised I had suppressed my feelings for so many years,” he said.

Martin received help from Hastings Sanctuary Service, which is run by Turning Point, a charity that helps people suffering from mental health problems.

The service offers a seven-bed residential, community-based mental health crisis unit in Ashburnham Road.

The aim is to provide a short-term residential facility for people have reached a crisis due to depression.

Another user of the Sanctuary service is 56-year-old Greg.

He has suffered from bi polar 2 disorder for 20 years.

Greg said: “It came about because of an accumulation of overwork, pressure and anxiety. I suffered a breakdown in 1997 and never recovered.

“There are so many people who suffer from depression and bi polar disorder but are too ashamed to admit it because of this stigma. You should be able to enjoy life like anybody else even if you have mental health problems. It’s almost like people semi-avoid you.

“But the illness is like being enclosed in a bubble and you only allow certain people inside.

“It’s like trying to finely balance a set of scales with one grain of sand but anything can tip you over the edge and put you in an even deeper depression. It’s almost impossible keeping the balance right and is the most debilitating illness you can ever wish for.”

Norma Timmermans, clinical lead for Health in Mind, which is a project provided by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and Turning Point, believes attitudes towards depression and mental illness is changing but said certain groups of people, particularly young men and men in stressful jobs like the police force, think it is not macho to talk about depression and is therefore frowned upon.

She said: “People diagnosed with depression are often worried that it will be held against them in employment, particularly in the present economic climate where they think they will be made redundant.

“But to a certain extent it’s getting to be more of a perception rather than a reality as we have done quite a lot of work with employers. Lots of companies do provide support with in-house programmes, or commission counsellors.

“The situation is changing but ultimately a lot of people are still concerned over the stigma and this can hold them back from seeking help.”

Health in Mind offers cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to adults experiencing anxiety and low mood across 1066 Country and the rest of East Sussex.

This includes one-to-one and group treatments, guided self-help, telephone support, workshops and on-line courses. Clients are offered a combination of several services according to their needs.

To date the organisation has had 6,690 referrals from across the county, assessed 3,594 people and helped more than 3,000 with mental health problems.

Health in Mind can be reached on 0300 00 30 130.