One in five Australians will experience an episode of depression during their lifetime. The majority will seek treatment or experience what is known as a spontaneous remission¹ and then get on with the rest of their lives. But for some, depression becomes a chronic condition, or what researchers at the Black Dog Institute call Melancholic depression¹. This type of depression, also known as Dysthymia² is much harder to treat and causes major disruption in the lives of sufferers.
The Black Dog Institute in Sydney puts the figure at less than 5%. But as a sufferer of this type of depression, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the actual number of sufferers is higher than that. I say this because melancholic (chronic) depression is a condition which is little understood by GP’s, allied health professionals and even some psychiatrists.
For most health professionals, there is only one type of depression – the temporary kind – the type that is triggered by a particularly stressful life event. Initially, this is how the chronic form of depression presents itself, usually at a very young age.
I was 13 when I experienced my first episode of depression and the most recent episode ended just a few days ago. It is at this point when people with bipolar disorder will experience a ‘manic’ episode. But I don’t have bipolar disorder. For me and for other sufferers of chronic depression, there are only two speeds – depressed and normal functioning. I am able to function and be a very productive member of society in between episodes of depression. Sometimes there’s a trigger for depression, sometimes not – which is very frustrating.
For readers of Australian Women Online, it’s easy to know when I’m experiencing an episode of depression – I’m not writing and I’m neglecting my responsibilities to the website. Thank God for Tania McCartney and the other members of the AWO team, or this site would become a barren wasteland for up to seven months out of the year! When I’m writing almost every day like I am now, you know everything’s fine and dandy on this side of the web page.
I’ve had more episodes of depression than I can count. But I can recall that 3 of these episodes where much more severe than the others and lasted for more than a year. However, this isn’t the end of the story because I have learned there are things I can do to minimise the impact of chronic depression in my life. Unfortunately for the young, it takes many years to establish a depression management plan that actually works for you. But don’t give up, you can still lead a productive life, even a relatively happy one, when you suffer from chronic depression.
Perhaps someday all doctors and allied health professionals will have a better understanding of this condition – heck, I’d settle for the majority acknowledging that it does exist at this point! Then it will no longer be necessary for sufferers of chronic depression like myself, to move from one doctor to the next and spend hundreds of hours in counselling and psychotherapy just to be told there’s nothing more that can be done, or as one counsellor told me after only a few sessions, “It’s too entrenched. I can’t work with you.” You can imagine how that may me feel: I failed counselling.
I’ve read just about every book on depression and I can’t relate to any of them. For me depression is not just a distant memory, it’s also an acknowledged part of my future. I’d dearly love to put it all behind me, but after 30 years, I realise that it’s just something I have to learn live with. Just like a sufferer of diabetes or asthma, I had to learn how to manage my chronic condition. But unlike a sufferer of diabetes or asthma, I had to do it mostly without the help of the health professionals – I feel very let down by the health system in this country and I hope that one day this neglect of sufferers of chronic depression, won’t cost this sufferer her life.
Information about depression can be found at these websites:
- Beyond Blue: the national depression initiative http://www.beyondblue.org.au
- Black Dog Institute http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au
Photo: © karuka – Fotolia.com