My Health Experience: We need to talk
If you have a physical illness, you go to the doctor, but mental health issues still give rise to stigma
Colm Lundberg, whose depression is now at a low level, at home near Killarney, Co Kerry. Photographs: Don Mc Monagle
‘It’s not easy to pinpoint, emotionally or chronologically, exactly when I started having symptoms of depression. That is part of the complication of the condition. Looking back, I suppose it was ever-present through my schooldays, and more pronounced in secondary school. It was mentioned when I was 15; isolation was certainly a factor, as were negative thoughts, thoughts of self-harm, bouts of anger, fatigue and a feeling of overwhelming emptiness.
It was and is always there but I think it is safe to say that it ran at a low ember and flared periodically.
In my youth, I didn’t cope; I hid and became isolated. I was lucky that at 16 I had one good friend, but that was it. And it wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I accepted the diagnosis and began to deal with it.
I had an episode, when I was 28, in which I physically stopped at a Dart station in Dublin. I was crossing a bridge and suddenly I could not move. Then I decided that something was medically wrong with me. I went home to Jen, who is now my wife, and told her what had happened.
Then I went to see a great doctor in Dún Laoghaire, where I was living at the time, and he mentioned depression.
It was only then that I recalled it being talked about previously.
Initially, the doctor prescribed medication but, luckily and surprisingly, he was familiar with mental health issues, so he also suggested therapy and other supports.
Medication can take a long time to get the right balance and dosage and can sometimes take up to six months to work. So I was lucky that I felt the meds kick in after about six weeks.
But the diagnosis itself was key to me as it explained so much and I launched into reading about the condition, seeking information, looking at the Aware website and seeing what other supports were there. The acknowledgement of my depression helped as much as the stabilising medication.
Being aware of my condition and talking about it has been so beneficial. So much so that I have been off meds for about four years now and I don’t need to attend the support groups any more as I am stronger than ever. While the depression is ever present at a low ebb, my coping tools, my awareness of it and my relationship with it have evolved to the level where it no longer controls me and I can live quite happily with it and feel much more solid as a person now.