Few people want to talk about this. The subjects are still taboo. Some people don't even think they are real. Yet, it is estimated that globally 1 in 23 people (4.4%) suffer with depression and 1 in 28 people (3.6%) suffer with anxiety (World Health Organization, 2017). In Australia, the occurrence of depression and anxiety are higher than the global average. It is estimated that 5.9% or 1 in 17 of Australians suffer with depression and 7.0%, 1 in 14, suffer with anxiety (World Health Organization, 2017). Chances are that you know at least two or three people who suffer with depression, anxiety or both of these conditions. Or, you may suffer with one or both.
Untreated, depression can have detrimental effects on lives. One of the largest effects is that ultimately, it can lead to suicide. In 2015, nearly 800,000 people globally died from suicide, while many other people attempted it. It was the second leading cause of death in 2015 for people between the ages of 15 to 29 (World Health Organization, 2017). Anxiety can also adversely affect lives. Untreated, anxiety can lead to depression, chronic hypertension, chronic fatigue or neuroses. Unfortunately, these are just the largest manifestations of depression and anxiety - there are many others.
There are several relatively smaller ways in which depression and anxiety debilitate daily life for those who suffer with the conditions. For example, depression can dampen our senses so that we do not enjoy people, food, our work and other aspects of life. Life can feel like we're on a treadmill with a speed setting that is too high and we cannot keep-up. We can feel lethargic and disinterested. An example of how anxiety affects daily life is that thoughts, usually negative, circulate around in the head over and over so that we do not experience peace of mind or respite from worry. We can be short-tempered and snap at others because our body is feeling taxed and at-capacity with concerns. We can miss-out because we feel too afraid to try a new activity or challenge, though we may be very interested in it.
One of the biggest reasons people do not ask for help when they experience depression is that they think that they should not be feeling the way that they are - that they should "just snap out of it!" or that "other people have it way worse, so why am I complaining?" Some people do not know what depression is or what it feels like, so they do not know that what they are experiencing fits into this category - and is treatable. Some of the reasons people do not seek help for anxiety is that they lack trust in others or worry about what others may think of them if they admit a problem or issue. People may feel too consumed with life's activities that they cannot accommodate one more thing, such as counselling or visiting the GP.
With either or both conditions, people battle against feelings of shame, inadequacy or disappointment in reaching-out for help. Some people think that it is not OK to 'talk about yourself' too much - that it is rude or selfish. Some people feel embarrassed that they cannot sort their problems out on their own. Some people may not wish to talk about what is bothering them, especially when it is related to intimate relationships, sex or other very personal matters. Some people feel like their matters are very private and do not want to talk.
Not doing anything about depression or anxiety is not a healthy option. Leaving either condition as-is will cause your mind and body to "revolt" with mental and psychosomatic illnesses. Each of us can make it easier for people to safely speak about their mental health. We can talk about our own state of mental health in an appropriately open way and we can provide non-judgmental reactions to others when they try to speak up as well. As friends, colleagues or family members, it is not our job to treat anxiety and depression. We can listen and try to empathise with another person's struggle, however, we can best help by encouraging working with a professional. A psychotherapist, counsellor, psychologist or GP can actively and effectively treat depression and anxiety. However, that treatment cannot occur if a person who is suffering does not reach out and show-up.
I am a firm advocate of changing the taboo associated with mental health issues and especially with depression and anxiety. I talk openly about my mental health appropriately. I like to talk openly about how, for example, it's OK to take a mental-health day off from work because you are feeling sad or fragile. I also support going to work and asking for temporary respite from the pressure of deadlines or reassignment of work that is becoming all-too-much, if that is what is needed. Just as we eat, sleep, exercise, shower, brush our teeth, watch television, etc., we can talk about how we are feeling and what we need in relation to those feelings. I hope that we collectively start to feel safe to say "I feel so down right now, even though I don't know why" and "I may need to take a break". I also hope that we can feel safe to say "I am not sleeping as I should because I worry about money (or my job or my children, etc.) and I might need some help because I feel really worn-down".
We were not meant to be happy all of the time or feel positively about life and the world at all costs. Nor were we meant to not have concerns and fears. Life can be hard - no matter how much or how little money you have and no matter how good or bad you think was your childhood, as examples. It is perfectly normal and wonderfully human to experience a wide range of emotions. When the negative thoughts or the worry take hold and for some reason do not let-up, speaking-up is courageous and can lead to a world of better possibilities.
World Health Organization. (2017). Depression and other common mental disorders: Global health estimates. Geneva: World Health Organization. Retrieved November 2017, from http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/254610/1/WHO-MSD-MER-2017.2-eng.pdf
Perfectionism is the attitude that anything short of perfection as unacceptable, Many people suffer with perfectionism and spend a significant amount of time and energy striving for perfection. Perfectionism may seem to be achievable in a particular instance or facet of life, but it is unsustainable over a relatively long period of time and it is unrealistic. We all make mistakes, we each are imperfect. That is normal.
Perfectionists may fear making mistakes, screwing-up or looking "not-their-best". Perhaps, more importantly, is the "cost-to-self" in the messages they give themselves and in their negative self-talk. Not being perfect can sometimes mean that basically "I'm not good enough" and/or "I must try harder" (even though they have probably already exerted 150% of a best effort). For some perfectionists, self-confidence is entirely dependent on perfect performance on tasks, perfection in the body and in life in general.
Propping-up self-confidence and self-esteem with a perfectionistic track record can be detrimental to building an authentic and resilient sense of self. In other words, what we achieve in life and how well we do it can comprise numerous reasons to feel proud and self-confident, but what happens when we make a mistake or mess-up? Self-confidence can take a nose-dive leading to feelings of low self-worth, isolation, shame or deep disappointment. There needs to be something else to help us appreciate ourselves and to remind us that we are wonderful, even if we are not perfect. In fact, it can be helpful to remember that when we are imperfect, we are beautifully human with a greater capacity to learn, grow and reflect on life. We are also able to relate better to other people that are also imperfect. Relationships tend to last longer and develop to have deeper meaning when we embrace imperfection.
I recall one of my own experiences with perfectionism, when I was younger. I had to have perfect handwriting and to the point that I would start writing on a new piece of paper if what I was writing was not in perfect form. I could not even use a cross-out or white-out because that would still be a remnant, a sore reminder to myself, of my mistake or imperfect performance. As you can imagine, I would rarely be able to finish writing a piece of work. If I did finish with mistakes (bad handwriting or white-out or a misspelling), then I would degrade that piece of work and feel very negatively about it. Now, when I write something and notice I don't like my handwriting or need to cross-out a mistake, I remind myself that I can still read what I wrote, I focus on the content of what I'm trying to write and I celebrate my ability to evaluate myself in a fair and compassionate way. As a result, I accomplish much more satisfactory work.
Coping with perfectionism can start by noticing that the boundary has been blurred between 1) what you achieve in life and 2) who you are as a person. It can also help to notice if you are thriving on attention for doing selfless things for others, by producing exemplary work or similar. It is worth noting whether or not you are spending a disproportionate amount of time managing your appearance. It can be helpful as well to realise that perfectionism often has origins in how we were treated as children and young adults. As children, it can be difficult to make sense of the criticism, attention and feedback we are given by adults and peers. However, as we grow and develop through life, we can make appropriate meaning of the past and learn to support ourselves in healthy ways in the present and in the future.
It can be a long journey to depart from perfectionism and one worth travelling. In adopting a more realistic approach to life and a compassionate viewpoint for yourself, you can experience more freedom.
Blogging about mental health issues for personal and professional development. All material is authored by Cori Lambert unless explicitly stated otherwise. Authentic Consulting and Counselling is located in West Perth, Greater Perth Area.