Catherine Zeta Jones, depression and attitudes to mental health

It could happen to you!

So there was nothing to suggest that anything was amiss with Catherine Zeta Jones at an awards ceremony at the end of April.

Days later the 43 year-old actress had checked herself into a psychiatric clinic for bi polar depression.

To those who have no understanding of mental illness, particularly bi-polar, this would appear to be surprising even perhaps, a stunt. How, they may ask sceptically, can a person appear well one day and be on the brink of a breakdown the next?

But it is in the after math of an important event with its accompanying stress – good things in life and happy events are as stressful as the bad – that bi polar symptoms strike.

Appearing in public, for a grand occasion, home and marriage difficulties are temporarily suppressed but the insidious and manipulative side of bi-polar will often react once the cameras are switched off and life returns to normal with its deep problems and worries.

Bi-polar illness has two sides.  One side is the mania and over-confident behaviour which can lead sufferers to make errors of judgement which in later days re-appear to torment them and distort within their minds the effects on their lives.  Mania at its worst can result in risk taking behaviour or delusions which can lead the sufferer into physical danger. A raised sex drive can also make the person vulnerable among those who might take advantage.

At the other end of the polarity is the deep depression which the sufferers sink deep into desperation sometimes with catastrophic effects – suicide is common.

There is still much stigma surrounding mental illness and many of its critics and sceptics are often, in fact, self-professed Christian church-going people.  Ignorance about the effect of the imbalance of brain chemicals cause many to make statements such as ‘we all feel fed up sometimes’ or ‘she just lets things get the better of her’.  The worst, heard by myself on a recent admission to a medical (not mental health) unit, was ‘’’Well that’s just life. Things happen.’  All these statements demonstrate the speakers’ ignorance of the true nature of mental illness.  True there are people who can withstand stresses that others cannot.  Genetic factors and childhood or adolescent experiences can cause one person to break down in the face of stresses that other, more fortunate, people can cope with.

So before you tell a depressed person to ‘pull their socks up’ or ‘get out and you’ll feel better’ remember that, if you have not suffered depression, you will have no conception of the true nature of this illness.  It is an illness like any other except it is invisible.  Many sufferers are just quiet in company and when asked how they are, they answer ‘I’m fine.’  Too many suicides follow such behaviour and the ‘I’m fine’ comment.  Try to notice distress in friends or relatives and lend a listening ear without preaching at them about what they should do.  Negative talk and talking themselves down are symptoms of low self-esteem and depression. The depressed person will believe me be doing their utmost to get better.  It may just not seem like it to others.  They are doing what they can with a brain that is not in proper working order.

Give them a break.  Listen to them, take them for a walk, buy them a coffee in a sunny outdoor cafe. Tell them how worthwhile they are, how talented they are as sufferers are often very intelligent, artistic and caring towards others. Yes, uncaring individuals rarely get depressed.

Importantly, make them feel good about themselves as this is hard for them to do for themselves.

Remind them that ‘it will pass’ as depression does always pass eventually.  It can just seem like a b****y long time to them at the time.

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