Dealing with depression and anxiety

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29 October 2019

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Until you, or someone close to you, is affected by a mental health condition, it probably isn’t something you spend a great deal of time thinking about.

According to Black Dog Institute, one in five – 20 per cent of people – in Australia aged 16 to 85 experience a mental health condition in any year, and almost half – 45% – of Australians will experience a mental health condition at some point in their lives.

Research from Heads Up, an initiative from Beyond Blue to help improve mental health in the workplace, shows 20 per cent of Australians have needed to take time off work due to feeling mentally unwell.

Anxiety and depression are two of the most prominent types of mental health conditions, so it’s smart to be aware of the symptoms and common treatments.

According to Beyond Blue, three million Australians live with anxiety or depression every day, while one million people in Australia have some form of depression.

Mental health conditions can affect anyone and having the right knowledge could make a huge difference to you – or someone close to you.

Identifying and understanding mental health conditions

Anxiety will, according to government health website Health Direct, affect one in four of us at some stage of our lives. Psychologist Merryn Snare says anxiety is a mis-firing of the fight, flight and freeze mechanism.

“Anxiety is where people have a feeling of concern that there might be a problem happening. People aren’t concerned about something that is actually happening, but spend a lot of time thinking ‘what if this did happen?’”

And while this all takes place inside a person’s head, there can be changes in behaviour, too.

“The key thing to look for is change,” says Snare.

“Often, if someone is suffering from anxiety, their mood will change. If people notice that they’re flatter than normal, or they’re not getting any enjoyment out of the things they used to enjoy, or not participating in things they would usually participate in, those are key indicators.

“Other, more subtle things to look out for are changes in eating habits – for example, are people not eating as healthily as they would usually do, or not exercising as they would usually do?

“Sleep is another big indicator – many people have sleeping difficulties, but has your sleep pattern changed?”

Sometimes these changes in lifestyle can be linked to a life event – for example, a new baby arriving into the home will impact your sleep, and likely your eating and exercise habits, too.

In other cases, however, changes here could be a key to early identification of a mental health condition.

The causes of depression

Dr Mark Whittington, a Queensland-based psychiatrist, says the causes of depression are extremely complex.

“There are multiple systems at work in the brain, and there is a tipping point beyond which a cascade of neurochemical reactions occurs – something fundamentally breaks, and the person just can't function.

“Mental health conditions can also be caused by being under too much pressure. It could be a financial problem, change, conflict at home or stress in the workplace,” Whittington says.

Feelings of depression can be triggered by a significant life event - the loss of someone close, the loss of a job or a sudden deterioration in health, for example.

“After the loss of someone it’s normal to feel flat and blue,” says Snare. “So, you have to be careful in considering what is natural depression that follows grief and loss. That can go on for some time, and it’s normal – however, it’s when it starts interfering with someone’s daily life function that they need to get some professional help.”

Of course, depression isn’t always linked to an event, and for both anxiety and depression, it can be innate.

“People can be genetically predisposed to depression and anxiety,” says Snare. “Sometimes it can hit very, very suddenly.”

Whittington says if a ‘down mood’ lasts for more than two weeks it’s time to seek help.

Overcoming the conditions

There are a number of tactics to manage anxiety and depression, including counselling and medication.

The first thing to do, however, is to seek help from your doctor, who can then advise on the best course of action. Surprisingly however, according to government site Health Direct, 54% of people who experience mental health conditions don’t seek help.

“There needs to be a change in both behaviour and thinking,” says Snare.

“Their physical and cognitive structures need to change the situation that caused or led to the depression or anxiety.”

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a preferred treatment that psychologists use.

“This helps people work out their thinking and their self-talk,” says Snare.

“We help them identify what it is they’re saying to themselves and challenging some of the things they’re saying to themselves – CBT helps them reframe those things.”

Other psychological strategies include mindfulness, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), hypnosis and emotional freedom techniques.

“Different techniques work for different people,” Snare says.

Exercise, too, is important. “It’s known as the best natural anti-depressant,” she says.

For more severe cases, medication can help.

“Medication can mask some of the symptoms, which enables people to then deal with the root cause,” says Snare. “But if medication is used, it is important to combine it with psychological treatment.”

Taking time for your health

Twenty per cent of Australians take time off work each year due to feeling mentally unwell, according to Heads Up.

This can create another problem, as financial stress can be a contributor to mental health conditions. In this scenario, taking time off work without having to worry about the need to keep funds rolling in would certainly be beneficial.

Having the right life insurance and income protection policies in place could help relieve this pressure, enabling you to focus on the most important thing. Your health.

In the meantime, if you’re experiencing the symptoms of a mental health condition, talk – to a friend, a family member, a colleague or a professional. Seeking help is the first step.

About Mental Health Navigator by Best Doctors

Empowering and supporting you to better mental health

With an eligible policy from MLC Life Insurance, you and your family members can access Best Doctors, including its award-winning Mental Health Navigator service.

Mental Health Navigator offers quick, virtual access to a network of leading Australian clinical psychologists and psychiatrists, along with a dedicated mental health nurse, to give you confidence in your diagnosis and treatment plan for a mental health condition. The service is confidential and you don’t need to be on claim to access it.

Learn more about Best Doctors and Mental Health Navigator.

References

  1. https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/docs/default-source/factsheets/facts_figures.pdf?sfvrsn=8
  2. https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/docs/default-source/factsheets/facts_figures.pdf?sfvrsn=8
  3. https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/bl1270-report---tns-the-state-of-mental-health-in-australian-workplaces-hr.pdf?sfvrsn=8
  4. https://www.beyondblue.org.au
  5. https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts
  6. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/causes-of-mental-illness
  7. https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/bl1270-report---tns-the-state-of-mental-health-in-australian-workplaces-hr.pdf?sfvrsn=8
  8. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/causes-of-mental-illness
  9. https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/bl1270-report---tns-the-state-of-mental-health-in-australian-workplaces-hr.pdf?sfvrsn=8

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