Saturday, May 3, 2008

Depression alone cannot explain murder-suicide of Flood family in Clonroche

Depressed people rarely engage in physical violence towards others

Text of my article in The Evening Herald, Friday 2nd May 2008:

Depression and anxiety are the twin scourges of our emotional world but society views each of them very differently.

It's 'alright' to be stressed out - in some settings it may even be the done thing to complain about stress on the idiotic grounds that if you're not stressed you're not working hard enough.

But it's 'not alright' to be depressed and people with the condition often keep it to themselves for that reason. Some, for instance, will not state on an application form for life insurance that they have suffered depression because they fear they will be denied cover.

That said, it is unlikely that depression, or depression on its own, could account for acts such as the murder-suicide of the Flood family in Co Wexford.

It seems reasonable to suppose that some level of delusion, perhaps including hallucinations or voices, could have provided the impulse for the tragedy.

Depression involves a debilitating mixture of low mood, negative thoughts and fatigue. The sufferer loses interest in his or her usual activities.

Depression can arise as a reaction to life events. The birth of a child, for instance, can be followed by post-natal depression. Grief can turn into depression. So can a sense of helplessness or of being trapped in an unhappy relationship.

Researchers believe depression has increased over the past one hundred years. The reasons for this are not clear but depression may be the price we pay for our increasingly sedentary lifestyle. We no longer 'work off' negative moods or feelings and we have too much time to brood which, in itself, can trigger or prolong depression.

People suffering from depression generally begin to seek help by going to their GP. The GP will probably prescribe medication and may also refer them to a counsellor. Counselling can be very effective in helping people to overcome depression and to change the thinking patterns or circumstances that may have led them to become depressed in the first place.

Depressed people are the last you would expect to indulge in violence. Indeed, some psychologists believe that people become depressed because they turn their anger in on themselves instead of inflicting it on others.

This, again, is why we need to be cautious about attributing the terrible events in Clonroche to depression in the father. As a report in yesterday's Evening Herald pointed out, it is highly unusual for a depressed person to kill someone else.

But there is, as we all know, a strong link between depression and self-harm including suicide. Sometimes this happens when the depressed person starts to feel better because it is only now that they have the energy to carry out the act. This, obviously, is a point at which counselling can be crucial.

Many depressed people also turn to self help groups such as Aware, Grow and Recovery. These can provide a real lifeline for people with depression, especially for those who cannot afford private counselling fees.

The most important step to take in depression is to seek help whether from a counsellor, GP or self-help group.

This is not as easy a step to take as it may seem. A considerable amount of prejudice against persons with mental health problems persists, as research by the National Office for Suicide Prevention revealed last year. The researchers found that 52 per cent of people interviewed did not believe people with mental health problems should be working in jobs such as medicine. One third would be uncomfortable talking to a person with mental health problems - completely ignoring the fact that they have probably talked to people with mental health problems quite often without knowing it. Thirty nine per cent thought the public ‘should be better protected’ from people with mental health problems.

We all get a touch of the blues from time to time. Very often depression lifts by itself but when it persists people should seek help - we need to make it easy for them to do so.

Aware has a helpline at 1890 303 302 and has self-help groups throughout the country. The Samaritans are at 1850 60 90 90. Grow is at 1890 474 474. Recovery can be contacted at 01 6260775.

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