Helping you get through tough times

Depression

Welcome to ReachOut.com’s Ask the Expert service

Vincent McDarby is a Senior Clinical Psychologist at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, Dublin. He was answering questions about depression and feeling down.

Questions and answers

We won’t have all the answers to every question – but we do have access to the best available information.

The advice provided through this service is not intended to replace face-to-face professional advice or any on-going support that a person may be receiving. If you or someone you know is in crisis now you should go to emergency support information.

Orla says:
I have suffered from depression nearly all my adult life and i find it hard to open up and get help with it. i grew up with two alcoholic parents and the depression started at about 16-17. When you grow up with parents drinking heavy, you kind of hid it for them and convince yourself you are FINE! and i have carried that feeling into my adult life.i am 34 year old now and i have 4 children and i still suffer with depression. i do notice that i can go for weeks feeling happy and then crash into depression. like bipolar.my partner notices that i take on lot commitments, things to do, courses, while i am happy then i crash into depression. could i be bipolar?

Hi Orla,

Thanks for your email. Growing up in a family with parents who are engaged in heavy drinking often leads to the problems of the children being overlooked or neglected. It sounds like from what you said that in your case you tried to manage your depression in your teenage years by trying to convince yourself everything was fine. Although a strategy like this can provide some small benefits in the short-term, it inevitably prevents someone from actually dealing with how they are feeling and seeking out the necessary help and support.

It’s important to remember that lots of people experience periods of significant low mood and depression at different points in their lives, and some more often than others. Generally when people are very stressed they are more likely to experience low mood. But also when people are experiencing low mood they can become stressed more easily. Remember, stress is essentially the perception that we have taken on more things that we are actually able to deal with. In your case your partner may be onto something in that your periods of feeling down are related to taking on too many commitments, however it may not be. Regardless, it’s important to remember that just because you go through periods of feeling happy and then crash into depression does not mean that you’re bipolar. In fact, most people who experience low mood and depression don’t generally feel down all the time but go through periods of feeling down, which or may not be related to life events, or stress.

The most important thing for you to do now is to seek out the right help and support rather than trying to convince yourself everything is fine. Usually, your doctor is a good first point of contact for getting help with how you are feeling. Your doctor is generally aware of all the services available in your area and you will be able to decide together the service that best suits your needs.

Take care and remember there’s always help available, it’s just a case of knowing where to look for it.

Vincent

Zara says:
My bf broke up with me i feel SO SAD…:-(
How can i cheer up?

Hi Zara,

Thanks for your email. Sorry to hear that you broke up with your boyfriend, you’re understandably very upset by this. It’s completely normal to feel sad after a break up and sometimes it takes a while for us to cheer up again. Often we spend a lot of time thinking about the relationship, the breakup and what we could have done differently. This pattern of thinking is completely normal but it can keep us feeling sad and when we feel sad we tend to lose interest in things that we used to enjoy.

The first thing you need to do to get yourself feeling better again is to talk to someone about what happened and how you’re feeling. This could be a family member or a good friend. Just talking to someone about something that is upsetting us can really help us to start feeling better. The other thing that you need to do is to start doing the things that you used to enjoy. This could be visiting friends, playing sports, going for a walk, just things that you used to like to do and found enjoyable. Often doing things that we used to enjoy is the last thing we want to do when we are feeling sad. However, not doing things that we used to enjoy keeps us feeling sad. Therefore pushing ourselves to engage in fun activities is an important step to starting to feel better. Remember, although it might be hard to believe now, you will start to feel better again and you will move on and find someone new.

Take care,

Vincent

Savannah says:
I need help with my dad. My dad is 40+ years old and is addicted to pain killers. He lies about every little thing and is constantly trying to scam people out of money or merchandise. My dad is a veteran and goes to the VA to get the medication he needs, but he lies to them about his pain and how he’s feeling so he can get more medication that he doesn’t need. My dad receives a lot of money from the VA and within a week, he will spend thousands of dollars on who-knows-what… He also see numerous of other doctors like pain doctors, therapist, etc. (anyone who can “evaluate” his issues and prescribe him more medication). When he “runs” out of his medication, he goes threw “withdraws” and takes all his aggression out on everyone around him. He needs serious help. Please help my dad. Thanks.

Hi Savannah,

Thanks for your email. Sorry to hear what you’re going through with your Dad at the moment, it must be very upsetting. From what you’re describing it does sound like your Dad is addicted to painkillers and it is causing a lot of difficulty and upset for you and others in is life.

An addiction to painkillers can often start with someone taking them for an injury or something else than is causing them pain and then just spiralling out of control, with the person requiring more and more painkillers just to get by. As such, it can be difficult to initially break an addiction to painkillers as the person believes that they won’t be able to function properly without them. Obviously this isn’t true and in reality the person will function much better without the painkillers. However, when the person first stops taking the painkillers their body goes through a period of withdrawal where they feel horrible and will often take out their upset and anger from feeling this way on those around them.

It’s very difficult to have a parent addicted to anything (e.g. alcohol, drugs, etc) because they become so focused on maintaining their addiction they often don’t realise how much hurt and damage they are causing to the people who love them. It sounds like you love and care for your Dad and don’t want to see him get hurt. Your Dad needs help to get over his addiction to painkillers. However, in order to get help he first has to understand that he is addicted to pain killers, that it is a big problem and that it is hurting the people who love him, like you. To get your Dad to understand he has a problem it’s important for everyone who loves him to tell him how much his behaviour is hurting them, but also how much they love him and how much they want to help him get over his addiction.

It’s important to get others to help you with this and not do it alone. I would suggest that you talk with the rest of your Dad’s family and friends about your worries for him. I’m sure a lot of them will have similar worries for your Dad. You can then all decide to talk to your Dad together about your worries for him. You should also contact a local addiction centre who will be able to give you information on what services are available for your Dad to help him get over his addiction.

Remember you shouldn’t be alone in this, there are people who can help you deal with this if you talk to them about it.

Take care,

Vincent

Marie says:
Hi I am a 36 year old mother of 2. I have suffered with anxiety all my life. I became very ill about five years ago because of it. I was in a lot of pain from being tense all the time, I had to sleep for 18-20 hours of the day, my mood was extremely low and the list goes on. Eventually my doc put me on anti anxiety and depression medication and I have improved greatly over the years but I still have some issues. I don’t like mixing with people, I don’t socialise at all, I am tensing all the time but not so much pain, I get tired easily and although I have a great education I have no confidence to get a decent job. I feel hopeless for myself. I want to change, I’ve tried to change but nothing works. Any help would be appreciated.

Hi Marie,

Thanks for your email, it sounds like anxiety has been an ongoing issue for you for a long time. The symptoms that you describe experiencing such as the tension pains, over sleeping and low mood all point to the significant level of distress you were experiencing. It sounds like the medication your doctor prescribed helped alleviate some of the more severe symptoms you were experiencing and has helped you greatly. However, the issues that you describe that you continue to experience indicate that you are still struggling with some things in your life.

Although medication can be a great help in alleviating some of the symptoms of depression and anxiety, it works best when it is combined with some form of counseling or therapy. Often medication can help with some of the more debilitating symptoms of depression and anxiety, allowing us to function on a day-to-day level, but a lot of the underlying issues are best addressed through counseling or therapy.

I can completely understand your upset of feeling unable to change. Very often we want and try hard to change but become very upset and frustrated when it doesn’t work. The important thing to remember is that things can change and you can start feeling better. However, sometimes we need someone to help guide us through the initial steps of change. That’s why I think linking in with a counselor or therapist would help in addressing those issues that are continuing to cause you distress.

Depending on where you live there will be a variety of different options for counseling or therapy. Your GP is usually the best person to contact in relation to this as they are generally aware of the services that are available in your area and should be able to put you in contact with them.

Hang in there and remember things will get better, we just sometimes need a helping hand to guide us on the first few steps to getting better.

Take care,

Vincent.

Wayne says:
hi wayne here from clare. i get Anxious in bed .b4 i sleep , my sleepiig pattren is so messed up right now. iam so scared i wont sleep,.. iam tired now but cant shut off.. iiad like some help.i would really appreciate it really would. should i be scared of this . i dont know who to turn to please help

Hi Wayne,

Thanks for your email. Difficulties sleeping are a very common symptom of anxiety and can be very upsetting and distressing, particularly if it has been going on for a while. At times of high stress, such as exam time, we can often find that our sleep becomes disrupted. The important thing to note is that this is not something that you need to be scared of and there are a number of things you can do.

Often when we are lying in bed awake at night before we go to sleep we start reviewing the different thoughts that are going around our head. Very often these are the things in our lives that we might be worried or stressed about and thinking about them can start to make us feel anxious. When we get anxious our body reacts by becoming more alert, which is the complete opposite to what we want our body to do when we are trying to go to sleep. Usually our thoughts wander onto other things that don’t produce an anxiety reaction and we fall asleep. However, sometimes we can have difficulty shifting away from the anxious thoughts and this can lead to difficulties falling asleep. When this happens a lot it can really mess up our sleeping pattern and be very upsetting. Often, like in your case, we become so worried about not being able to fall asleep that this becomes the worrying thought that is preventing us from relaxing and falling asleep.

The best way to get back into a normal sleeping pattern again is to try and focus on thoughts that do not make you feel anxious or stressed. You often hear about people ‘counting sheep’ to help them fall asleep. This is based on the same premise of focusing on thoughts that do not make a person anxious or stressed so that they can relax and fall asleep. The idea being that counting sheep is a very boring thought and allows people relax. In reality very few people actually count sheep to help them sleep. Instead they focus on events or experiences that they enjoy. Some people focus on movies or sporting events they enjoyed and replay them back in their heads. Other people focus on positive events they have experienced, such as fun times with friends, or an upcoming event they are looking forward to, such as a holiday. For yourself try and identify pleasant things like these than you can focus on when lying in bed at night. It might sound a little simplistic for such a distressing problem but you’ll actually be surprised how effective this technique is.

The other thing you might need to look at is whether there are other significant worries in your life at the moment, other than the worry about not being able to fall asleep, that are making you anxious. If you find that you have other significant worries, or are just a worrier in general, you might benefit from talking to a psychologist who can help you deal with this. Your GP should be able to put you in touch with a HSE primary care psychologist in your area, which is a free service. Or if you could go and find a psychologist yourself using the Psychological Society of Ireland’s website http://www.psychologicalsociety.ie/find-a-psychologist/.

Take care.

Vincent.

Kieran says:
hi vincent i suffer from anxiety, and depression, ive lost interest in life. im on medication, but im drinking as well, i cant stop it.

Hi Kieran,

Thanks for your email. It sounds like you are in a very difficult place at the moment. We sometimes use drink as a way of escaping from the pain of anxiety or depression. However, drink is itself a depressant and as such rather than helping the situation actually makes things worse. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to stop once we start. The first thing that you need to recognise is that you can’t get through this alone and that you need some help. The fact that you contacted me is a good first step in reaching out and looking for this help.

I’m assuming that the medication that you are on is for anxiety and/or depression and was prescribed by a doctor. Although medication can be help with some symptoms of anxiety and depression, it works best when combined with counseling or therapy. It is important that you talk to someone who can help you work through what you are feeling. There are a number of different options for counseling or therapy depending on where you live. Your local GP will be aware of the different services and will be able direct you to the one that best suits your needs. You should organise to see your GP as soon as possible to get the ball rolling on this. If you are feeling very low and feel you need to talk to someone straight away you can phone the Samaritans (1850 60 90 90) anytime. They provide a non-judgmental confidential listening service and can help you explore your options and understand your problems better.

Remember you’ve started to take a step in the right direction, now you just need to focus on taking the next step and organising to talk to someone.

Take care,

Vincent.

Rosie says:
depression..
anxiety..
bullying..
dislexia..
suicide and self harm..
i need help im a young teen with a hard life and all i want is help! please?
how do i overcome depression and anxiety?

Hi Rosie,

Thanks for emailing me. Sorry to hear about all you’re going through at the moment, it really sounds like you’ve got a lot on your plate. In terms of overcoming anxiety and depression, it’s important to get help and not to go through it alone. The best way to overcome anxiety and depression is talk to with someone who is trained in talking to young people who are experiencing these issues, such as a psychologist or a counselor. Depending on your age and where you live there are a number of different services where you can meet with a psychologist or a counselor. Your GP is the best person to talk about this as they will know of all the different services in your area and help you choose the one that is right for you.

If you feel you can, you should try and talk to your parents about how you are feeling at the moment. I know it can sometimes be difficult and scary telling parents about how we are feeling but parents can be a huge support to us when we are going through tough times. However, parents don’t always know when we are upset or how upset we are, so it’s important that we try and tell them so that they can help us. If you feel you can’t talk to your parents you should try and talk to another adult that you trust (maybe a relative or a teacher) so that they can help you get the help you need. If you don’t know of any adult you are comfortable talking to you can contact Childline (1800-66-66-66 or http://www.childline.ie) and they’ll be able to help you better understand how you are feeling and explore options for how to start feeling better.

Being bullied is obviously adding to your distress and may be one of the causes of your anxiety and depression. It’s important to talk to someone you trust about the bullying. If the bullying is happening in school you should talk to a teacher or the school guidance counselor. I know talking to a teacher or the guidance counselor might seem like a difficult thing to do but they are trained to help students in these situations.

You also mention that you have dyslexia, which is obviously another significant stress in your life at the moment. Dyslexia is actually a very common thing and if you Google ‘famous people with dyslexia’ you’ll see that loads of very famous and successful people have dyslexia. However, dyslexia can make certain school work more difficult and therefore it’s important that your teachers are aware of your dyslexia and that you are getting all the extra help you need. Again you should talk to a teacher or school guidance counselor about this so that they can make sure you are getting all the help you need. It’s also worth contacting the Dyslexia Association of Ireland (http://www.dyslexia.ie) who’ll be able to advise on the different supports that are available to you and how to access them.

Remember, you shouldn’t be alone in this and there are people who want to help you.

Take care,

Vincent.

Fran says:Hi. I was diagnosed with ADHD-PI about a year ago now, and my mother insisted that I go unmedicated, but it’s been taking a toll on my education and my mental health and I don’t know what to do.
According to the research I’ve done, it’s quite common for people with my disorder to suffer from mood swings and depression, and I think that matches up with how I’ve been feeling lately. I know I’m having mood swings, which have been becoming more and more frequent, and I fear that I could be mildly depressed.
I wish to go on medication for this, to see if it will help me in any way, but even though I’m eighteen, I am on my mom’s health insurance and she essentially has control over which meds I take. How can I go about accessing medication on my own?
Thanks!

Hi Fran,

The decision of whether or not to go down the route of medication following a diagnosis of ADHD can be a difficult one as medication isn’t always the best treatment for ADHD, and like all medications it has its side effects. That’s why the decision is done on an individualised basis and involves exploring all the pros and cons of different treatment approaches. For young people under a certain age (depending on where you live) the decision about whether or not to include medication as part of their treatment for ADHD is made by their parents, just as it is for all medical decisions. However, this is usually done in discussion with the young person themselves, assuming they’re old enough to understand the particular issues.

Given that you are now eighteen you do have the right to start making your own decisions around your medical treatment. However, from what you’re saying, because you are under your mother’s health insurance she has control over the medications you can access, and you both have different views on whether medication should be part of your treatment. The first thing you need to decide is whether medication is actually right for you. This is best done through consultation with an appropriate mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or the person who diagnosed you with ADHD. They’ll be able to discuss with you all the pro and cons of medication so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not it’s right for you. They can also discuss your mood swings with you because, although mood swings can be related to ADHD, this may not necessarly be the case and it is important that you exlpore this in more detail. If after this you feel you still want to go down the route of medication you can discuss with your mother and explain how and why you came to that decision. Your mother obviously has her reasons for why she doesn’t want you to take medication so it would be worth the two of you discussing your feelings around this issue. It might also be of benefit for your mother to meet with the same mental health professional so that she can discuss her thoughts and concerns around medication.

I hope this helps. Take care.

Vincent.

Amanda says:Hi, my name is Amanda. Just 5 months ago I’ve been diagnosed with aspergers. Ever since then my life turned upside down. My anger has gotten worse, I feel depressed, frustrated and the only way I know to how get the emotions out is by shouting at people I’ve looked on youtube on aspergers syndrome and bought a book for help but I don’t really understand. I am not on medication and I often harm myself when Im angry. I’ve said that I want to die I’ve even tried stabbing myself with a scissors.

Hi Amanda, Thanks for you email and sorry to hear about how you’re feeling. Getting a diagnosis of Aspergers can be a very difficult thing to come to terms with and can leave people feeling very alone, sad, angry, frustrated and confused. However, it is very important to remember that getting a diagnosis of Aspergers doesn’t change anything about you. You are the exact same person you were the day before you got the diagnosis as the day after you got the diagnosis. Aspergers is just a way of describing a small part of who you’ve always been. Having the diagnosis can help you to understand that the way you think about certain things might be different to other people. In fact, some people find that getting a diagnosis of Aspergers is a relief because it helps them to understand themselves better and why they might look at things differently to other people. From what you’re saying it sounds like you’ve been really struggling since your diagnosis but you’ve taken a really important step by looking for help. It’s really important to remember that it’s okay to look for help and you shouldn’t be going through this on your own. Talking to someone about how you’re feeling can really help you start to make sense of it all. Your doctor is a good place to start when looking for help as they know all the services that are available in your area and will be able to help you to decide which one would best suit you. Also Aspire is the Aspergers Association of Ireland (http://www.aspireireland.ie) and they provide information and support for people with Aspergers in Ireland. If contact them they will be able to put you in touch with other people of a similar age with Aspergers and also be able to recommend services specifically for people with Aspergers. Remember, looking for help is a great first step and things will get better. Take care of yourself, Vincent.

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