Depression made better with help from friends, family and professionals

thumb copy copy copy copyThe Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, adding that 49 per cent of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety never receive medical treatment.

That has Calgary psychologist Tracy Tomiak advocating for those with mental health issues to receive the appropriate support from friends, family and mental health workers.

“Depression is really difficult,” Tomiak said. “People can hide it very well.

“We are still in a position in our society where mental illness is still not very well accepted and it takes a lot of courage to be able to come out and say my life is not going the way it was supposed to be going.”

Tomiak specializes in depression. She’s been counseling people for the last four years, noticing many patterns in people’s thinking along the way. Tomiak said people often feel like they should be able to handle the problem on their own, but that’s simply not the case.

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Stu Schultz has been diagnosed with cyclothymic disorder, a form of manic depression. He said that part of dealing with the illness was learning how to stop thinking so narrowly.

Photo by: Andrea Dion“We would never think of managing heart disease without the help of professionals,” Tomiak said. “When it comes to mental health we think we need to keep it hidden because we think we can get over it… There is lots of great help out there, but you have to ask for it.”

Asking for help can be a difficult move; it certainly was for 47-year-old Stu Schultz. He’s dealt with cyclothymic disorder, a form of manic depression, for nearly 10 years. Schultz said the hardest step for him was asking for help.

“I’d been trying to snap myself out of it. You know, pull myself out of it, but it was just getting worse. And it was just horrible,” Schultz said.

After much deliberation, Schultz came to the conclusion that there was a chemical imbalance and eventually agreed to try medication. He paired it with counseling, exercise, an improved diet and added exposure to sunlight. Within a few months he found he was feeling much better.

However, for others dealing with mental illness, the challenges are actually exacerbated by those that are unaware of how to deal with mental health issues.

Renee Paul, 21, is no exception. Paul, who has suffered from depression and anxiety since her early teen years, said her greatest support came from peers that were going through similar experiences rather than counselors or psychologists.

“When you start gaining friends in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and start feeling more confident it’s like ‘these people kind of understand me more than my other friends would.’”

Prior to her involvement in AA, Paul often experimented with drugs to alleviate her feelings of anxiety and depression. After an extreme high and overdosing on 24 ecstasy pills, Paul often thought of suicide and said she “just wasn’t right after that.”

According to Tomiak, it is at this point when family and friends need to provide the most support.

“This is where your outside world really needs to break in, when someone is in a severe depression it’s very difficult for them to self motivate,” she said.

Tomiak cautions there is much work that still needs to be done before people feel fully comfortable with the topic, but she remains hopeful that recent increased awareness will prompt those in need to receive proper support and care.

Mental Health Resources:

Links for those affected by mental illness

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