Depression is a crisis of global proportions, a fact that’s significant to governments and people worldwide as we consider engagement with an illness noted to be among the greatest threats to the global workforce. The statistics themselves are depressing. A Science Daily 2011 article says depression affects 121 million people worldwide. It claims, “At its most severe, depression can lead to suicide and is responsible for 850,000 deaths every year.” That is a call-to-action rate for every regime. That it is the 2012 World Mental Health Day (WMHD) theme brings it to the forefront, where it needs to stay.
And yet these estimates are conservative, since many people would never reveal their mental-health status because of associated stigma and discrimination. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) says: “Treatments are available, but nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help from a health professional. Stigma, discrimination and neglect prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental disorders.”
The numbers could be staggering if we can ever declare our mental-health status and not pretend or go untreated as a mechanism of protection against prejudice. Depression as a personal crisis, however, is an entirely different ballgame, in which you keep or lose sight of your own statistics of how many days you’re sad and cried because you did not know why you cried, and daze which kept you in bed with no oomph to leave.
That attending lethargy accompanies many illnesses but when it presents itself alongside depression it’s a debilitating horse of little or no colour. This one has no “horsepower;” it does not move; does not want to move, cannot and won’t move; and worse, neither can anyone else move it. It is a terrible place: lack of joy, irritability, tiredness that no pick-me-up can pick up, and long hours/days of nothingness—that’s how terrifyingly out of control you become.
And then, here comes the best advice ever: exercise (you know, where people move) is essential for better health of those living with depression. It’s been long known that exercise is essential to wellbeing, so it’s no surprise that more expert opinions are appearing on its use in therapy for mental illnesses. Essentially, while I’ve always known the benefits, I often practise what is now known in my small circle as exercise by osmosis.
Many days I’d call friends and we’d laugh as I share how I had dressed in the new sports clothes, the cushioned trainers, and new socks, then turn the television to an exercise programme and lie on the couch and watch the entire thing, going off to sleep as the instructor does the cool-down. When I can beat the lethargy, though, I guarantee you the most amazing feelings after exercising—a sense of achievement, an energy boost, improved sleep, and more.
But depression lessens my mental alertness and takes a severe toll on my physical energy; lethargy causes all my responses to be delayed or muted. My energy levels get so low that moving, talking, and even eating can prove difficult. So last week, in making a commitment to improving my health and changing my weight and dress size, I got on the treadmill. It was wonderful and I am certain I’ll go back, since the thing, gifted to me three months ago, has now sat for one week on the porch, encouragingly.
If you know how hard it is to start and keep up a programme of exercise when you have no health issues, then you may be able to imagine what getting up to move feels like for a depressive, unsociable, and exhausted person who has reached Sunday but has to wait for the body and mind to get past Friday afternoon. In the days before the implement arrived I’d sometimes exercise indoors, using lively music for motivation. I remember once cleaning the entire house as I mopped, swept, wined, sang and stomped my footsteps harder to some sweet calypso medleys. I was blissful afterwards.
To avoid seeing people, I’ve cleared the furniture and walked for 35 minutes at a time around the living room. But research shows that outdoor exercise is more invigorating, so I got two pups and I’d walk them for an hour each, except now they are so huge I’m less inclined to that approach. Trust me, I know how hard this is, but I’d do anything to feel better—when I can. It takes days of working it out mentally to get in one session of exercise, but it’s so worthwhile!
Today, WMHD, I am promoting and including exercise as essential therapy for depression. For starters, I’ve committed to a 45-minute routine three times a week and encourage you to join me in whatever creative way I can get you to move.
We’ve got to get those numbers down—depressives, weight, and dress sizes!
Some famous people who have battled depression
The Academy Award-winning actress, UN Goodwill Ambassador and mother of six may seem to have her act completely together, but throughout her teens and early 20s, Angelina Jolie suffered bouts of depression.
Lupe Fiasco, rapper
American rapper Lupe Fiasco battled with depression and suicidal thoughts in the run-up to the release of his 2011 album Lasers.
Sheryl Crow, singer
Even though her albums are full of upbeat songs such as All I Wanna Do and Soak Up the Sun, the rocker has struggled with chronic depression since childhood.
Diana, Princess of Wales
The princess suffered from depression after her marriage to Prince Charles ended. During a tell-all interview with the BBC in 1995, she revealed shocking details of postpartum depression, bulimia and self-inflicted injuries.
This gorgeous Oscar-winning actress has had her share of emotional turmoil. Following the end of her first marriage, to Atlanta Braves star David Justice, Halle Berry was so racked with despair that she attempted suicide.
Marcus Trescothick, cricketer
Trescothick’s depression left him in tears in the changing-room after matches, and then, at his lowest, filled with suicidal thoughts as he lay trembling and shaking on the floor of his mother’s house, having had to return early from tour in 2006.