03/14/2012 04:35 pm ET Updated May 14, 2012

The Truth About Depression: Six People Speak Out

Depression is not picky. Men, women, rich, poor, white, black. No one is immune. It is not just an illness for people with dark, mysterious pasts or chaotic presents. It is ubiquitous. Empirical and anecdotal evidence suggests this is fast becoming the disease du jour. Antidepressant prescriptions have soared. The World Health Organisation warns that mental illness will be second only to HIV/Aids in the burden it places on the world by the end of this decade.

Despite this, it is still badly misunderstood. Why? Because most people have been a bit low, a bit sad, a bit depressed at one time in their life, and so can't see what all the fuss is about. After my own epic tussle with depression, I wanted to describe what it is really like and demonstrate that it is so much more than just feeling a bit blue on Monday mornings. And so I wrote a book.

But I didn't just want to tell my story. I spoke to dozens of fellow travellers, some locally and others via the national mental health campaign Time to Change, and asked them about their experiences. Many did not want to go public. Depressed people still feel the world is deeply suspicious of them, is unlikely to befriend them and certainly won't give them a job. But some were willing to speak openly about their battle with the illness.

Lol Butterfield, 51, Guisborough

All my working life I was a mental health nurse, so depression came as a shock. I was becoming stressed at work and was in denial for about a year until it got to a point where it progressed to severe. My mood was unstable and I was becoming quite emotional in certain situations, my sleep was affected, I was having panic attacks and losing self-confidence. I was trying to mask the symptoms because I was working as a manager at the time and didn't want to show weakness.

At one point I remember chairing a meeting and having a panic attack through it, struggling for air and trying to breathe. But I didn't tell anyone. I managed to keep it quiet.

Then I was in a meeting with my manager. I was becoming emotional and he said: "Look, I think you need to take some time off and go and see your GP." It was the best thing I ever did. The GP agreed that I needed time off.

I was started on antidepressants and had a course of counselling. It wasn't any particular model, just being able to chat to someone away from the work environment. I had suicidal thoughts. It is one of the side-effects of the medication. But I didn't act on them, and I started to get better quite quickly. Being away from the stressful environment of work was significant in accelerating my recovery. It didn't take long for my mood to lift. Within 11 weeks I was back at work.

I still have my ups and downs, but not to the same degree. I started taking antidepressants again about two months ago, the minimum dose, because my mood had been dipping for a while. So it's better to be safe.

I would advise people not to suffer in silence. Especially men, because we know men don't like going to the doctor. Don't feel ashamed. If this is not how you usually feel, then do something about it.

I have become a stronger person. I can empathise more with my clients. I have more understanding. I've worn the shoes.

..Read More at The Guardian

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