There’s no denying 2020 was a shocker with its lockdowns, broken plans and relentless uncertainty. It can be hard to be optimistic and plan for a future when that future has many unknown, changing parts and it’s perfectly normal to feel low occasionally. It’s always okay to feel your feelings. It’s okay to find some days hard. It’s okay to go slow, to stop, to recover and take care of you. But let’s talk about when low moods and bad days start taking over.
If your bad days are dragging into bad weeks, or the sad songs you’ve got on high rotation on Spotify are doing more harm than good, then it’s possible you’re stuck in a low mood because of something more serious, like anxiety or depression.
Mental illness is common with almost one-third of people in New Zealand having a personal experience of mental distress. 77% of us know someone who’s struggled in the past. Members of the LGBTQIA+ rainbow community are almost twice as likely to suffer (a whopping 67%) with Māori and young adults aged 18 to 24 years also having higher rates of mental distress. With these stats it shows these feelings are a totally normal and almost universal experience and one you should mention to your GP, nurse, or counsellor as soon as you start to feel something’s not right.
There are many ways that depression can become part of your life and it can strike anyone at any time but with some medical help and a good plan you can get through. I’m going to talk about depression but let me briefly side-track to cover off depression’s close relation—anxiety.
Anxiety Isn’t Just Worrying Heaps
Anxiety is intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. It may cause you to have an increased heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating and/or feeling overly tired. Anxiety isn’t just a case of being a worrywart either—it’s persistent so will affect you day and/or night and you’ll likely find it hard to stop overthinking situations. With something like COVID-19 that could mean catastrophising the pandemic and how bad it might become or worrying about friends and family and ‘what if’ situations to the point that it’s debilitating and zapping your energy. All these are reasons to chat to your GP who can assess what’s going on for you, talk about a plan, and possibly suggest medication to help you through.
Let’s Talk About Depression
Depression is an ongoing low mood. Traditionally you might have heard people say it makes them want to sleep a lot but depressed 20-somethings may find themselves also frequently waking up at 4am or 5am in the morning, unable to fall back asleep. Depression may make you lose interest in the things you usually love (including sex), give you feelings of sadness or irritability, make you want to eat more or less, increase your alcohol or drug use in a way that’s not what you’re usually doing, and make it hard to connect with others.
Being a 20-something is a classic time to first experience depression. Normally—not just recently—it’s a time of uncertainty and upheaval when young people are making huge life decisions (where to live, what career to pursue, relationship choices) coupled with a time when brains aren’t yet at their full cognitive capacity. Research shows that depression typically first appears around age 25.
Mothers are also at risk of depression after birth; often a time of great joy but also great chaos when your body may no longer seem yours alone and when the demands to connect and provide emotionally and physically can become overwhelming. A conversation with your GP, even if they weren’t your primary maternity provider, is always a good place to start and it’s entirely fine to turn up and just cry for the first 10 minutes because we can help get to the nub of your concerns and feelings.
The most important thing you can do if you’re feeling this way is talk. Talk to your friends and family or if that’s too hard you can free call or text 1737 any time, 24 hours a day. You’ll get to talk to (or text with) a trained counsellor or talk to a peer support worker.
You don’t need to wait until your situation is extreme to see your GP, we’d love to hear from you if you’re struggling because that means we can get onto a plan to help you sooner. There’s a whole lot of options of what that plan could look like too, but it will be guaranteed to fit you and have the goal of helping you become well again. Depression is a really treatable illness, and we’d like to help you through.
One last important point: please take any thoughts around suicide or self-harm seriously and talk to your GP, nurse, or counsellor immediately. It’s important if you’re having these thoughts that you tell someone and together you can seek help immediately.
Other Helpful Resources
Depression.org.nz is a New Zealand based self-help programme designed to teach you skills that can help get through mild to moderate depression more effectively. Check out Brave Lads for mental health support for men.
About Dr Bryan Betty
Dr Bryan Betty is a GP in Cannons Creek, Porirua and the medical director of The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners. He’s the father of three 18-24 year olds. Equity, and issues such as access to quality healthcare for all people, have been big motivators throughout Bryan’s career. He often represents clinical interests for the College, speaking regularly to the media and writing opinion pieces on topical medical issues.
Don’t suffer in silence, here’s 8 things to do when you’re feeling low according to a counsellor.
Image credit: Anthony Tran