Page 4, 10th November 1995

10th November 1995
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Page 4, 10th November 1995 — Depression does not let God down
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Depression does not let God down

LIKE MANY GOOD Catholic girls, Anastasia Stokes is busy swapping one set of guilt feelings for another (Catholic Herald, 27 October).

There is nothing to be ashamed of in suffering from depression or experiencing the benefits of treatment. Mental pains are just as crippling as physical pains and yet we have this Calvinistic approach to mental pain. We would not tell someone suffering from the pains and discomfort of rheumatoid arthritis to just pull himself together. We would encourage him to take anti-inflammatory drugs, knowing that, although these would not alter the natural course of his disease, they would at least reduce his pain and suffering. Likewise with depression, we must relieve the symptoms even if we can't promise a cure.

Anastasia Stokes is not letting God down.

Most of the depressed patients that I have treated were fed up of being told to "pull themselves together" and to "count their blessings". They were sick of trying, and anyway how could they "look on the bright side" when the very nature of their depression made them look on the black side of life. Likewise, because there is an element of hope in praying, depressed patients often find it very hard to pray, to practice their faith and sometimes to even believe there is a God. How can they love their neighbour when they don't love themselves? The best they can do is to keep saying "Dear God, please help me".

In taking drug treatment for her depression, she is not, as her friends suggest, "just taking drugs to cheer herself up". Depression is not a trivial disorder, it can be a serious illness with fatal consequences. However, as I used to teach my students "having relieved the symptoms, do not forget to treat the patient". In other words, she must use the freedom from symptoms as an opportunity to learn more about herself, to examine her lifestyle, to recognise the early symptoms of depression and to strengthen her faith.

Finally, one criticism, in being brave enough to discuss openly her depression and its treatment, 1 think it would have been better had she not mentioned Prozac by name and not repeated some of the American folklore that surrounds this drug which is now so trendy to write about. It is only one of over 40 effective drugs available for treating depression and one of a group of drugs with similar actions and effects.

Professor Peter Parish MI) Swansea




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