Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Depression is more than a state of mind

American actor Robin William's tragic suicide on Monday highlights the fact that depression is a serious mental health problem that strikes people in all strata of society.

People normally assumes that depression is a condition that afflicts the poorer levels of society, or the less fortunate, who find it hard to cope with the challenges of life, but William's death illustrates that depression does affect the rich too. Depression knows no social barriers. Each person that undergoes a bout of depression will usually have their own unique stories to tell, and their own reasons for sinking into this mental state.

Fortunately, depression is not incurable. The first stage towards reducing depressive tendencies is to recognise its signs. For instance, a person who is withdrawn and generally shows an unsociable lifestyle may be a candidate for depression. Or a person who exhibits repetitive habits or irrational behaviour could be a candidate as well. Also, bipolar disorders or mood swings, especially the angry or violent type. The depressive candidate may be a senior citizen or a teenager, but very likely the ordinary man-in-the-street in the prime of his life may be a candidate too.

If depression is left unchecked, it can lead to serious consequences for the sufferers. Most of them end up injuring themselves. At the worst-case scenario, there is suicide. Williams wasn't the first celebrity to die from severe depression but he certainly won't be the last either.

So what can be done to help people that exhibits depressive traits? Apart from seeing a psychiatrist and taking medications, one other way, in my opinion, is to direct them to people who can help. The Befrienders programme in Penang and elsewhere around Malaysia has helped countless sufferers who thought they had no place to turn to. The Befrienders organisation is helmed by volunteers who will talk to sufferers who call in to their hotline.

Lately, I've learnt of another organisation in Penang who does a similar job of reaching out to people with mental health issues too. This is the D’Home Mental Health Association, based in Bukit Jambul on Penang island, which was established by Dato' Leslie Lee who knew first-hand what it was like to care for a loved one with mental illness: his own elder brother had been a schizophrenic for the past 42 years. It was this experience and a growing passion for loving kindness that propelled him to provide an avenue for others to learn more about mental illness and find support and encouragement.

And incidentally, all of us can chip in to support the Befrienders and D'Home Mental Health Association. On 24 Aug 2014, from 10.30a.m. to 6p.m. at the China House in Beach Street, George Town, as part of this year's George Town Festival 2014, a movement known as the Penang Depressed Cake Shop will be selling cakes to raise public-awareness and funds for these two organisations.

The Penang Depressed Cake Shop is a quirky pop-up cake shop selling grey and sad (but delicious!) cakes, confections and sweet treats to raise awareness surrounding depression and mental health issues in Malaysia. Through this cake sale, the organisers are working towards putting an end to discrimination and prejudice against those who suffer from depression and encourage better understanding of mental illness.

The cakes are donated by professional and home bakers from Penang, as well as other regions in Malaysia. As the proceeds from the sale will be donated to the Befrienders and D'Home, please do come and contribute generously towards the cause of helping mental health sufferers around you.

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