This much is true: you can get the monkey off your back. Please read on.
The most satisfying work I’ve done in my long career as a lawyer, educator, therapist, and minister of religion is my ongoing lectureship at the NSW Institute of Psychiatry. It’s like this. Whenever I go there to lecture---and I've been doing that for some 12 years now---I hear real-life stories from mental health workers of various kinds about the stark reality of mental illness (or mental illnesses and mental disorders, I should say). Besides that, I have my own very real and at times very ugly story of mental illness---years of clinical depression and active alcoholism.
Yes, I'm lucky to be here today to write this post. I kid you not. Only my wife and a few others know just how close I was to throwing in the towel. I even tried to do that on one occasion. As I say, it was an ugly story---and I've only told you a small part of it.
Fortunately, those things are for me now well in the past, but many people still suffer from those and other mental illnesses---not only the actual sufferers themselves but also those with whom they’re closely associated. The untimely death of the actor and comedian Robin Williams reminds us all, if we needed any further reminder, that mental illness of all kinds is no respecter of persons. The main reason I write this blog is the hope that something I say may from time to time be of some help to someone else. That may sound a bit patronizing but it’s the goddamn truth.
Now, one of the very real problems associated with depression---and not just depression---is that the wandering mind chatters and chatters and wanders off and ruminates, often obsessively, on thoughts and situations that are ‘sad’ or ‘depressing' resulting in a plethora of related health problems both in the mind and in the body.
Albert Einstein once said, 'I accept that thoughts influence the body.' That's so true. A depressed and ruminating wandering mind results in the immune system being lowered, which makes us more susceptible to illnesses of various kinds. Also, a depressed state of mind tends to breed further depression as well as stress resulting in a decrease in neurotransmitter levels. (Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that communicate information throughout the brain and the body. Adverse symptoms appear throughout the body when these levels are 'out-of-balance.')
The effect of depression on neurotransmitters also impacts on our mental health. This is because a state of depression in the mind tends to result in the depletion of feel-good chemicals such as serontonin and endorphins---a state of affairs which results in a further lowering of one's neurotransmitter levels. This only adds more fuel to the already smouldering fires of depression. (Note. When we are 'happy,' the brain releases other chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine and oyytocin.)
In short, when the wandering mind ruminates on negative thoughts and situations anxiety and stress levels are heightened. Further biochemical changes occur in the mind and the body through the release of certain chemicals including cortisol, which results in a lowering of the immune system. This predisposes us to illnesses of various kinds including heart disease, stroke, and possibly also certain cancers. Worse still, a cycle of negativity tends to set in, leading to a further lowering of neurotransmitter levels, and on it goes. The good news is that the vicious cycle can be broken.
As I've said, even if we aren’t suffering from major depression we all know the presence and effects of the wandering mind. At times this ‘monkey’ can be almost a cute little thing but for some people this ‘monkey’ is nothing short of a ferocious King Kong. Its presence and effects destroy their peace of mind and have even been known to drive some to the brink of despair and even suicide.
For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via sane.org