Northern Ireland

Aware Defeat Depression: Charity aims to help end stigma in the workplace

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Media captionSiobhan Doherty says Aware Defeat Depression are helping an increasing number of young people men and women as it is an illness that holds no social boundaries

Employers in Northern Ireland are being encouraged to have a greater understanding of mental health issues.

A local charity, which works exclusively for those with depression, says while it is becoming less stigmatised there are still barriers which make it less acceptable as a physical illness.

As well as calling for greater awareness, Aware Defeat Depression is urging those who are diagnosed to consider alternative therapies as opposed to taking anti-depressants.

The charity's chief executive, Siobhan Doherty, said: "I do believe there is a certain element of society that stigmatises mental illness and depression.

Stigma

"For example, if I were to phone into work with flu, that would be OK and I would get a few days off. But if I were to phone in and say I have depression, that would be much more difficult.

"That's the challenge. While it is becoming less stigmatised, there is something that doesn't make it as acceptable as a physical illness."

According to 2012 statistics, the number of men and women diagnosed with depression increased in every health trust. More than 2.5 million anti-depressant prescription items were dispensed, about one million more than in 2007.

Ms Doherty says they are helping an increasing number of young people men and women as it is an illness that holds no social boundaries.

"Depression can be incredibly serious - there are signs and symptoms from low mood, challenging behaviour, isolating yourself," she said.

"But at its very worst depression can take lives. People can take their own life, so there needs to be greater understanding of this dreadful illness."

Among those taking anti-depressants was Sam O'Neill, who at the age of 30 says he has come out the other side.

'Black cloud'

Four years ago, however, he was hooked on medication.

"Depression is just a darkness, a big black cloud that comes over you," he said.

"It was like a weight on top of me as if something was holding me down. I couldn't operate as an individual."

Those 2012 figures made Northern Ireland the second highest in Europe for prescribing such medication and the worst in the UK.

Siobhan Doherty says people should look to alternative therapies instead of taking medication.

The charity is promoting mindfulness - a therapy likened to meditation which is recognised by the national health organisation NICE.

"It's the practice of living in the present. A practice of not looking at the past and not wondering or worrying about what is going to happen in the future. It is about finding peace and calm," Ms Doherty said.

Image caption Sam attended classes organised by Aware Defeat Depression and has been benefiting by participating in a course in mindfulness

Mr O'Neill took medication for several years. He attempted suicide twice. He says he felt alone, anxious and scared.

"They interfered with my sleep pattern. I felt drugged up. My mind wasn't clear, it was always hazy. I was told to go to the gym. But I couldn't motivate myself to go. It's all very well your GP telling you to go out and motivate yourself, but sometimes you don't have the energy to go anywhere."

Mr O'Neill decided to come off the anti-depressants - something which should only be managed by a patient's GP.

'Appreciate the moment'

He attended classes organised by Aware Defeat Depression and has been benefiting by participating in a course in mindfulness.

"It focuses your thoughts and your energy all through breathing," he said.

"It slows you down. Makes you appreciate the moment. It makes you identify the negative thoughts, but teaches you how not to let them take over."

Siobhan Doherty says promoting mental health is everyone's responsibility.

"I think there is so much going on in society, so much pressure so much stress that we can't deal with everything that's thrown at us.

"It's difficult to find calm and peace. This course in mindfulness helps bring you peace of mind. And we are delivering courses throughout Northern Ireland. Just check on our website."

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