The January Blues: Depression

The still, dark days of January are often associated with heightened levels of depression. Actually, depression is omnipresent.

The charity Mind details depression as ranging from mild to moderate to severe. They list some types of depression:

  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)– depression that usually (but not always) occurs in the winter.
  • Dysthymia– continuous mild depression that lasts for two years or more.
  • Prenatal depression– it occurs during pregnancy.
  • Postnatal depression (PND)– occurs in the weeks and months after becoming a parent. Postnatal depression is usually diagnosed in women but it can affect men, too.

Depression can have many causes, but some are the stresses caused by lack of provision. For these, there are political solutions. For example,

  • Homelessness and lack of affordable housing can be highly stressful and lead to depression.
  • Not having enough money for bills and struggling on low pay can lead to depression.

Party policy should not focus on the economics of a policy argument, but rather on wellbeing. What can we do to create a healthy, fair and equal society? Those policies would lead to a more mentally-fit population. Someone who has food on the table and a place to sleep, with no worries about how the next month’s bills are going to be paid, is far less likely to be stressed and potentially depressed.

The emphasis on exams and performance, rather than on process and learning, has led to increased stress and depression levels amongst our young people. This is where a rethink on education policy is needed. A recent article by Daisy Buchanan highlights how “perfectionism is destroying the health of my millennial generation”. Getting help early on, in schools, is key.

A new book by Johann Hari looks at the causes of depression. Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions. Hari finds that “there is evidence that seven specific factors in the way we are living today are causing depression and anxiety to rise – alongside two real biological factors (such as your genes) that can combine with these forces to make it worse.”

These encompass loneliness [see my blog], childhood trauma and unsatisfying work. Hari’s solutions include changing how society operates – political solutions (Universal Basic Income gets a mention).

It is true that depression is experienced at all ages throughout society. One of the reasons I am so keen on Mental health First Aid is that it trains people to pick up on the early signs of depression. And when depression is caught early, it is much more easily treated. Policies which focus on early intervention and prevention will create a healthier society, and also, as one of the benefits, a more resilient work-force.

Stress, depression or anxiety accounted for the majority of days lost due to work-related ill health in 2016/2017 – 12.5 million days. On average, those suffering from stress, depression or anxiety took 23.8 days off each.

The third Monday is January has been monikered ‘Blue Monday’. It’s coming up this Monday. Blue Monday is labelled the most depressing day of the year because of the synergy between the end of Christmas, failed New Year’s resolutions, bleak weather conditions, debt and low motivation levels.

The Samaritans are calling for ‘Brew Monday’ instead, a day in which people come together to support one another. Get together for a cup of tea, for a chat – there is a fundraising pack available for Monday, though it can be used anytime throughout the year.

Our party has a great track record on mental health policy, so what next? All policy needs to include wellbeing at the heart, and that’s where I’d start.

* Kirsten Johnson is an Oxfordshire County Councillor and Day Editor for Lib Dem Voice. She stood as the Parliamentary Candidate for Oxford East in the 2017 General Election.