“How much should I push myself?” is a question that people frequently struggle with when suffering with poor mental health. David Sharpe and Linda Allcock share their insights to help us begin to answer that question. Linda has suffered with depression in the past, and David is a GP with many years of experience in this area.
Depression comes in many shapes and sizes so generalising must be done with caution. However, there are often patterns, so there are some principles of coping and treatment that are helpful.
• For many people, the path to becoming depressed has taken a while, and often there will have been a slow but definite reduction in activity (de-activation). This can lead to a vicious circle where the less you do, the less you feel like doing. Although this can seem like really tough (and often unwelcome) advice, deliberately gradually countering this deactivation by planned activity and exercise can be a key step towards many people starting to improve. Aim to get towards 15 minutes of raised pulse daily - often mood will catch up with your activity a few weeks later.
• Try to have a routine as much as possible. Eat three healthy meals at normal times. Sleep (or lie down and rest if you are struggling to sleep) at night for around 8 hours. Get up at a regular time each morning, get dressed. Try to get out into the fresh air and daylight. Aim to stay awake all day – if you need a nap, sleep experts suggest 15 minutes maximum (set an alarm) no later than 2pm.
• Get out of bed for something every day. Which will mean pushing yourself. Plan something positive every day as this changes your mood – these include seeing a friend, getting outdoors, doing something creative, resting, media that refreshes you (a good film, book, etc). For some this will be tough as they will not start to enjoy this for some weeks - press on and try to enlist the help of others.
• It’s important to have a small group of people who are supporting you, but do also try to have positive conversations with others that are not about struggles. Sometimes Christians can feel pressure to be completely open with everyone and doing this can lead to church becoming overwhelming.
• Recognise you are ill. You wouldn’t expect someone with flu to be at 100% capacity. But you can probably manage 25-75% of normal depending on your mood and how much you slept. So, don’t completely stop but do as much as you would expect a friend to do if he or she felt like you did.
• Try to avoid thinking of today as a ‘good day’ or a ‘bad day’, the low patch may actually pass within the hour if you do something positive (see above). So, don’t write the whole day off, take things an hour at a time.
• We all need to be in church regularly to thrive in our relationship with God, so try to stick to the weekly routine of church activities as best you can. Better to turn up and have to go home than stay on the sofa as usually you feel better once you’re out. Seek out someone (eg text a friend on your journey) who can sit with you and help you through. Aim to listen and talk/pray through the sermon each week (Eg. one21.org) with a friend/flatmate.
• If depression is having a notable impact on your work or sleep for more than three weeks then seek medical help. If you have suicidal thoughts or plans always seek help urgently. Below are contact details of places that can help:
During working hours, you can ask for an urgent appointment from your GP
Samaritans. Call 116123 (available 24 hours)
South London and Maudsley 24-hour mental health crisis line. Call 0800 731 2864 (for people in Croydon, Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark).
• Remember we are children of our Father in heaven. We are supposed to be weak, needing help. Feeling so powerless can profoundly help us know our need of God and grow in our dependence on him. Jesus says in Matthew 11v28: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Run to him not away from him in your suffering!