Coping with depression
The best people in your company could be suffering from depression – Ruby Wax on mental health
Ruby Wax delighted the Keynote Arena at Safety & Health Expo with a fascinating and entertaining talk about depression, stress and how we can learn to cope.
The first of three inspirational speakers to address the SHE crowd over duration of the show, Ruby Wax explained the difference between stress and mental health to a packed Keynote Theatre.
Ruby, famed for her comedy and acting but now a speaker on mental health issues, described mental health as “the latest killer on the block”.
While most of those at the Expo focus on “stopping people from being sucked through escalators”, mental health and stress affects way more people.
Ruby suffered depression for many years and suffered in silence. She describes depression as “replacing your old personality with a block of cement”, an episodic loss of everything you are. After exploring the issue through her shows she studied for a Masters degree in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy at the University of Oxford, and is now Visiting Professor in Mental Health Nursing at the University of Surrey.
Ruby stressed that depression is not selective: one in four people have depression or some type of mental illness, and they “could be the best people in your company”. But what can you do to detect when someone you work with is suffering?
“Just talk to them, there’s no need to have an agenda. Listen to how they’re talking and you’ll pick it up pretty quickly.”
“If you notice somebody looking sad or with no expression day after day. If they are lethargic, but there is ‘nothing wrong’ then you know there is a wider problem.”
The problem, she says, is that often people don’t know there’s a problem themselves.
Addressing the situations?
“Don’t say ‘perk up’ and don’t put undue pressure on them.”
Worries about job security will only make things worse. Those suffering from poor mental health, says Ruby, feel shame, a crowd of abusive voices picking on them for feeling down, for being inadequate and for daring to feel bad when other people in the world are in worse situations.
Ruby’s top tips are contacting charities like MIND and suggesting medication – it is an illness and should be treated as such.
“We live in a world full of busyness and critical thoughts.”
The bulk of Ruby’s talk was highlighting the distinction between “being stressed and mentally ill”.
“Everybody’s stressed, it’s a normal reaction to the world we live in. It’s rational. If you aren’t stressed then you’re unstable,” she said, pointing to certain politicians on the world stage as examples.
Ruby has delved into mental health and stress with a show and a book, ‘A Mindfulness Guide For The Frazzled’.
“Being frazzled is being stressed about stress,” she explains.
Rather than something to be ashamed of, stress is evolutionary, but with the rapid technological revolution that humanity has overseen in the past few decades, we have not yet evolved to keep up: “Technically the human race is top of the range. We’re cognitively brilliant. The problem is evolution only cares about our survival, it doesn’t give a crap about our happiness.
“We needed stress to win the evolutionary hunger games. If a predator came along your brain would activate and produce cortisol, a chemical that tells you something is wrong and whether to fight or fly.”
She pointed to gazelles in the Savannah, which can instantly go back to grazing once a lion has been fought off. But humans are unable to graze, “because we are too worried about what is going to happen next… We live in a world where that cortisol is gushing.”
Too much information of suffering and threats from all over the world are thrust at us by our technology, and as creatures of addiction we always go looking for more.
Added to this is the social threat provided by platforms like Instagram, Facebook and even LinkedIn – “We live in a world where you’re comparing yourself to everybody, not just those around you”.
“We made computers to give us more spare time. To have them do jobs so we can do things we want to do. The joke’s on us, now we’re the slaves and they’re having a great time.”
Ruby took the huge crowd through some techniques to drown out the noise. “You can’t stop the waves but you can surf them”. Mindfulness, she said, is an exercise, not a way of life, much like sit-ups. The more you do, the better you will get.
She led an exercise, getting every crowd member to clap once and concentrate on the sensation vibrating through the fingers and hands. Taking time to concentrate on singular senses, she said, deactivates the gland producing cortisol. Like tapping your head and rubbing your belly, it is not able to do two things at once, and “happiness is being able to focus on what you want to focus on”.
Exercising like this, like sit-ups, will make you stronger and stronger at fighting off ‘frazzle’, so that only real instances of stress will get to you. And this, says Ruby, can have a knock-on effect.
“It’s chemical. If you can learn to cool it you can pass it onto the next person. We are like ripples. Otherwise, it’s like carrying a grenade that eventually is going to explode over everybody.”
Ruby ended by warning that to truly cope with the stress of modern life, “we will have to upgrade ourselves the way we’ve upgraded everything else”.
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