Worrying link between stress and depression

Edited by Jill Wright,

worrying link between stress and depression

To a psychologist in Melbourne tracking developments in mental health around the world, there seems to be an all but unbroken stream of mass media reports highlighting the dangers of depression and stories of its victims.

In the past week, for instance, we've learned that the Archbishop of Canterbury is taking antidepressants and urges other to seek help. Locally, last Wednesday we were informed that depression is a major problem for sports coaches. On Thursday we discovered that a lack of sleep can lead to depression in children. Today ,Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley revealed that in her 20s she suffered from depression following the death of a friend in a plane crash and now passes on the advice of a therapist that any time something bad happens, "Give it six months".

By contrast, the amount of public concern about stress seems to have declined significantly. These days, stress seems to be regarded as par for the course, if not a rite of passage.

I'd like to see Australian journalists follow up on a recent Guardian article by Welsh neuroscientist Dr Dean Burnett  which highlights the toxic effects of stress and the manner in which it can feed on itself, become chronic and without treatment, lead to anxiety and depression.

For 30 years now, the British National Health Service has offered patients a course in handling stress, based on the work of Scottish psychologist Jim White. 

White's work highlights the “stress cycle”, which describes how stress becomes chronic and self-sustaining. When something like a failed relationship happens, the stress can result in social withdrawal, poor performance at work etc. This can lead to a loss of friendships, spiralling into over-drinking etc. The author of the article, Burnett writes that while there is no easy fix, at the start of the courses offered by White's organisation, Stress Control, participants are offered a basic set of instructions that could reduce stress: 

'There were just 10 words: “Face your fears. Be more active. Watch what you drink.” While simple-sounding, these things conform to what we know about stress, and even mental health problems, in the scientific sense.'

Psychology Melbourne's team offers help with stress management.

Footnote: One day after posting this, the ABC has an excellent piece on the power of stress to produce physical symptoms including chest pain, at times triggering false alerts for heart attacks, but sometimes being involved in real cardiovascular events.

Professor Justin Kenardy, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Queensland warns that physical symptoms of stress were usually an indication people needed to "check in" with themselves about what was going on in their life.

"It's a sign they need to take care of themselves, and look at how they're reacting and responding to their stress," he said. Over time, he warned, stress can take a toll on physical health. 

Image by JESHOOTS.COM at Unsplash.

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About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.