Depression: Through the Eyes of A Child

I’d like to welcome our first ever guest writer, Hayleigh Karr. I asked people on Twitter if they might be able to write articles on men’s mental health. I was looking for different perspectives on this topic. Hayleigh was the first one to get an article to me. Please read her article below regarding her father’s depression:

My father is a hardened man. His skin is as thick as leather from countless hours in the searing Australian sun and he has a layer of distrust and anger that is crack-free from countless broken hearts and disappointments. He has always been a hermit- only ever coming out from the comfort of his home for survival basics; work, food and cigarettes. He bought a house in the middle of nowhere and on the top of a floodplain that can never be built upon just so he wouldn’t have to see any neighbours. His dream is to retire and be left completely alone, aside from the occasional call from my sister and I.  It took me a long time to recognise his depression as he has a “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule that he absolutely lives by. I’ve watched him abuse drugs, alcohol, and prescription painkillers all my life. He finds comfort in silence and revels in being isolated. To the outside world he is charismatic and joyful- I’ve never met a person who doesn’t adore him.

When I was diagnosed with depression; however, I noticed that when I was on my lows, he matched them perfectly. He completely got it. He was the only one who understood when I cried because the idea of getting out of bed physically hurt me. I remember once when I was about six, he told my sister, who was ten at the time and battling the concept of sadness that there was a moment that he felt so sad he wanted to end it all, but that he stopped himself because of us. He told us that we were the only reason he tied himself to this earth. I was shocked because as a six-year-old the only time I had ever seen him upset was when I had done something naughty and needed a smack. I had never seen him cry or pout or show any level of unhappiness. I suppose that as a child you ignore social cues and little comments that would otherwise suggest a sinister mental health issue.

Underneath his layer of thickened skin and even thicker distrust, he has bone structures made of glass. So fragile and so weak, it’s a wonder they don’t break under the immense pressure of his mind. I’ve only ever seen those glass bones break twice. The first was when my cat died. They’d had her for longer than they’d had me. She was fifteen years old and he couldn’t make it to her last minutes because his boss wouldn’t let him go early from work. He cried, and then drank rum. The second time I was reading him a piece I wrote on my blog before living with him, and he cried. The next day he drank rum.  His way of dealing with emotions is by not dealing with them at all. He bottles things, and then explodes in a rage or walks off somewhere alone. It’s things like that which I ignored as a child, and now that I live through a fraction of his hurt I see the cracks develop and see that there’s pain underneath them.

When I was younger I saw my Dad as Superman. I couldn’t believe that anyone could ever be as tall as him, or as fast, smart or strong. He was the epitome of what a perfect man should be. Now that I’m older I see my Dad as Superman because he fights harder than any person I’ve ever met. He has issues which make his everyday life a struggle, it’s an uphill climb day in, day out; and he doesn’t always come out on top. I know he’s broken, hurt and vulnerable. I know he cares too much about things that will hurt him, but only because those are the things he loves and despite all his broken hearts and dreams he still believes in happiness. My Dad is superman because life has thrown every harmful thing his way and he knows that just getting out of bed on any given day will amount to a lot of hard work and pain, yet he does it because he’s kicking depression’s butt. My Dad has depression, but depression doesn’t have my Dad. Thank you kindly for reading,

Hayleigh Karr

6th May 2015

Tunnel Vision of Different Mental Health Related Professionals

In 2014, I attended a depression conference run by The Economist. At the conference they had many speakers. At one stage there was a sociologist, neurologist, psychologist and psychotherapist on stage. When asked about the causes of depression the answers were all different:

  • Sociologist – social causes
  • Neurologist –  brain differences, possibly due to genetics etc
  • Psychologist – the way people think about the world
  • Psychotherapist – childhood
  • Psychiatrist – it’s chemical

Not all the professionals on stage had such well-defined tunnel vision, however some did. Sometimes training and experience within a profession can make us only see the world through a lens created by that profession.

There are multiple causes of depression, see this Harvard Article for different causes of depression. The problem with different.

Imagine a group of people that only had one of the five main senses each (we don’t have five senses: See Draper (2006)). For example one person can only see, the other can only smell etc. Now imagine these five people describing why a particular garden is so beautiful:

  • Ms Sight: The garden is so colourful, reds, greens etc. The shape of the trees are wondrous.
  • Mr Smell: The smell of the cut grass is blissful
  • Ms Hearing: The sound of the birds and the rustling leaves
  • Mr Touch: The texture of a rose petal
  • Ms Taste: The taste of the tomatoes

All these people are right, and yet their short-sightedness also makes them partly wrong. The beauty of a garden spans all the senses (and even more importantly there are elements of a garden we can’t see, that other creatures can see. See infra-red shots of flowers below).

Bee Versus Human Vision

Human’s vision (left image), bee’s vision (right image)

Depression itself has multiple causes, and so the treatment of it will need to target the causes. At the moment this obvious approach doesn’t seem to be taken. For example most CBT practitioners seem to believe that all depression is down to Negative Automatic Thoughts. If someone has a physiological difference in their brain that cause their depression, then no amount of CBT will help. Treatment resistant depression is where particular professionals have failed to cure someone’s depression using their tunnel-vision based expertise.

I wish the different types of mental health based professional would admit that there are multiple causes. It seems this fact is ignored. At the depression conference they even started arguing amongst each other, however their argument with each other is just as ridiculous as the people with the different senses discussing why the garden is beautiful.

Let’s hope one day said professionals will expand their awareness to include some of the multiple causes outside their field.

Copyright MEN HEAL 2015

Desensitisation of Violence and Suffering Due to Media (And How it Relates to Anxiety)

Anxiety of Being Attacked

Having had debilitating depression and anxiety for many years, as a matter of survival I had had to become more aware about what affected my mood.

A few years running up to 2004, I had had a huge anxiety about being attacked. For a couple of years I had even been training in martial arts due to my fear of being attacked. I was tall and had a shaved head, and so this might have surprised people at the time had I told them. However I was genuinely in fear when I ventured in to town or I was in a crowded place like a party. I thought anyone might pull a knife on me, or just attack me. It was a constant state of heightened anxiety which made me very tired and on edge.

What to Do?

I needed to get to the bottom of this fear. I eventually realised that my estimation of how dangerous any given situation was, was way off the mark. Where did this fear of being attacked come from. After quite a lot of exploration I realised that the media might have something to do with it. The media tends to show all the negative and dangerous happenings in the world, this can make one overestimate the dangers in the world. (Indeed most people are surprised that violence in the world has been going down for over a thousand years, Check out Stephen Pinker talking about this on TED:

One particular behaviour I was experimenting with back in 2004 was the avoidance of any form of media, including news on the television, newspapers, and I guess the internet (although I can’t remember how much I browsed the news online back then).

After a few months of avoiding the media; the world, or rather my place in it, seemed like a far less dangerous place.

Desensitisation to Violence and Suffering

Lessons learned from this self-imposed media blackout came to a head on 26th December 2004 (The day of the Tsnuami  when I visited my friend for Boxing Day celebrations. On this day I had spoke to noone else and had had no exposure to the media. I knocked on my friend’s door.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa (Painting)

He made me a cup of tea, and said he was really worried about his friend in Thailand. I asked him why. He asked me if I had seen the news, and I explained I had not. He told me about the tsunami and how lots of people had been killed. I was shocked, it really hit me. There were two reasons for this:

  1. I had become re-sensitised to distressing things (so hearing the news was more potent)
  2. A friend telling me the news firsthand, with his own personal story attached, and not hearing the news from a reporter on television was more hard hitting

He switched on this television and it was all over the channels. It was devastating, and I felt shocked.

Related Research

Desensitization to media violence over a short period of time (go to research article)

This study investigated the desensitization to violence over a short period of time. Participants watched nine violent movie scenes and nine comedy scenes, and reported whether they enjoyed the violent or comedy scenes and whether they felt sympathetic toward the victim of violence.


As a result, viewers tended to feel less sympathetic toward the victims of violence and actually enjoy more the violence portrayed in the media.

Conclusions / Lessons Learned

  • Try avoiding the media for a bit to see if it helps (obviously hard for people who work in the media)
  • Don’t feel pressure to watch lots of news based on a desire to ‘know what’s going on in the world’.
  • If you can’t change something or learn from it, is it truly worth knowing about?
  • Being over-connected to tragedy via the media makes can make us care less or feel worse
  • I’ve known friends feel really depressed about the world and humanity. When I show them the Stephen Pinker video that violence has gone down over a thousand years, they often show surprise and feel better
  • We can learn really important news off friends, family and those we meet

 Copyright MEN HEAL 2015.

Treatment Resistant Mental Illness and Patronising Cheap Advice

Two or three weeks ago I had a major breakdown. Most people close to me have been supportive, which makes me feel very lucky.

One thing that has made me feel worse in my recovery is people giving patronising cheap advice to me about my mental health. My particular mental health has existed my whole life. I have studied intensely for 20 years in many many fields to try and help myself. I have studied these fields in depth:

  • Personal growth
  • Psychology
  • Counselling
  • Mindfulness / Meditation

I have also tried almost every alternative treatment, and tried pharmaceutical treatments too. These things have helped quite a bit, but I am far from cured.

My depression could be considered treatment resistant. Some people have had a mental health illness that didn’t need much effort to fix. Or maybe they tried for three years and mastered it. In THAT case your mental health isn’t that bad! I know that might be hard to read but mine and others like me have had our conditions for decades.

If you come out the other side of depression after a few years or months effort, or maybe medication completely cured you, then it is possible that you will now start thinking you are an expert. You might think that because YOUR mental health was cured, that you can now cure everyone elses. Please stop! This is a complete delusion! The parallel would be you managing to solve a simple mathematical equation, and believing that you can now solve ALL mathematical problems.

The human brain is said to be the most complex object in the known universe. Most people can’t even fix their mobile phone or computer, so why do they think they can fix a human brain!?

I am sick of people saying things to me like, ‘chin up old boy, you can do it’, or ‘Have you tried exercise? It sorted me out’.

Classic ‘advice’:

Have you tried ______? It worked for me!

  • Yoga
  • Exercise
  • Medication
  • Counselling
  • CBT
  • Mindfulness
  • Acupuncture
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Raw food
  • Gluten free / lactose free diet

The list goes on and on and on. If someone has spent 20 years studying the subject and putting what has been learned in to ACTION then please stop your cheap advice. I have been told by counsellors that my self-awareness is so good that I don’t need counselling (as that is most people’s problem in counselling. There awareness is poor). I have been told by a psychiatrist that I already know CBT and mindfulness so well, that I know it more than the short courses they went on, so it’s pointless teaching me it again (this wasn’t me fishing for compliments, or them trying to placate me, this was their honest and reasonable response).

There is also an American attitude that positivity can solve everything. This is also another cruel delusion. I am all for positivity, but please don’t start thinking it can solve ALL the world’s problems.

We all mean well though. We all want to help others. So we suggest things.

A mental health issue like depression or anxiety can have SO many causes. Some are simple to fix, and some aren’t. Some people might be depressed because they are in a stressful marriage. When they leave the marriage, their depression goes away. (They had easy to fix depression). Depression based on easy to change external circumstances, can’t really be considered depression in the truest sense. Serious depression is a disease where you feel awful even when life is going right.

Some people’s depression is down to a highly complex issue relating to their neurology (not just a chemical imbalance but a structural issue, or some other highly complex issue). In these circumstances ‘just exercising’ isn’t going to cut it. So be careful giving advice to people with treatment resistant or highly complex mental health issues.

I’m sure I have been guilty of this too. It is very hard to accept that someone can’t be helped. We need to start admitting that some people’s mental health issues are highly complex and easy fixes won’t exist. Some people will have their mental health issues for life. They will be able to manage it and not cure it. People in this boat will often feel worse based on people giving simple advice.

Giving simple advice on someone’s highly complex mental illness is like giving some advice who has brain cancer. You wouldn’t say ‘just exercise’, or ‘try yoga’. So please be more aware of those with highly complex mental health issues.

Copyright MEN HEAL 2015

Offering Donation-Based Mindfulness Training – One on One – 1 Hour Sessions

Hi Everyone!

I am now offering donation-based mindfulness training (1 hour sessions). Mindfulness has been proven to help with anxiety and depression. It compliments CBT and other forms of therapy very well.

Contact me here if you are interested:

I’m currently based in Abergavenny, Monmouthshire.

Look forward to hearing from you


Everyone has it together accept me!


I’ve heard a lot of people, particularly those with depression, say that everyone else has it sorted except them. Of course those with severe mental health issues are truly far worse off than those without such conditions, however comparing oneself in this way is likely to increase feelings of doom or inadequacy.

It’s a classic cognitive error (of the CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy school of thought).

Noone has it totally sorted and we all suffer from the human condition. Indeed I believe that most mental health disorders are magnified versions of parts of the human condition.

Here’s some reasons why this classic thought of everyone else being sorted is false:

• When we go out and about we won’t see those that are too depressed or ill to come out that day, we only see people with severe mental health issues on their better days
• We can’t read the minds of others, we can only make assumptions. We might see someone in a supermarket, who lost their partner last week. They still need to buy food but they’re unlikely to be feeling great, and yet when they go out they might not show their pain in an obvious way
• In Britain, and I’m sure other countries too, we don’t tend to speak about our pain to strangers or often even those we know quite well. This cultural habit will distort our perception about how well everyone else is doing.

I’ve been surprised in the past few years how, once I opened up to others about my struggles, others also would open up. Indeed almost everyone will open up in this way. This honest way of communicating can be very nurturing and healing for everyone, although offloading too much at once might be too much for some.

So next time you think everyone else has it sorted, remember that it’s almost certainly untrue.

When is Depression Really Depression?

My definition of clinical depression is:

You feel awful even when things are going right

If you are feeling awful when things are awful, then you are having a normal reaction to an unpleasant event. The way to fix this type of ‘feeling awful’ is to either fix the problem, or if that’s not possible then to come to terms with what happened to you.

This is not to say that external events can’t trigger clinical depression, they can. Some people will have an external event that they don’t recover from, this is because they have a predisposition to getting depression.

I have met people in day to day life who have said that they have depression, but on getting to know them it’s actually that they are feeling down about things that anyone would feel down about. Once the problems are fixed their feelings of despair go. In this case they did not have clinical depression.

The reason I am bringing this up, is that people who think they have depression but don’t, and who recover by fixing external events, will assume that everyone else with depression can be fixed by doing that too. Their attitude will often be unsympathetic and harmful to a real sufferer.

I spoke to someone at a depression conference recently and they said that they had fixed everything in their life that was troubling them. They also improved their diet, exercised three times a week, and did all the things you are supposed to do to overcome depression. Here’s the thing, their depression didn’t go away. This is because they have an illness.

The best metaphor I can come up with is, imagine you are walking barefoot on broken glass, the pain you are experiencing would not be considered an illness. You just need to stop walking on broken glass. If you experience pain in your feet because of a neurological-based pain disorder then that can be considered an illness.

If the person walking on glass, stops walking on glass, and their feet heal, they might go round telling everyone with foot pain just to be careful not to walk barefoot on glass. When this isn’t the other person’s problem.

This article is not supposed to negate anyone’s suffering. If bad things are happening to you and you feel awful then that is terrible. However it isn’t necessarily depression. You will know if you suffer from depression, when your mood stays low for a very long time after the problems end.

Copyright MEN HEAL 2014