Monday, November 10, 2008

The Sydney Morning Herald: Depression's silent victims

November 8, 2008

One Saturday, a few months before the mental collapse that would end John Brogden's political career, the then NSW opposition leader and his wife decided they were overdue for some family time, so they scheduled a day's outing.

"We got picked up by the car and driver," Lucy Brogden recalls. "John and the driver sat in front. There was me in the back with the baby seat, and a staffer on the other side."

Then began a bizarre South Coast road trip that started with an official morning tea at Sylvania. It progressed to lunch with Liberal Party people at Cronulla - for Mr Brogden. Mrs Brogden fed her toddler son and ate in the car with the driver. Next it was on to Kiama for afternoon tea with dignitaries, before a dinner in Nowra, with party people again.

When Mrs Brogden looks back on the mounting intensities of the time, she always returns to that day in early 2005 - its ugly caricature of leisure a telling portrait of her complicity in their unsustainable life. She was, she says, like the classic boiling frog: as the water gradually heated up around her, she found her stress threshold climbed higher than she could have imagined.

Her husband was bingeing on work, overeating then consuming nothing but Diet Coke for up to week at a time, and alternating extreme sleepiness with phases of insomnia. It could not have been clearer that he had big problems. There were times of relative normality but over the years the situation escalated. "I could see he was spiralling out of control," Mrs Brogden says. "But that's part of the issue people have. They're losing their own self-awareness.

"The more I pushed him, the deeper he went into denial … a young outwardly successful man … to put up his hand and say, 'I think I'm depressed, I think I'm suffering from a mental illness' - it's a pretty big call."

The partners of people suffering from psychological disorders are a new frontier in the work of depression groups, amid growing recognition of the immense effect of the condition on their lives, and the role they can play in helping their loved one recover.

Graeme Cowan, a survivor of depression, earlier this year conducted a survey of 351 people caring for a mentally ill partner or relative, recruited through the websites of Sydney's Black Dog Institute, beyondblue and the Queensland Alliance of Mental Illness and Psychiatric Disability.

Top of their list of concerns were feeling rejected by their depressed love one, the negative effect on their sex life, exasperation and a desire for the person to snap out of it, and feeling that the loved one was no longer the person they thought they knew.

They also complained that their role was poorly acknowledged. Few formal resources were aimed at carers and there was a reluctance by some doctors to discuss the situation with anyone other than the patient.

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