Riley Speaks

"all i have is a voice" ~ w.h. auden

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Environmental vs. Chemical Depression

I’ve had this theory for a while. That there are two cloud causes for depression. There is environmental depression – caused by the environment around you, and chemical – caused by your brain chemicals.

In 2013 (I know ages ago, but New Zealand statistics are impossible to find) the amount of children and teenagers diagnosed with a mental health condition had almost doubled over the previous five years. But it’s known that the rate of those diagnosed with depression and anxiety is on the rise and we’re seeing some of the highest numbers yet. I think this is down to environmental depression becoming more prevalent. We have put pressures on academics, friendships, extra curricular, university entrance, job options, etc that adolescent are understandably struggling under the pressure. The way to distinguish environmental depression is if you were to have no stresses would you still be depressed? If you were climbing a mountain and no essays were due, you had just won the lottery so money wasn’t an issue, and you had a steady job source – would you still be depressed? I believe environmental depression still sees a decrease in serotonin but as an after effect – as a direct result of the environment and the situation one is in. The simplest way to determine environmental depression from chemical depression is it typically starts around adolescence and puberty.

Most people won’t admit that the environment has caused their depression, some think it makes it less real, others just don’t want to have to change everything in their life to cater to their depression. But it’s not any less real, and it’s important for one’s health to be in a position where you are able to live as stress free as possible. Of course in this consumerist, money hungry society it’s hard – and that’s on us as a nation and a globe. We have to change the demands if we want to see environmental depression decrease.

Chemical depression is as it sounds. Just like ADHD, and other chemically changing disorders, chemical depression changes the serotonin levels in your brain. Not when you reach puberty or stressful times, but from birth. It would 9/10 times go unnoticed, because children aren’t good at explaining their emotions, but it can produce as shyness. A child may seem shy on certain days and not shy on others. Looking back on my childhood I wonder how no one noticed I was depressed. It’s this lingering sense of “what’s the point of it all?” I remember thinking – as a child, about 6 or 7 – about being killed and aside from it hurting and me being scared of the person should they be a stranger, I didn’t really think it would make a difference. It wouldn’t matter if I was alive or dead – it was all the same. That’s chemical depression. And it typically goes away with anti depressants and minimal counselling. I have never received adequate counselling because it never helped. It was just annoying to me. And I think this is why. Because it wasn’t anything that happened to have caused it – sure things had happened to me, but talking about them and learning to cope with them wouldn’t make it all go away. It was just the way my brain was and when I found the proper medication, I saw my mood rise. I still get sad about the things that happened and happen to me, but they aren’t the reasons I want to kill myself. They’re just “life” to me. But for those with environmental depression they are the root of their depression.

Why does all this matter now? I’m sure we’ve all heard about or seen the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why”. There are numerous reasons I am against this series, but this is a very crucial part. By killing herself, Hannah has stopped all living. She cannot grow to see the happy. From the portrayal of the story on her tapes, all her reasons were a direct result of her environment. If she was removed – flown to a remote island – she would most likely not want to kill herself. In 5 years from when the suicide happened, Hannah could have very well not even believed she was going to kill herself – had she made it out alive. But because she threw it all away at high school, she will never be able to see anything she could have accomplished. Her story ends there. She could have done so much to raise awareness on bullying and sexual assault, she could have become a spokesperson for mental health, but instead she killed herself.

This means so many of those struggling with environmental depression will see this as a plausible and very real option. But they will fail to see that the situation will change. That school will end, and 90% of your friends will be people you haven’t even met yet. But because of this ill filmed and poorly devised show, people will think that it isn’t worth fighting for. That it’s better to just quit. It is not. It is worth staying alive for. There are so many great things out there that you can’t dream of because of school stress, and peer judgement. But it’s there and you can see it, but you have to stick around.

NOTE: Chemical depression is in no means a reason for suicide either. With the help of medications and a steady plan you can enjoy life. Please if you are feeling suicidal contact a 24/7 helpline


LIST A (Wikipedia) LIST B ( LIST B.5 (, USA)


KIDSHELPLINE AUS: 1800 55 1800 (Ages 5-25)




DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 – or free text 4202

YOUTHLINE – 0800 376 633

KIDSLINE – 0800 543 754 (0800 KIDSLINE) *up to 18 years old


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How to Help a Relative/Friend with Mental Illness

It can be hard to watch a friend or relative succumb to mental illness. You may feel helpless as they cannot cope with their day-to-day life. It’s important that you don’t blame yourself. Mental illness is 95% genetic components, but that doesn’t exactly mean someone with the genes will develop the disorder/illness.

Helping someone with a mental illness is hard, because ultimately there’s not a lot you can do. You want to heal them and make it all a-okay, but that’s not going to happen. It is a very helpless position. But there are some things that can help and make the recovery easier.

“Don’t give up on them.”

I know it sounds cliche, and it’s the first thing you would think, but it’s important. Especially for those with “ugly” disorders/illnesses. It’s easy to stand by them in the first months, when it’s new and you still feel like the end of the illness is near. But as you slowly realise it’s going to be a long road, you begin to ease up on calling, you stop going around as much, you forget to ask them if they want to come…you start giving up on them. It’s not going to be an easy journey, but try to remember that if it’s this hard for you, it’s a million times harder for the person actually struggling with the disorder. So even if you’re tired of being told “I don’t want to go out today sorry”, keep asking, keep reminding the person that you are there when they do want to go out. Dont. Give. Up. On. Them.

“Help out where and when you can.”

It’s the simple things – the little things that help ease the anxiety, lift a little bit of the depression. I have a friend that will ask for things at restaurants for me, they will ask any inquiries I have – this eases so much of my anxiety when going out in public. It gives me one less thing to worry about. One less thing to focus on. If your friend has been in a depressive state and hasn’t gotten around to doing their dishes for a couple of days, go around and do the dishes, empty the bins. Do the things they haven’t been able to do and let them not have to worry. I know sometimes depression messes can be embarassing and along with feeling depressed, there is now this “oh my god look at the state I’ve let my bedroom/kitchen/lounge/etc get into!” Helping to clean up means they won’t feel so horribly embarrassed. It also allows them to feel “clean” (I don’t know about you but a messy room makes me feel messy, yet the depression just doesn’t care). Do little things that may seem minute, because while they may feel like nothing to you they can mean a lot to someone who is mentally ill.

“Help is there for them”

Let them know that help is out there and they can seek it. Many districts in NZ have community based mental health care for those that cannot afford to go privately. Some people believe that they aren’t “sick” enough or “bad” enough to warrant using facilities or resources available to them. It’s important you help them to understand that they deserve the help just as much as the next person. The team appointed to them will help to give them the best treatment options – whether that is one on one therapy, group therapy, or even just touching base every so often. People can find these processes very daunting and they are allowed to bring along a support person, if they ask you to come, please do. It may seem like a nuisance on your day-to-day life (taking time out of work, getting childcare sorted etc) but it is such an important, and huge, step for them to be seeking help.

“Don’t relate their disorder to ‘a really hard time’ in your life”

It’s hard enough to feel like you’re making it all up, but when someone equates your depression to this one time when they were sad, it hurts. You think “oh boy I really am making it all up!” Or even worse, they feel alone. Before you made a statement they may have felt alone, but at least you were there to listen. But when you make a statement minimizing their struggle, your name is added to a file labelled “never talk to about mental illness again”. Mental illness is bigger than just a hard time in life, more than just one time you dieted etc. Please do not minimise their struggle by trying to relate. If you have the diagnosed mental health issue then don’t be afraid to use your journey as a foundation – do not assume the two journey’s will be the same. Mental health issues are serious and often life threatening. It’s important that they aren’t treated as just a bad day.

“It’s not your job to cure them”

It’s so important that you are aware of your own limits. Never feel like you are obligated to fix their world. Explain why you can’t be there for them at that time, for that scenario, eg. trauma based talking can be harmful to someone struggling with PTSD and therefore they may stay away from that portion of their friends/loved ones disorder. There is a reason that resources exist, it is so that the friends and families are not dealing with the pressure of curing the disorder/illness. Help in the ways you can, as much as you can. But remember that it’s not your job to cure them.

Dealing with mental health issues and illnesses takes it’s toll on everyone involved, but especially the one diagnosed. While it’s a good idea to help, make sure you aren’t putting them in a position they aren’t comfortable with – some people may not want friends to help or talk about it, and that’s okay. Talk to your friend/loved one about what you can do to help and LISTEN to them. There’s nothing worse than asking and then doing your own thing anyway.

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You don’t have depression you’re just lazy…

I’m not here to talk about how pretty and lovely it is to have depression. It isn’t. Unless I’ve slipped through to an alternate universe and lovely means horrible, then depression is not lovely. It is not pretty.

Depression is ugly and disgusting.

It’s a floor covered in mess – clothes, rubbish, food, dishes, anything and everything. You can’t find the energy to pick up the clothes and put them back in the drawers. The rubbish lays wayside as you trample through it. And the smell…the food is rotting and the dishes are unwashable because you’ve left it all there too long.

Some days you call in sick to work with a stomach bug or the flu because your boss doesn’t take “depression” as a reason for not making it in to work. But your legs don’t work and you couldn’t make it to your favorite place even if you wanted to.

Other days you can’t speak because it’s too much to make your mouth form the words. You get yelled at for ignoring the questions, but you’ve answered them all in your head. You have. But the words won’t move past being fleeting ideas in your mind. You couldn’t give an answer even if you tried.

You could sleep for days at a time. Sometimes you do. And all the responsibilities you hold go untouched because you’re sound asleep. “Stop being so lazy!!” Because it’s impossible to explain that it’s just so exhausting to be existing. You can’t explain that although you haven’t left your house, just getting out of bed and making breakfast was a marathon effort. You need a rest and you didn’t accomplish anything. So you’re called lazy because it’s easier to do than try understand.

You get called lazy, ungrateful, useless – every horrible adjective under the sun. You can’t be depressed, you’ve got everything anyone could ever want. But hearing these things only makes it worse. You know you’re lucky. You know you’ve got it good. Yet your legs won’t work and your brain won’t function. And you begin the constant struggle to remind yourself depression doesn’t discriminate. It never works.

Depression isn’t pretty and dainty. It’s not a romanticized poem read by a 16 year old school girl. Depression is and always will be the horrible black cloud looming above my head. I’m constantly waiting for it to rendered me nil and take me out. Make me a horrible member to society. And I’ve spent 6 years telling myself that it wasn’t okay. That I had to be able to accomplish great things and save the world. I forgot to tell myself that it was okay if my greatest accomplishment was that I took some dishes out today. I forgot to tell myself that it’s okay if the only saving I did was myself.

Depression isn’t pretty and lovely. And it’s okay to be living in your own filth. It doesn’t make you a bad person. Just take it moment by moment. Maybe take some rubbish out. Remove the rotting food. And it’s okay to get back into bed and rest your weary soul. You did enough for today.