Mel James has lived with depression all her life and it has been a catalyst for her work in psychotherapy techniques helping others to understand and manage their own depression. But a recent and tragic event brought Mel’s work into sharper focus and convinced her of the need to do more to help local people affected by depression either first hand or as a carer or close friend.
It was the recent suicide of a friend that prompted Ms James to contact the Black Dog Institute and vow to start a series of workshops.
She has lived in the area for five years and said that she remains shocked by the number of suicides she has heard of on the Far South Coast.
“I decided that this is where I need to help people,” Ms James said.
In February Ms James plans to start a series of ‘Reach’ workshops, under the auspices of the Black Dog Institute, which will run for two hours per week over nine weeks. The workshops will provide education about depression and bipolar disorders, and provide information on how the thought processes work.
The aim is to help participants with depression or bipolar disorder manage their illness and wellbeing. Topics include fostering strengths, dealing with loss and grief, identifying early warning signs and triggers, wellbeing strategies, nurturing support networks and creating a unique ‘Wellbeing Plan’.
“It will be a knowledge-based workshop for anyone with depression, carers, parents and anyone who has an interest. It’s a chance to learn about depression and the strategies that can be used to alleviate it. A small part will also touch on the importance of mindfulness and meditation,” Ms James said.
Her own experience has played an important part in her understanding of depression. She developed encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) when she had measles as a child and this could have been when her depression started.
“But I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 31; I lived all those difficult years not understanding. You spend a lot of energy trying to be ‘normal’ as you believe at the core, that you aren’t good enough, that there is something ‘wrong’ with you because those around you don’t understand that you just can’t ‘get over it’. You totally alienate your true self to try and fit in. I was referred to a psychiatrist and as soon as I walked in he asked me when was the first time I realised I was different. I just burst into tears. It was a tremendous relief to know that someone else understood.”
The term ‘depression’ covers a wide range of disorders from those caused by chemical or biological changes to psychological depression often caused by loss or grief and Ms James believes that as with any complex disorder, a range of coping mechanisms are needed.
These include Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) timeline therapy, hypnosis and meditation. These can help to create new strategies, new ways of responding to external events and reframe our thinking about depression, Ms James said. They can also be used to look at the way a person regards themselves and whether they are setting themselves up against a standard or model that is no longer relevant.
NLP is a cognitive based therapy and comes under the umbrella of psychotherapy. The Black Dog Institute supports NLP as one of the treatments for depression.
Language and how it is used can be very revealing, Ms James said. “What we tell ourselves and the language we use is so very, very important.”
She will be attending a special workshop with the Black Dog Institute prior to starting her nine-week workshop which is most likely to be held in Bega.
Ms James can be contacted via her website www.melissajames.com.au or mobile 0421 785 907.
If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts contact the national 24/7 Crisis Counselling Services:
Lifeline: 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au/Get-Help/
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au
MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 78
If this story has raised issues for you or someone close to you there are a range of organisations that offer advice and help:
* Black Dog Institute
* beyondblue support service
1300 22 4636 or www.beyondblue.org.au
* SANE Australia Helpline
1800 18 SANE (7263) or www.sane.org
* The Salvation Army National Bereaved by Suicide Line
1300 467 354
* Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service
1800 011 046
Information is also available via the NSW Health website: