by Rev David Watson, Clark Memorial Parish Church.

Last week we encountered “the Beast from the East”, a spell of particularly cold weather bringing Siberian winds, low temperatures and snow to Scotland. Largs got an unusually heavy fall of snow, but wasn’t as badly affected as many places in central Scotland. The weather is a regular topic of conversation when we meet each other socially. Why do we talk about the weather so much? Oscar Wilde the writer and wit said that conversation about the weather was the last refuge of the unimaginative. Certainly our constantly changing weather gives us plenty to talk about! It is perceived to be a safe subject of conversation. Never talk about religion or politics in polite circles it is said. Such subjects arouse strong passions and discussions may end well up in a full blown argument or at the very least in souring the atmosphere. We tend to discuss our political and religious beliefs with those who share similar views and create an “echo chamber” effect where our views are regularly affirmed and seldom challenged.

One subject we don’t often talk about is mental health. Around 25% of us suffer from mental health problems including anxiety and depression. According to the World Health Organisation, depression is “an illness characterised by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that you normally enjoy, accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities, for at least two weeks.” In addition, people who have depression normally have several of the following symptoms – a loss of energy; a change of appetite; a change in your sleeping pattern; anxiety, reduced concentration; indecisiveness; restlessness; feelings of worthlessness and guilt and hopelessness; thoughts of self-harm or suicide. These dark feelings can lead the sufferer to ask questions such as “”What is the point of life?” or “Why do I worry about everything?”

Just as anyone can catch a cold, so anyone can suffer from depression. It affects those who have a faith and those who don’t. It can be difficult for us to admit to having to deal with these things. Winston Churchill, one of our greatest ever Prime Ministers, suffered from depression. He described it as a “black dog” which followed him around. Talking about our mental health is vitally important in managing it. We might not want to talk to everybody about it, but for our own well-being it’s important that we find somebody to whom we can really talk.