Dealing with Depression in France  - by a journalist who suffers from depression

Suffering from depression and being depressed. Are they the same, or not? My understanding is that a person who suffers from depression is one who has been clinically diagnosed by a professional, as I have. Being depressed can happen to anyone, but it usually lasts only a short period of time, temporary, often in November/December Ė the SAD syndrome. For sufferers of clinical depression, it is a permanent feeling of melancholia which manifests itself in different behavioural ways.

Researching recently to write an article on the subject, I was looking for volunteers who had been diagnosed with depression Ė as distinct from homesickness Ė when moving to live permanently abroad. So my findings do not include people who have moved abroad temporarily with their job or their partnerís job.

The majority of respondents had been clinically diagnosed in the UK as suffering from depression. People had several years of treatment behind them before leaving. Initially the move helped Ė new house, new garden, new places to visit. But within 6 months many were back on the slippery slope down.

Not surprisingly, most respondents were women. What is the response when you ask someone if they are settled? Generally the men are fine, and donít really want to go back to the UK. But the women all say the same. ĎI miss my family, my girlfriends, girlie days outí. And they are the people who knew us before we suffered from depression, and who probably supported us when we were diagnosed. You canít replace these people, when you move abroad. You miss them like hell. And the last thing you mention when making new friends in a new area/country is that you suffer from depression. They donít want to know youíre carrying baggage with you.

And, at the end of the day, it is only fellow sufferers who can empathise, as with any physical or psychological problem.

Like me, many of the contributors to my research have found that their French doctor either prescribes anti-depressants or refers them to a psychologist whose native tongue is not English, and the language barrier is the biggest problem. Itís what prevents most of us from moving forward. Most important on the positive side is having an understanding and supportive partner.

There is a French Association of Behaviour and Cognitive Therapie, and also an Association Francophone de Formation et Recher en Therapie Comportementale et Cognitive. Thatís ok for French depressives. What about expats?

All the respondents believe moving abroad, whilst initially having a positive effect, has actually made their depression worse. We deal with our Ďblack daysí in our own way, in some cases our partners suffer with us. And we donít move on. Feelings of isolation and loneliness exacerbate the depression. Sadly, some people resort to drink, others experience a relationship break-up because the partner canít deal with the worsening depression, others return to the UK.

So whatís the answer? Many sufferers would like to see self-help groups set up, but thatís difficult in a country the size of France. To form such a group in my area would involve an hourís drive for some, and who would lead such a group?

We sufferers would very much like someone to come up with an affordable and positive answer to help us move forward.

Iíve presented these results of my research to the charity Depression Alliance, and Iím interested to see what results.

Beryl Brennan