Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Phil Beck - Depression and BDSM

As announced, Phil Beck graciously agreed to do a blog post about BDSM and depression, as we both noticed that people with mental health issues on both sides of the whip are often drawn to BDSM. Please let me stress again, we both believe that mental health issues don't mean being "crazy", it means somebody needs help, and mental health issues are possibly widely misunderstood. 

Depression is often not properly diagnosed, it's important that you do your part to help your health professional to identify the source of it, instead of just relying that he will prescribe you something, but Phil gets into those issues.

While BDSM will NOT and SHOULD NOT replace therapy or medication and a proper diagnosis, if it makes you feel better and helps you to get through, there really is no reason to give up BDSM!

While Phil Beck is not a health professional, he does live with chronic PTSD and major depressive disorder and managed to pull through and is kind enough to share his experiences:


Disclaimer: I am not a professional and this blog post is not professional advice. If you are currently facing a life threatening situation stop reading now and contact your local emergency services provider.

Do you think you have depression? In general the difference between 'being depressed' and 'having depression' is about the length of time that the symptoms are ongoing. If your symptoms persist daily or most of the day for at least two weeks then you may be eligible for a diagnosis of depression. Key symptoms include fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, impaired concentration or indecisiveness. Not sleeping enough or sleeping too much, loss of interest in activities that you once enjoyed, thoughts of death or suicide, significant weight loss or weight gain, depressed libido, a sense of restlessness or being slowed down and a depressed mood during most of the day.

Depression can be the result of imbalances of chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters. But it can also be the result of other physical or exogenous problems including dysfunction of the thyroid gland, low levels of vitamin D, lack of physical activity, reduced exposure to sunlight, and hormonal imbalances. Middle aged men for example can suffer low levels of testosterone that can bring on depression like symptoms. All the antidepressant drugs under the sun won't fix it if the cause is hormonal (reduced testosterone for men or menopause, peri- or post menopause for women). 


When and if you decide to see a doctor about your concerns it is important to have complete blood work done to check for all of these issues and be honest about your lifestyle and habits. There is no point in going on psychoactive drugs if you don't need them.

However, if these other potential causes can not be pinpointed, then there is a good chance that your depression can be helped through the use of anti depressants. Though medication alone is not the only answer. Research has clearly documented that medication combined with talk therapy, both one on one and group, offers better results with shorter depressive episodes and fewer recurrences. In our pop-a-pill society, taking the time to work through therapy is sometimes considered a undue burden, but it clearly helps in most cases. In particular, a type of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy has been proven to be effective in treating depression in the majority of cases. There are other types of therapy, but this one is widely practiced and is considered by most professionals as the first, best choice for people living with depression.

There are many coping skills that you can employ in recovery from depression that require no professional help and come without a high price tag. The absolute best decision you can make when suffering with depression is getting out of the house and exercising. It doesn't need to be a complex circuit plan at the gym or even something that is highly demanding at all. Walking for a half hour a day can make a huge difference. Physical activity helps the brain to elevate levels of a chemical called dopamine and dopamine is important for making you feel good about yourself. So if you do nothing else all day, making that one choice can have a dramatic effect on how you think and feel about yourself. Other steps that you can take include keeping a journal and/or a thought log, making regular contact with friends or family to talk, limiting stimulant usage like coffee or cigarettes, increasing exposure to full spectrum light by using special light bulbs, taking vitamin D supplements if your doctor recommends them, eating a balanced diet, practicing good sleep hygiene, learning and doing deep breathing exercises and limiting your exposure to media that may cause you to feel weepy or sad. Try watching comedies instead or listening to up tempo music.

In the world of BDSM much like any other segment of society there has long been misunderstanding and ignorance about people living with depression. This is not surprising is it? We are playing around with some pretty heavy mental stuff already and adding in the complexities of depression and triggers can be scary and frankly, it can be dangerous. But with depression that is managed and understood the potential for real damage can be minimized and can be fit within the parameters of Risk Aware Consensual Kink or R.A.C.K. Perhaps it seems obvious, but full disclosure is really necessary for anyone with depression. It is the ethical way forward in negotiation for a scene. It makes the potential for a great scene even better because everyone is well informed and able to react appropriately in case things go sideways. For me, as a submissive, knowing that my dominant play partner is aware of my depression and potential triggers makes me feel more free to drop into sub space because I can trust my partner more rather than feeling like I have to be the one managing the situation.

In the past nine years, as I have progressed through therapy for my depression, I have also been exploring my kinks along the way. I was fortunate to have a therapist who was open minded and supportive of my kink life. That is an important element of therapy, finding someone who is compatible with you. You are the one doing the hiring, you are hiring a partner to work with on a long term project. Don't be afraid to sift through a few different people before you settle on the right one. As I explored more and more of my kink life I found new triggers for my depression and was able to talk them over with my therapist. I would then go back to those points where I got stuck in kink and find ways to push myself past those triggers. Kink became a vehicle for personal growth in my life and a tool for decreasing the severity and frequency of my depressive episodes.

Both bondage and sensation play, not only impact play but sensual play and other sensation, has always been an element that attracted me in kink. As I progressed in therapy I began to explore sensation play in more detail and discovered that it could serve as a balm for my depressive episodes. I am not suggesting that I could ever 'cure' my depression with sensation play, and i certainly never went off my meds or treatment plans because I though sensation play was the solution. But it was a complementary form of self-treatment that I found to be successful. In particular, I found comfort and safety in the feel of certain forms of bondage combined with heat and cold sensation. I also found emotional and physical release through being flogged. Impact play like flogging or other forms of sadism can cause the release of endorphins and other chemicals that help us to feel good. I would sometimes cry after a flogging session was completed, and a dominant partner, since I informed them in negotiation about this being a potential result, was typically willing to comfort me for a while in aftercare. 


Although I have only done it once so far, I found being wrapped or mummified with vet wrap to be a very liberating experience with regard to my depression. Being totally immobilized in that way made it possible to release my concerns about the outside world and my sense of emotional well being somehow began to rise up as I began to sink into a trance like state. I am still not exactly sure how that particular experience worked its magic, but I know it helped and I want to do it again. In general bondage is a emotionally liberating situation for me. I am helpless, and have submitted my life an safety to my dominant partner, all that I really have left to do is focus on my emotional state and I am free to meditate and zero in on the feelings that make me happy.

This is all stuff that works for me. Your experiences may be different. I know one person who escapes her depression by sitting in a cage. I know another person who deal with depression symptoms through the application of staples in her back and other more extreme forms of masochism. The point of all of this is that it is possible to find your own avenues of healing through BDSM. But the first and most important thing to do is get a diagnosis and deal with the underlying cause of your depression. There is no shame in getting diagnosed and no shame in going on medication or into therapy. In the United States, when you include everyone who deals with a mental health issue at some point in their lives the number becomes rather large, a vast majority in fact. Mental health parity is arriving now. People are tearing down stigma brick by brick. So get the help you need from professionals first. And then, if you are into BDSM, and you want to see if you can find other forms of release through that, take it slow, negotiate openly, and see how it works for you. Keep an open dialog with your therapist about what you are doing and why. Limit and be informed about the risks you take. You might find some great outlets for your emotional pain through this wonderful world of kink. 


Phil Beck


I asked Phil to write something for me after we had a discussion about BDSM and mental health issues on a forum and I was impressed with how clear he was able to verbalize concerns and how well informed he is. I'm surprised how quickly he managed to get this article together. Many thanks for that!

In case you want to visit his blog (he's just setting up shop) go here: