Monday, November 11, 2013

What’s Not in a Name – Part I: Depression

I’ve had the misfortunate opportunity to have mental disturbances in my family my entire life. However, I really didn’t know it until two years ago. Not really. I know I’m not alone. A good 25 percent of the population has some type of mental illness or disorder, but what; maybe 2 percent talk about it?  There’s a lot of misinformation, ignorance, denial and sweeping things under the rug out there that can persist for years, decades. It was only after digging through my mother’s things after she passed that I realized she was an ill, tortured soul. Before that, I’d thought she was quirky and odd. I’d like to talk about two brain-based disabilities that are so much more than their names suggest: Depression and ADHD. Today I’ll tackle depression and tomorrow, ADHD.

We all think we know what depression is—sadness, lethargy, even having a bad day. People walk around saying they are depressed. Maybe they heard a sad story on the news and it got them down, depressing them, but we all know they’ll get over it and it isn’t such a big deal. That’s not the depression I’m talking about and why speaking about depression can get so confusing.

Some people are more specific and say “clinical depression” when referring to a chronic condition lasting at least two weeks, sometimes years. Depression involves a biological condition, a problem with the serotonin levels in the brain and body. It has physical origins, and is not merely a thought process that can be willingly turned around. The person can be sad and lethargic, uninterested in life activities, self-loathing and telling everyone how worthless she is. This pattern can then become a circular, self-fulfilling prophesy, causing other people to actually believe the person is worthless, shunning her because all she does is whine or cry all day. This gives the depressee evidence of her worthlessness, and so it goes, even to the point that the depressed person may look for an out, further damaging her reputation, turning to drugs or alcohol. Yet others find something to believe in to the extreme, becoming religious zealots, for example—something to hide behind.

People generally don’t share their clinical depression diagnosis. If they say anything at all, they just say they are depressed, which most people consider as the bad-day type and pay little attention. The clinically depressed may take medication to help with those serotonin issues. They might make a casual mention of being on medication to help them feel better, which also gets little notice in society’s common notion of being depressed. People perk up if you say you have cancer, because they know it’s serious. No so with depression. But clinical depression is serious. It causes missed work days, ruins family relationships, can claim lives through suicide and more.

If you’re a clinically depressed man, you might not fit society’s notion of the depressed. Depression can also manifest in irritability, anger, and digestive troubles or pain, causing you to look for a remedy in all the wrong places, blaming others for your bad mood. Anger management classes won’t change your attitude if the attitude is driven by a physical condition. How many people have known an alcoholic and pointed to alcoholism as the problem? Maybe it’s a symptom, not the disease. Why is he an alcoholic? Because he’s depressed? Maybe. Fix the depression and the alcoholism may be easier to resolve. They might not need it anymore.

My father was a columnist for a newspaper. He left his readers with this, “I have written out of concern, hoping the readers feel that a whole person is talking with you on a wide range of human concerns in a joint exploration and examination of life and all it means. The major goal of my writing has been to encourage the reader to think.” This apple hasn’t fallen far from that tree. I’m concerned that we take too much at first blush, not examining situations closely. I’m encouraging you, the reader, to think too.

For more on serotonin and depression, click here.
For more on depression in men, click here.
For more on depression in general, click here.

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