As We Morn

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As We Morn…

By Charity Haigans MA LPC-S
The tragic loss of one of our countries most talented artists has shined a light on how deadly the
illness of depression can be.  The disease of depression is one of the most prevalent illnesses we
know of, yet it remains one of the least understood.  I’m using the word depression during this
discussion, however I can easily expand that term to include all mood disorders, such as bipolar
disorder, another illness that threatens the lives of millions and still remains largely mysterious.  As
we mourn the loss of Robin Williams, we can allow ourselves to take a deeper look at the illness he
struggled with for decades in the hopes that we may gain better treatment for others who wrestle
with this particular demon.

 

What is depression?  Is it a weakness of the mind?  Is it simply a person who won’t move on or refuses to be happy?  Is it a learned behavior passed from dramatic parent to dramatic teen?  These are all legitimate questions that clients have asked me over the years when we talk about depression.  After years of researching and treating depression, I can say that depression is not sadness, it is not laziness, it is not exhaustion, it is not an introverted personality, it is not a weakness or something to “get over.”  It is an illness.

As far as the medical community can tell depression involves poor performance of certain neurotransmitters.  If that wasn’t vague enough, I can try harder.  Depression is caused by misbehaving chemicals in your body.  Seriously, that’s as accurate as I can really get on a large scale because we honestly don’t have much info beyond that.  It’s stunning how little we actually do know because depression is a highly researched topic.  The cause of depression currently alludes our gifted scientists who work daily to discover the root cause of the illness, but other research has been very helpful in the treatment of the disorder.

I can’t give the low down on where depression originates, but I can catch you up on what is looks like.  Depression does in fact look like someone who is sad, lazy, exhausted, introverted, week and sometimes dramatic.  That’s why my clients come in so skeptical of depression.  They think they are simply unmotivated, or tired, achey, like to be alone, not as strong as other people in their lives to handle difficulties, and really should just “get over it.”  They are comparing themselves to everyone around them and feeling like they are less than others.  Unfortunately, the comparison is so vastly inaccurate that we aren’t even talking apples to apples here, we are talking pancakes to jet engines.

Last October, Andrew Soloman presented his research at the TedXMed conference (www.ted.com/talks/andrew_solomon_depression_the_secret_we_share).  During his presentation, Soloman gave what I believe is the most accurate and detailed description of depression I have ever heard. In the speech, he talked about the delusion of depression, how someone with schizophrenia may be able to discern they are having a delusion, but a depression sufferer never does.  The belief that they are the worst version of themselves is indescribably painful and truthful for them.  How unfair it seems to compare that with someone who is simply sad or sleepy.

Depression is paralyzing and hopeless.  It offers no compassion for one’s self, no accuracy in perspective, and no light at the end of the tunnel.  Imagine a place so painful any form of movement hurt and you were guaranteed to stay there forever…that is depression.  Seen from that perspective we can see where suicide might rear it’s destructive head.  According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (www.afsp.org), a person commits suicide ever 14 minutes.  What a large number of people to be stuck in that endless tunnel.

Thankfully, we can treat depression because of the prevalence and vast amount of research.  Medication can be a guessing game that takes some time as well as motivation for change, something depressed clients must fight tooth and nail to muster.  Once medicated, clients are asked to stick to a regimen of taking the medications daily (which can be a hurdle) for six weeks before evaluating the effectiveness.  Some clients may notice a shift immediately while others will take a little longer.  Should that medicine prove unsuccessful, modifications are made.  This part of treatment can be tiring, but it’s the best we currently have…and worth sticking out.  Clients should be seeing a therapist at the same time to gain support, develop coping mechanisms, and start the healing process (making this time period significantly easier).

Once a client’s medication begins to kick in, they are at a good working level for other behavioral and cognitive modifications.  Cognitive behavioral therapy has been proven extremely effective for clients with depressive disorder.  Proper personalized nutrition, cardiovascular exercise, and cultivating a positive support system, are all behaviors that have been scientifically proven to significantly help in the treatment of major depressive disorder.  Adding to that, challenging cognitive distortions and inaccuracies allows us to really begin healing the mind.

Therapist and medical professionals work hard to find answers to this difficult puzzle.  We encourage our clients to be as honest and open about their suffering as possible so that we may help them stay safe as we walk out of the tunnel together.  Depression makes people feel alone, and one of the best things we can do for those who fight this disorder is to let them know that we will never give up on finding a way to beat the illness of depression.  There is hope, and we will work tirelessly to help them find that.

If you feel that you or someone you care for is in danger please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255.  Trained experts in suicide crisis and prevention are available to take your call.  At Noyau, we are here to fight along side you.