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by Joan-Marie Moss

If you're not suffering from depression yourself, chances are that anywhere from 15 to 50 of every hundred people you know are. It is an insidious illness that sucks an individual further and further into a state of "impotence" and at the same time impacts the well-being of everyone who comes in contact with him/her. The numbers offered here are somewhat ambiguous because depression is only recently recognized as a real illness and not a figment of one's imagination.

Diane, who has been suffering from depression for more than eleven years, is one of those who are willing to talk about her illness. She says, "Most people are still very much surprised that I admit and am willing to talk openly about my depression. There is still a stigma associated with the disease. People still don't understand." For this reason, we won't use real names in this article although the people who shared their stories are very real.

Incidences of this illness are staggering. An estimated 10-14 million Americans suffer from depression, according to a recent article in the Alliance for the Mentally Ill publication. Other estimates range as high as 35-40 million.

No one is immune from an attack of depression. Keep in mind that everyone feels "down" or "blue" at times. That's normal.  But it's been estimated that 26 out of 100 women and 12 out of every 100 men will have a major depressive episode at least once in their lives. For creative individuals the estimate increases to 38 out of 100.

Statistics can be deceiving and any attempt to quantify this disease could be challenged. Particularly since, according to the Alliance for Mentally Ill, we're talking about those who are only now beginning to and seek help -- 80 % of those suffering >been institutionalized for depression and bi-polar disorder. Another study performed in the 80's showed that more creative people suffered from emotional strife synonymous with certain neurosis. (Time-Life Books, 1992)


Although the problem appears to be hopeless, there is good news. If you're going to have an illness, you want it to be depression. It's the most easily treatable.

The afflicted needs to work at getting back in balance. Professional counseling, support groups and the medical profession are learning to work together to speed recovery.

The medication is a critical aspect of treatment. The new drugs are marvelous even with the occasional discomfort of side effects. They work to re-balance the synapses that are responsible for the transmission of brain impulses.

Social workers and psychiatrists, too are much more skilled at identifying symptoms today than ever. Group counseling, support groups and crisis lines are more accessible. There's help and information out there for those who have the courage and determination to find it.

Much of the work, says Barbara Hayes, a licensed clinical social worker who oversees a 12-session group that's been running throughout the summer at Family Service DuPage, focuses on teaching cognitive reasoning techniques. Those who participate in this therapy learn to evaluate the validity of their thought processes and to recognize distorted thinking patterns. Then they learn to restructure their thought processes more positively and realistically. It's a sort of de- programming that allows individuals to discover that there are other ways to look at one's life experiences. Hayes has found this kind of therapy most productive when participants have the appropriate medical support. She assures her patients that "using medication is not wimping out." Trying to pull yourself out of depression without the proper medical attention just doesn't work, she says. It's like a diabetic telling his pancreas to shoot insulin into his system, she says.

Unfortunately current health care programs, both private insurance and public aid, put unrealistic limits on treatment. All too often they cut short coverage long before the patient is able to cope without the medication and psychological support. When this happens they "hamstring the health care providers," said Rose. It's not at all uncommon for these programs to cut off the payment for medication and counseling sessions just about the time a patient starts to show some progress and before the patient is sufficiently recovered. The only recourse in cases like that, short of going "cold turkey", is to get on a waiting list for services that are offered on a sliding scale fee. All too often the patient is not financially able to handle that.

Fortunately it's the patient who does the real work of recovery. Those who discover that they control of their own destiny have the greatest hope of recovery. They can then learn how to maintain balance in their lives and their habits. They practice being less compulsive nurturers. They begin to trust themselves and be a bit more open with others. They learn to maintain a childlike attitude of gratitude and wonderment. And, they learn to be less sensitive to outside turmoil.

One of the key ingredients to healing lies in getting away from introspection and self-centeredness and to reach out to others. Those who have been afflicted and have made the most progress typically have found ways to give of themselves to others less fortunate or to share their unique talents with the community...the challenge being that a person who is severely depressed has great difficulty breaking through his/her feelings
of isolation.

One group of women developed a phone network that they said was particularly helpful. One of the women is dealing with a pregnant teenager, another with a financial problems, a third with the death of a mother and a fourth with an overbearing aging mother. These women discovered that being able to pick up the phone and connect with someone who they knew would understand helped to speed recovery. In short order, often a matter of minutes, they managed to break the downward spiral of day-to-day crises. These calls provided the ladies a life-line that they turn to before the crisis could escalate. Most often within a very few minutes, they found they could put the experience into perspective and they'd find themselves laughing. And therein they found a cure, because you simply can't be depressed and laugh at the same time.

Dr. Russo's findings confirm that depression is indeed a multi- factorial disease that encompasses genetic, biological and environmental factors. He voices the concerns of many when he says, "The reason that depression is so pervasive is that society is losing its sense of security and moral fiber in both the family and in the community. As it's losing its fiber we're losing our sense of purpose and personal value. At the same time we need to look at the spiritual component that gives us a sense of wholeness and peace when looking for solutions."

Those who understand depression agree, with Heddi, "I need people, but I need people that I can be myself with. And, I need to find a way to make sense out of the madness I face every day I walk out my front door. When things get off balance, I need to make some changes. Alone I can't do it."

NOTE: Although most of the quotes here are those of women, the situation is far from a woman's problem. Women are simply more susceptible to depression. "Role strain is a factor, according to Barbara Hayes. "We are more aware of depression than we were in the past, but there are more stresses in society today for women to fulfill multiple roles. They make very heavy demands upon themselves. Women traditionally are the nurturers and very often in the process of nurturing others they forget to nurture a result, at some point, people just start caving in."

The experts tell us that women today suffer twice as much depression as men. While one in four women can expect to develop depression during their lifetime, one in eight men can, too.


JOAN-MARIE MOSS is a non-fiction author published in both national and regional markets. She specializes in business communications and public relations for businesses and professionals. She serves as consultant and communications/public relations specialist offering a full range of services from writing to desktop publishing and public speaking. Joan-Marie teaches Business Writing, Copy editing and Public Relations at Oakton Community college and has been guest speaker on WWCN and WDCB Radio. She currently writes for the Daily Herald and Press Publications, and is working on her second book.

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