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,
THE GOOD NEWS
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
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
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
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
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 themselves....as
a result, at some point, people just start caving
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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