Depression can be a debilitating condition that affects people differently. My clients each describe it uniquely, saying:
- It's the insidious "It" that zaps all energy & motivation
- It's the vast emptiness that chokes you into seclusion
- It's a place where hopelessness thrives and dreams die
- It's a dark closet filled with loss & sadness
- It's a mirror reflecting shame, guilt and regret
- It's the restlessness that keeps you running
- It's the bad cousin wrecking your family
- It's the itch of being in your own skin
- It's an unbearable existence of being dead while alive
This can be the darkness of depression -- a serious condition that requires treatment. Yet it's a health condition that remains in the closet.
If you or someone you know experienced a heart attack, you realize that this may be a dangerous health condition. Well, think of moderate-to-severe depression as the "Heart Attack of the Mind." If not clinically treated, it can destroy all in its path. It's fierce. At its best it can cause people to suffer greatly and function poorly, and at its worse it can lead to suicide. Estimates by the World Health Organization indicate that more than 800,000 people die from suicide each year.
"Think of Depression as the Heart Attack of the Mind"
The CDC reports that – if not effectively treated – depression is likely to lapse into a chronic disease because “just experiencing one episode of depression places the individual at a 50% risk for experiencing another, with subsequent episodes raising the likelihood of experiencing more episodes in the future."
Depression is bio-psychological condition that affects roughly 7.6% of Americans age 12 and older. It’s more than just getting the occasional blues. It's a distressful emotional state that can hobble our abilities to function at home, work, school and in personal relationships.
Barriers to Getting Help
Despite its telltale signs of impairing day-to-day functioning, depression often goes unrecognized and untreated. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that depression is often misconstrued as a sign of weakness. There is stigma associated with depression, and other mental illnesses. No one wants to own a mental condition, so depression is dismissed, ignored or denied by self and others.
But the truth is that depression is an illness, not a definition of character. When we get the flu or are ill from a health condition like diabetes or heart disease, we generally say, “I am sick right now.” Sickness is something that happens to us -- it does not define us. Since depression is an illness, we may consider it the same way, and get the treatment needed to reduce, manage or eliminate its symptoms.
"Sickness is Something That Happens to Us. It Does Not Define Us."
Like many illnesses, depression is treatable. Specific therapy techniques have proven very effective in the treatment of depression. In addition, medications can also be effective. Clients who have depression can learn about the pros and cons of different treatments methods and decide what is best for them.
Some people prefer psychotherapy only, others combine prescription medication with psychotherapy, while some prefer just to use prescription drugs. A qualified physician can discuss prescription options, and a licensed therapist can discuss therapeutic approaches that are effective in treating depression. Therapists and physicians often work together to coordinate care, treating both the mind and body simultaneously, since the mind can affect the body and the body can affect the mind.
The Paradox of Seeking Treatment
People don't choose to be sick, but lifestyle choices can contribute to morbidity and mortality. The values about how we want to live often parallels our health. We know a life-long diet of chicharones and manteca-laden beans may equal coronary heart disease, just as a lifestyle of exercise and lean eating may sustain health. And likewise, we understand that how we deal with illness -- our actions or inactions -- can affect the course of disease.
Yet for the person suffering from depression, choices are not as freely made. Getting treatment can be complicated by the disease itself. Energy and effort are usually flatlined for people with depression. So even if a depressed person wanted to get better and see a therapist or a doctor, their motivation to do so may be held hostage by depression. Further complicating matters is the stigma associated with depression, thus impeding their ability to get treatment.
These are some of the real barriers my clients faced in getting treatment. And yet somehow they were able to navigate these road blocks, and ultimately get help. One of the tools they used to break thru this inertia was anchoring. That is, they anchored themselves to a previous time in their life when they overcame difficult life challenges. Accessing this inner strength allowed them to find the resources needed to seek and be open to treatment.
Essentially, my clients outed "The D Word," a most courageous act considering society's view of depression. They came to understand there is no shame in the universal feeling of pain. And thus began their Therapy Trek of healing.
Just "Do It" Can Be a Difficult Choice
If the Nike slogan of "Just Do It" worked for everyone, perhaps there would be more people getting help for depression. Life is not so simple, and often times there are no easy solutions -- just difficult choices. Yet through choices, hope and change can emerge.
What are your thoughts about "outing" the D Word?