When two of R’s friends became addicted to drugs, she pretended that she was the soul of stability. Even her father, a psychiatrist, did not guess that she was anything but okay. Then, one morning, overwhelmed by the discovery that her parents were planning to get a divorce, she hurled a jug of juice through a window and admitted that she needed hospitalization.
Her diagnosis; depression, and she was 18 years old. Until then, she hadn’t really realized how sad she’d become. “For years I thought I was bad and that my life was a bad one,” she said. She is now almost 30 and a lawyer. “When I was a teenager, I did not have the same perspective that I have now. I was sure that my sad feelings would go away. I didn’t realize that I needed help.”
According to a report released in the Journal of the American Medical Association, more than 16% of Americans, that is almost 35 million people, will suffer from major depression in their lifetime. I would like to add that depression is a mental illness.
About two-thirds of those who suffer from this condition do not get the help that they need. Their condition affects them, as well as those who love them as well as their employers. Employing a depressed person can cost employers $4 a year in lost productivity.
Researchers say that the stigma still associated with the disease prevents most of those afflicted from seeking help.
Now anyone who reads my blogs know why I go on and on about stigma. To reduce stigma, a new exhibit at the new York Hall of Science in Queens, N.Y. shows people the inner working of the brain, a complicated process which, when it goes wrong, can result in mental illness.
At Brain; the world inside your head, visitors can compare the brains of humans, dogs and dogfish, view neurons from different sections of the brain, and learn how it allows us to accomplish things like staying balanced.
About a third of the exhibit is devoted to mental illness, offering explanations of Alzheimer’s disease, autism, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and learning disabilities, among others.
“We are trying to raise awareness,” says Dr. John Gillespie, medical director for the depression and anxiety disease-management team at the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which helped underwrite the exhibit.
I learned that healthy people can usually get back into the swing of things after a reasonable period of mourning or adaptation. When a person is clinically depressed, his or her ability to function physically and mentally are impaired for extended periods of several months or longer.
“The most common symptoms of depression are:”
- A feeling of emptiness, prolonged sadness and fear.
- Fatigue and lethargy.
- Lack of interest and pleasure from normal activities, including sexual relatiions.
- Sleep disorders including waking up early in the morning.
- Eating disorders that can lead to excessive weight gain or loss.
- Excessive weeping.
- Chronic pain.
- Absent-mindedness, difficulty remembering and making decisions.
- Fear of the future.
- Guilt feelings, a sense of helplessness, negative self image.
- Frequent bouts of irritability.
- Persistent thoughts of death or suicide; attempted suicide. “
He goes on to say that relatives, friends and workers from the health and social services should be on the alert for the appearance of these symptoms which may signal depression, particularly in older people. The symptoms vary from one person to another and are often concealed behind a smile.
People who live alone can easily hide feelings of despair or loneliness when someone comes to visit them or they visit a doctor, their spirits can be quickly raised by contact with another person and they manage to suppress the symptoms of depression for an hour or two. But, ignoring the warning signs can be fatal. Serious depression can lead to suicide.