Friday, December 27, 2013

You, Me, and Depression Make Three.

On a Saturday in December a 19 year old kid hanged himself in his a garage.  By all accounts, he was a happy teenager, with a sparkling personality, loving parents and siblings, and tons of friends.  I didn't know him, but I do know his struggle...

Recently, on social media, I have come across some rather disheartening opinions and comments about depression and suicide.

And it's made me want to reach out in any way that I can-- so here is this blog.  It won't reach many people, but it may reach some.

There's a video circulating--a TED talk that's pretty insightful, and I'd definitely suggest you watch it if you have a minute.  (Find it here).  It's got some great insight about the way in which depression is taboo in our society-- many people don't understand it, are scared of it, or are embarrassed by it.

The embarrassment, I think, comes from a lack of knowledge or understanding about depression-- those who don't have it don't understand it (why can't this person just cheer up and make him or herself feel better like I do when I'm sad?), and those who do have it don't understand it (why can't I just feel better?), and the lack of understanding and sympathy/compassion just goes from there.

WebMD lists several causes of depression-- 
  • Abuse. Past physical, sexual, or emotional abuse can cause depression later in life.
  • Certain medications. For example, some drugs used to treat high blood pressure, such as beta-blockers or reserpine, can increase your risk of depression.
  • Conflict. Depression may result from personal conflicts or disputes with family members or friends.
  • Death or a loss. Sadness or grief from the death or loss of a loved one, though natural, can also increase the risk of depression.
  • Genetics. A family history of depression may increase the risk. It's thought that depression is passed genetically from one generation to the next. The exact way this happens, though, is not known.
  • Major events. Even good events such as starting a new job, graduating, or getting married can lead to depression. So can moving, losing a job or income, getting divorced, or retiring.
  • Other personal problems. Problems such as social isolation due to other mental illnesses or being cast out of a family or social group can lead to depression.
  • Serious illnesses. Sometimes depression co-exists with a major illness or is a reaction to the illness.
  • Substance abuse. Nearly 30% of people with substance abuse problems also have major or clinical depression.

For the most part, I think most of us can understand many of these types of depression.  It doesn't seem abnormal for someone who is ill or who has experienced a major life event or conflict to be depressed.  It's certainly not unusual for someone who has lost a loved one to become depressed.

But, the cause I'd like to focus on is Genetics-- how depression can be passed from generation to generation, though no one really knows how or why.  This is the type of depression I want to talk about-- why?  Well, because it's the type of depression from which I suffer.

In his TED talk, Kevin Breel talks about the kind of depression that isn't "normal" to those who have never lived with depression.  To society, it's normal to be depressed when someone dies, or if we don't get a promotion at work, or when we perform poorly on an exam in school. But, there's another type of depression that is completely stigmatized in society: the "I'm depressed for no reason," depression.  This is the type of depression where everything in your life is fine-- or good, or fantastic--and you're still depressed.

So many times people will ask 'Why?  Why are you depressed?'  And a lot of times?  There is no 'reason.'  I just am.

This is the type of depression I have struggled with my entire life. Or, at least, for a very, very long time.  Even when there has been nothing wrong in my life, I have gone through times where it has been really hard for me to even get out of bed.

In face-to-face conversation, on Facebook, on Twitter, on blogs, I have seen so many people belittle depression-- they say it's for the weak, for people who just don't know how to move on, that they could get over it if they really wanted.  

People have expressed to me on numerous occasions that they don't really get depression.  

And, now, it's time for me to tell you that you're talking about me when you say these things-- and you always have been.

I'm not weak, I know how to move on, and let me tell you that there is nothing I'd rather do than "just get over it" when I'm depressive. And, yeah, I don't really get depression, either.  

Or, there's the question: how did his/her family and friends not know that this person was depressed enough to take his/her own life?

We always think we know what depression looks like.  It's the sad person, standing off from the crowd.  It's the person who never smiles, who never quite looks you in the eye.  Yes, sometimes, this is what depression looks like.  But, also, and often, depression also looks like the person who is always cracking jokes, who seems to be fairly comfortable in his or her own skin, the one smiling genuinely and looking you straight in the eye.  So, there's the question: how did you not know?

And the answer goes something like this:  When you're a depressed person, you often become very adept at hiding it.  A lot of this probably has to do with the way depression is treated in this society--as something only for the weak, as weakness in general.

And when I hear this--when I hear that people question how no one saw that someone who committed suicide was depressed--I think of myself.  I think of myself in high school (particularly around my senior year), and of myself in college (end of my junior year), and how no one really knew just how depressed I was.  

In college, my poetry teacher gave me a nickname-- "Happy."  And sometimes, I thought about killing myself.

Depression isn't weakness.  It's another way of being-- and until we stop perpetuating these stereotypes, people are going to be too scared and too embarrassed to seek the help that they actually need, or just talk about it in general.

So many times in my life I've been told what a bright personality I have, or how funny I am, or that I bring a sense of light to a situation-- and so many of those times I've been depressive, thinking about suicide, or not really caring whether I lived or died. And no one knew.  

And, as long as you go around perpetuating the stereotype that there is something wrong with being depressed, or with depressed people, I hate to break it to you, but you're part of the problem.

Yes, I am lucky, I am bound to amazing people in my life (my parents) who have always [sometimes unbeknownst even to them] pulled me back from those dark thoughts--and how thankful I am for them.

So, instead of attacking the depressed, or people who commit suicide, and their families for "not knowing," why don't we actively try to create a discourse?  To find ways of talking about depression in language that isn't hurtful or minimizing?  Don't judge-- instead, do your part to create a safe space, and a safe society so that people who suffer from depression (and believe me, we do suffer) can maybe take steps to get better without feeling embarrassed.


  1. Having suffered from depression (likely related to my eating disorder), in my teen years, I did alot of research on vitamin deficiencies and what it meant to brain functions. This is something that I believe so strongly about now as an adult. I can feel myself get into funks and usually a little B12 or vitamin D is able to pull me out. I was given different meds when I was younger, but I found that they just made it worse for me. It was like already being in a hole and then someone tossing some fresh water or food down. I was still in the hole but now not uncomfortable enough to dig myself out, thus making it harder to get out of the hole.

    I realize that vitamins deficiencies are not the answer for everyone suffering with depression, but I do think that it is worth people looking into. I listened to this story on NPR recently about our food quality and how void of vitamins/minerals our produce and grains are compared to just even 30 years ago. Also, how cases of mental illness have sky rocketed since then. Studies have shown and people hypothesize that our food quality is a direct correlation to our increase in mental illness. On the opposite of the spectrum, places like Denmark being one of the happiest places to live, also has some of the highest food quality. Interesting stuff! It facsinates me to no end. It frustrates me though, because here in the US, our food is so awful and watered down and when someone has an issue with mental illness, the first thing a doctor does is prescribes them a chemical that simply acts like a bandage. I am not knocking all meds either, we all need to do what makes us feel better, I just wish that more people would talk about the roots of the issues. I think that if we had more dialogue about this sort of thing, mental illness would be an easier pill to swallow and not so taboo.

    1. Hey, Nikol! Yeah, a lot of people consider diet an issue, and I definitely think it works for some people. For me, even when I was at my healthiest and exercising regularly and eating properly, I still suffered from depression. I take a daily supplement, and that doesn't seem to help--even supplementing with a Vitamin D 2,000mg doesn't do the trick. But for some people, that's all it takes.

      The idea about medication being a bandage is very interesting, and is maybe sometimes the case as well. However, they do believe that in some people, depression is caused by a serotonin imbalance in the brain (at least, some physicians believe this), and that is what some prescription medications strive to remedy. It's not always just a bandage, sometimes it does heal--not sure whether alone, or in conjunction with something we aren't necessarily aware of. For instance, my mom took Wellbutrin for awhile, many years ago (I'm not sure how long she took it), and it kind of fixed the problem for her, she hasn't been that depressed since then. I'm not sure what serotonin levels and diet have in common, if anything. I think, in my opinion, it's a case of 'different strokes for different folks.' There's not going to be a cure-all for all types of depression. Some people respond to diet, some to medication, some to both, some to neither. It's about finding what works for each individual, and not criticizing or minimizing the pain depressive people feel, for whatever reason they feel that.

      Thanks so much for sharing, and for your input--they're both much appreciated! :)

    2. I should have elaborated more on the bandage comment. I hope it did not come off as insensitive. When I talk about those meds being a bandage, I mean that they do not fix the issue, they help the symptoms of depression, but they do not heal anything. Sometimes it even makes things worse because they are known to increase suicidal thoughts. SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), target serotonin and help the body produce it, but what ends up happening, is that the body begins to rely solely on the meds to create the serotonin. The body eventually stops making its own, so the person is unable to ever really get off the meds without serious side effects and awful withdrawal symptoms. My mom has been on Paxil, which is an SSRI for as long as I can remember, and I recall a few incidents where she either left her meds at home or ran out before she was able to refill them and her mood turned extremely scary. She fell into a deeper hole than she was before the Paxil. She is now a forever customer of this drug, these chemicals that are pushed by big pharma companies. I wish that I had been old enough and more informed to find her other options to try and solve the issues within her.

      Wellbutrin is a little different type of anti-depressent, (an atypical antidepressant.) Those work a little differently because they block certain neurotransmitters that cause people to be depressed. These types of anti-depressents are usually not as dangerous when the user stops using either.

      I agree that we each have to find what works and I would never knock a person for using these sorts of meds. Our mental and physical state is deeply personal, so it is not for me to make judgments. I have seen first-hand the pain that mental illness has caused. My mother and her mother, both suffer(ed) with mental illness and because of that (and my constant fear that I might fall down the same path), I am always researching herbs, vitamins and homeopathic remedies for everything. Marijuana is something that I feel strongly about, within moderation like everything else of course. But it has helped me in many ways. It helps with my sleeping, with my anxiety and when I have cramps... it helps with that too. I do not use it every day, and I only use it when I know that I am home for the night, but it is something that I trust more than any medication because there is only one ingredient is it and I know that it's organic. (Not saying that every crop is, but my mom and step-father farm it organically up in Humboldt.) This is of course, my own view on it and I realize that alot of people still view it as taboo, but it's my sort of medication. I have used it on and off for 16 years and I have never suffered any withdrawals from it either. Again though, this is not always the case, and I understand that. :)

      I have to tell myself that there is a cure that comes from nature for mental illness because I can not imagine that we, as organic beings, do not have everything for our ailments right here on this planet. On the other hand, as organic beings with the emotional depth that we have, I also believe that periods of depression are completely normal. We have such a range of emotions but I believe that culturally, we have been taught to reign in and control them. Not saying that being sad or depressed is ideal but it certainly is normal to feel that way sometimes. Seems like as humans, we experience the highs of elation and joy, why not experience the lows too? In my opinion, the lows can be just as significant as the highs. Some of my best paintings have been painted at the most lowest points in my life. And like any highs and lows, we are able to take away knowledge and become more self-aware after we re-group and reflect on them. (Ok, I should put down the bong, because I can seriously go on and on.)

      Sometimes I wish that I had continued with my original path of majoring in Behavior Science. This stuff fascinates me. I love the honesty in your blogs. Very refreshing!