Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Depression: It’s a Bummer (And Other Obvious Scientific Facts)

Update 2016: This article was featured in my book "Saying NO to Suicide", with added commentary.

As many of my regular readers know, I’m a full-time Dad who moonlights part time as a freelance artist. This usually means I’m fairly busy and never more so than these past few weeks. It seems that my daughters have conspired to make me feel my age. I simply don’t have enough energy to keep up with their active social life of performances, Irish step dancing competitions (feis), and community plays. Nevermind all the drama while we try to figure out their academic options for the Fall. It’s enough to drive me to depression.

Of course, I’ve learned long ago how to keep that black beastie at bay but I thought I’d share with you some links from the recent flurry of depression related news items I’ve come across lately.

First, my mind is still reeling from the latest amazing NIMH study, fresh from the labs of Mrs. Brisby: NIMH: Majority of suicides result of depression

Apparently, more than 90 percent of people who kill themselves have the diagnosable mental disorder called depression. Aside from me feeling slightly uncomfortable by seeing “mental disorder” and “depression” together, my first thoughts were “How do they know? Did they analyze the victims via séance?” Some may bristle at my black humor, but my mind is a sad, twisted wreck after years of unhappy thoughts. Honest. If it makes you feel happier about it you can blame President Bush.

Unfortunately, that’s not all I felt cheeky about. The article suggested that “family members should look for subtle behavioral changes if they suspect a loved one to be suicidal. For instance, giving away possessions or trying to resolve long-standing conflicts may be a sign that someone is preparing to die.” Heaven help the moody guy who decides to clean out his garage and make amends with his neighbors in the same week. His family will have him committed - especially if he suddenly shows an upswing in mood. The article warns this could be the energy he needs to end it all.

I realize that the article is as light as a cotton seed in the wind, but when one struggles with depression fluffy articles with simplistic advice can rub the wrong way. Or maybe I’m just cranky because it’s 95°F here in Utah, my minivan’s AC is broken, and therefore I’ve been driving around all day in an oven with four wheels.

The article ends with the following sagacious kernel of wisdom: “Depression becomes a handicapping condition when it interferes with daily life.” Do tell.

Why so flippant? Well, I find studies that announce obvious findings very funny and articles that ignorantly quote press releases even funnier. Is there really anybody out there that doesn’t already understand that a person who committed suicide was suffering from depression? Do well adjusted individuals kill themselves? No. The problem is that family members are often unaware their loved one was suffering. I had a friend whose father committed suicide. She was forever changed. It was my friendship with her that influenced me years later when I struggled with suicidal tendencies myself. I remembered how her father’s death hurt her. I loved my family too much to do the same. (Thank you, Anne)

As proof that the NIMH study is self-evident, here’s a link to an Australian article about fighting depression in the Bush. Of course, I was in an irreverent mood by that point, so when I read that Australian “research showed that a male farmer commits suicide every four days” I wondered how the farmer managed to commit suicide so often.

More seriously, I enjoyed an article at the Washington Post about dealing with depression. Here was advice that wasn’t fluffy: Don’t suffer alone. I can attest to the fact that suffering in silence aides depression, gives it weight, and helps it smother. Nowadays, I let my wife know when I am depressed. I let my kids know, too. I get lots of free hugs that way. Sure beats being a maudlin cynic. Ages ago I used to sing the refrain “nobody loves me” to some long forgotten tune. I’d just break out into song when I was feeling down and sorry for myself. One day when my oldest daughter was about three or four she suddenly piped up “*I* love you!” From then on I was denied that avenue of self-pity. Any time my mind absentmindedly spun and let slip that “song” I would be harrangued by a chorus of “I love you”, especially when my second daughter got into it as well. Eventually, it became a game before I stopped doing it entirely. Definitely do not suffer alone. Let your loved ones help buoy your spirits whenever possible.

Moving on, I don’t even want to touch California’s “Prescription for Death” bill. It failed to pass the California State Senate Judiciary Committee today. I empathize with the plight of the terminally ill, but I have to admit feeling abject horror at the thought of giving a doctor permission to kill me considering my experience with them.

So let’s end on a cheery note. Apparently, all the rain on the East Coast has the weather system there in a funk. There’s a chance a tropical depression could form south of the Carolinas. It will probably take a lot more than happy thoughts to cause that “mood” to dissipate. May I suggest brightly colored umbrellas?