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College Students and Depression

With three kids in college, all of whom have a chronically depressed parent, any information about college students and depression catches my eye.

An article in the September NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) newsletter addresses this issue – you can read it at Freshman Year: Blues are the New Black

The author, C. O’Toole, recalls a freshman year experience with severe depression and anxiety, which led to leaving university for intensive treatment.

O’Toole relates an inability to reach out for help; to even recognize that help was needed. Too many students don’t know how to plug into campus health centers, don’t feel comfortable asking for help, or don’t realize they need help. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2011, the American College Health Association–National College Health Assessment found that about 30 percent of college students reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function” at some time in the past year.

In light of these numbers, it’s important that parents discuss the possibility of depression with their college-bound kids before they head off to school. If depression is known to exist in the family, this discussion becomes absolutely vital. Conversations should include depression symptoms to watch for, resources they’ll have available to them once they get to school, and regularly scheduled check-ins with trusted friends or family who can recognize changes in mood or behavior. That doesn’t imply the need for helicopter parenting – merely vigilance and preparation.

Our children are worth the effort.

Supermarkets and Stigma

We don’t all know what it’s like to be in a minority group. We don’t all know what it’s like to have a disability. We don’t all know what it’s like to have a given illness.

But we can try to imagine what others are going through; try to put ourselves in their shoes. It’s called empathy. It’s what causes us to have sensitivity and concern when words or actions harm any person or group of people.

Today Mummy Kindness wrote in her post, Supermarkets and Stigma, about a very specific and very public instance this week in which an online merchant displayed a damaging lack of empathy toward people with brain illnesses. If you’ve ever had a twinge of pain over disparaging words that contribute to the stigma of brain illness, I hope you’ll take a moment to read it. It’s well worth your time.


Depression + Aging = What Do I Do Now?


Care giving for someone who is depressed and who also is aging is indeed difficult.  Depression alone reeks havoc on a person’s mind and emotions.  Add the specter of aging and things really can go amuck. 

Depression can cause a person to question his or her life and wonder what could have been done differently.  Or they can bemoan the fact that they didn’t accomplish anything and because of depression, did not become all they wished to have become.  

Add aging to that and those thoughts are further complicated by thinking about the years that are left. Often they don’t see it as a positive experience and instead bemoan that there is so little time left and that death will mean being alone and unloved.

And as different abilities change or disappear, the depressed one who is aging will often think in terms of only the loss – I don’t have the balance I once had; I can’t get up and down like I used to; I can’t run anymore. It is a dismal picture that is painted.    

The non-depressed aging person on the other hand might look to acknowledging the loss but moving on to addressing how things have to change. I don’t have the balance I once had but I can practice and improve the balance I do have. I might not be able to get up and down like I used to but signing up for the yoga class might be able to help me do better in that regard. I can’t run but if I use the treadmill and walk in my neighborhood, I bet I could work up my speed.   

So much of depression is something that cannot be controlled entirely.  But there are opportunities for depressed individuals to approach certain situations with a good attitude.  This is so important when you add aging to the mix.  As care givers we need to remind the depressed individual that there are alternatives, that doors can be opened to new ways of doing things no matter our age. 

When we attempt this approach, we might not see a change in behavior very often but when it does happen, it is good for the depressed person and the caregiver as well.  And sometimes even growing old doesn’t appear so scary. 

– Bernadette

Power to Me!

If being centered on oneself is one of the hallmarks of depression, I would have to say that our country is depressed because of the following.

We want to undo the Health Care Act, keeping many people from affordable health care because we are either misinformed, have listened to scare tactics from the far right, or feel that “if I pay for my health care, certainly other people can do the same.”   By doing so we also are able to keep people with brain illnesses from getting the help that they need.

We complain about the shootings that have become a part of our daily lives, but we refuse to fund something that would help those with brain illness or other challenges from receiving help. We want instead to “protect” ourselves with guns because we have the “right” to bear arms.  We don’t want to “protect” our fellow citizens from the dread of depression and the dark night of the soul.

Our Middle Schoolers in Congress play the games that will get them the adulation of their constituents but not the admiration of the people who are in need of good health care, food to feed their families, and information that would keep so many corporations from getting away with murder in a slow, methodical process of playing the political game for gain. “Shut the government down.  We congress people won’t suffer.  Our constituents will but that’s okay.  We can’t let the “other” side win.”  Too many elected officials exhibit the same self centeredness of the people they work for.

When did we get to be such a Me Centered Nation?  Did we slip into this depression slowly or did we not see the millions of people who are suffering from and living with someone who struggles with mental illness?   As the Medieval poet, Marie de France said, “The rich are never threatened by the poor….they never notice them.”

If we don’t face depression and are comfortably secure, we don’t notice the depressed that we work with day in and day out. We look the other way when we suspect that something is amiss with a family member.  We choose not to see the mentally ill in our society because it will cause us to be uncomfortable and it will call us to have to do something.  And God knows, we don’t want to do anything that would disturb our comfort.

I say more power to the Me-Centered people.  I only hope that when we die, we are not judged by the axiom, “love your neighbor as yourself.”


Anger, Irritability, and Depression

From the “welcome to my world” department:

An article this week from Health Day News reports that people with major depressive episodes tend to experience anger and irritability. This correlation is more pronounced in patients with chronic and long-term depression. To this news I say, “Duh.”

My husband has lived with depression since he was in high school. The illness wasn’t diagnosed until it hit the crisis point when he was in his early 30’s. For more than 20 years since then, he’s had good times that sometimes lasted years, and indescribable down times that also can last years.

One of the signs that a bad time is on its way (or that it’s settled in to stay for awhile) is intense irritability. Any little normal, everyday thing is cause for an argument, harsh words, or an accusation that the world is ganging up on him. The connection between his irritability and anger and a (more) depressive time is so strong that I’ve learned to say, “I know what this is about for you, and it’s not the fact that the kids are playing music and two people are talking to each other in the same room as you. It’s depression taking control again. Let’s talk about what we’re going to do about it.”

Calling depression what it is doesn’t necessarily create a miraculous recovery. But naming it does help me separate the mean and grumpy person my husband suddenly becomes due to depression from the kind, generous person he is when he’s healthy.

It doesn’t make everything better, but it can help me hang on one more time.


Not AGAIN????

baby jpg

Yes, another shooting.  And yes, they say, the shooter was mentally ill. And yes, guns don’t kill, only people who are mentally ill kill people.  The ease of ownership and use of guns doesn’t play a role.  The lack of good assistance for the mentally ill isn’t a factor and certainly post traumatic stress and its lack of recognition and treatment don’t factor in.   

Simone Weil, a French philosopher and Christian mystic,  wrote, “I suffer more from the humiliations inflicted by my country than from those inflicted on her.”  I too am embarrassed that our country solves its problems often with guns and violence.  I am saddened beyond belief that we often blame the mentally ill, and, even in those instances where the illness does play a part, we fail to help or change the system.  And it tears me apart that week after week, month after month, these episodes happen and we express shock, rage, anger and then we do nothing.  We do nothing to change the system, we do nothing to address the enormouse presence of guns in our society, we do nothing to discover other ways of solving our problems.  

Yes, there was another shooting.  Yes, the shooter was mentally ill.  Now, let’s do something so it doesn’t happen again. 


A Word of Caution


We have all done it.  We’ve received a prescription from the doctor and with just a casual glance, have thrown out (or hopefully recycled) the information sheets from the pharmacy.  We know what the medication is supposed to do.  We are not worried.  

Guess what?  Those sheets need to be read thoroughly for the safety of your loved one and for yourself.  

The past five days have been a huge struggle in our household.  My loved one talked of a hopelessly empty feeling inside, one he hadn’t felt before.  He complained of his body twitching.  And he had thoughts of suicide because everything seemed so very, very empty.  

Needless to say, we did a lot of talking together.  During one of these conversations, he said that he just remembered that he had not taken his lamotrigine (also known as lamictal) for about four days as he had run out and had forgotten to get it refilled.

This particular drug can, on sudden withdrawal, cause convulsions, thoughts of suicide, hostility, anger and uncontrolled spasms in the body.  It also has a black box warning (such a warning points out significant concerns about the drug) that I don’t believe the pharmacist or psychopharmacologist pointed out to us.

The next move was a call to said doctor with an explanation of what was going on.  He promptly called in a prescription to be filled immediately and with instructions for a face to face meeting later in the week.  Almost immediately, things began to change.  The feeling of emptiness began to lift, the twitches settled, and my loved one was well enough to go out and join friends for a night of football and conversation. 

I’m not so sure the miracle was in the drug but rather in the feeling that this emptiness was able to be addressed and controlled, that the craziness of the past days was not another hurdle to be met but rather controllable and even erasable.  

So, my friends, read those circulars, question your doctor, find out about the drugs you put in your body or the drugs your loved one takes.  Most caregivers don’t know all the medications taken by their depressed loved one.  Make it a point to learn about at least one of them today.

– Bernadette