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Depression: We need to talk about it.

Yesterday on my other blog I wrote about an encounter I’d had while getting my hair cut (one of my least favorite things to do), which included talking about depression (not exactly my most favorite thing to do, but it’s important).

It may seem odd that five minutes after meeting someone at the corner Great Clips you’d find out about their husband’s suicide and their own subsequent depression. But after living with, writing about, and presenting about depression for so many years I don’t find it odd any more. Depression is out there. All the time. Everywhere. You don’t have to look far to find it.

What’s harder to find, though, is people who are willing to talk about it. That’s why Bern and I make a point of bringing the subject up casually in everyday conversation. We figure the more people talk, the less stigmatized people will feel, and the more chance people have to get better. 

The hair stylist yesterday shared about her husband’s suicide. She told me about her feelings afterward, and how her family tries to cope now. What she didn’t say was that her husband had been depressed. So I said it for her:

“Depression is a terrible, cruel illness,” I said. 

She stopped working and looked at me for a moment in the mirror. I could see the relief on her face.

“Yes,” she said. “Depression is terrible.” 

We’d named it. And then she kept sharing. 

We need to talk about it.


Doctors, Nurses and Depression



Recently my husband was hospitalized for a drug interaction. A simple prescription for flexerol for a back ailment combined with his depression and diabetic medication caused episodes mimicking stroke and seizure. During the time of resolution during which numerous tests were performed, I had a lot of time to observe and talk with the medical personnel.

One of the observations that took place was the job was often a thankless one, filled with cranky patients and heavy requests. What an opening for depression! And shortly after we ended the hospital stay, I came to find out that doctors and nurses have higher instances of depression and suicide than other professions. And it boils down to some situations that are difficult to escape in their jobs.

First of all they are asked (nurses especially) to do an awful lot. Not only do they deal with many patients but they have to make sure that everyone else is doing the job they are supposed to do.

On top of that, nurses especially see the patients when not even a loving spouse or friend would like to be around the ailing one. The patient is cranky and angry and often assumes the nurse is incompetent and complains that this type of treatment would never happen elsewhere.

And then you have the undeniable fact that a portion of the people they care for die, often under their care. The second guessing and the blame shouldered by the doctor or nurse can sometimes become unbearable and difficult to see as not being their responsibility.

All this opens the door to depression. It might start subtly like that extra drink or two after work or taking a sleeping aid. And then it escalates with mood swings and calls to cancel a shift assignment. A lot of people might see that as the person not being a team player or someone who “can’t hold their alcohol” or just a plain bitch. Few people think that it might be depression that is rearing its ugly head.

Doctors and nurses are at higher risk of suicide and many car accidents, drug or alcohol overdoses are written off as “accidents” and not seen as what they often are – suicide because the depression got to be too much to handle alone.

So if you observe these symptoms in a fellow worker or even in your own family doctor, don’t hesitate to say something.   Keeping each other healthy is the best thing we can do for one another.

– Bernadette

The Far Reaches of Dating Violence




Rehtaeh Parsons. You can look at the three links provided, search further on the inbternet, and draw your own conclusions. For me the story brings home the following:

-Dating violence is often overlooked and people know little or nothing about it.

-Rape has far-reaching effects long after the act is completed.

-A good number of the victims are high school or college age.

-Understanding rape and dating violence is a sadly neglected support area.

-Support following rape or dating violence is often non-existent or the victim is looked upon as “asking for it” or a “slut who deserved it.”

-Rape often leads to depression and suicide, with even more victims as result.

-None of this should occur in a caring, supportive society.

Rehtaeh Parsons. Rest in peace.

And if you want to do something to help young people learn healthy dating practices, check out


Depression, Suicide, and Aging – Not a Love Story

Recently in the Times-Tribune of Scranton, Pennsylvania there was an article by Kathy Wallace, a suicide prevention specialist.  An official from a local hospital, Lehigh Valley, described the murder-suicide of an elderly couple as “a love story.”  Ms. Wallace took them to task and rightly so because, in her words, “this is an injustice to everyone who has lost someone to suicide.  We don’t know the people involved and they may have loved each other very much but it is still wrong to romanticize this terribly sad tragedy

However, we as a society too often romanticize people ending their lives.  Whether it is Romeo and Juliet or the couple from West Side Story, the act is not one of love but rather one of tragedy.  How can we get into the minds of someone who commits suicide?  We don’t know what went into their decision to end their life.  We do know, though, that it is not weak character or a selfish decision that causes suicide but rather a brain that has undergone changes due to depression or other mental illness.  The brain tells these individual who are in a great deal of psychological pain that suicide is the only choice

And so looking at this elderly couple, were they alone in life or did they have a family?  Were they aware of the decision they made or was the decision compromised by an already existing depression in one or the other?  Did they both see this as the only way to stop the pain?

We know that older adults are at higher risk of suicide but it is not always or only because of all the losses older adults face.  Increasing the risk is the inability of others to identify and then give appropriate care to depressed older people.  Thus the rate of suicide in the elderly only increases.

Loss is a given as we age.  There are many small and large losses that cause extreme sadness and grief.  Sleep disturbances, mood swings and other signs of physical and emotional illness might be part of aging but these same signs could be symptoms of depression.  . Older adults can go through sleep disturbances, mood swings, and other signs of physical and emotional aging, but these signs could also be symptoms of depression.

Ms. Wallace urges in her article that “if you see unusual changes or know that family members or friends are going through serious loss, isolating themselves, or stating a perception of themselves as being a burden, please ask them how they are coping. Physicians, please ask your older patients a few simple questions during their visits about how they are doing emotionally. It could stop a tragedy.”

Amen, sister!


Suicide – No Judgment, No Guilt, No Blame

Not long ago I read a piece about suicide, which focused on the emotions of those left behind.  I’m thankful this is not an experience I’ve had to live through,.  And because I haven’t had this experience, I can’t say for sure how I would feel if I were in those shoes.  But here is an important statement Bern and I were given when we were interviewing both a psychiatrist and a psychologist for the purposes of “Let Me Sow Light: Living With a Depressed Spouse.”  We’ve both gone back to these words again and again in our work with people who care for a depressed person:

Suicide is, sadly, sometimes the fatal outcome of the illness called depression.

In other words, sometimes people die from depression.  Sometimes people die of cancer, or diabetes, or any number of other illnesses. When people die of most illnesses  there is no blame assigned, family members rarely feel guilty.  When people die of most illnesses, “religious” people don’t tell us the dead are headed for hell.

But when a person suffering from the illness called depression dies through suicide caused by that illness, all of these painful and hurtful consequences come into play   There are plenty of reasons why: stigma, fear, a history of demonizing suicides within the established church.

I appreciate the words of David K. Flowers on this subject.  David is a pastor and a counselor with a B.S. Clinical/Community Psychology and an M.A. in Counseling.  I recommend you check out his blog at http://davidkflowers.com/ for excellent thoughts on faith, spirituality, the state of the world, and mental/ emotional health.  Here’s what David had to say in a post about suicide:

“Someone recently asked my opinion on what happens to those who commit suicide.  Will they ‘go to hell?’

Before I give my take on this, I must start off by saying that no one but God has any business saying who goes to hell and who doesn’t.  It’s not the church’s job, or any pastor or religious teacher’s job, to declare that any specific behvior puts someone on the fast track to hell.  Show me a pastor or religious teacher (or institution) making declarations about who is going to hell, and I’ll show you a case of spiritual megalomania, since this assumes levels of knowledge no human being could possibly have…

No, suicide is not mortal sin.  I suppose there may be cases where a man kills himself in the same state of rage from which he might kill someone else, and in this case there is no question that what is known as sin would be involved.  But to assume that this one act of sin leads immutably to hell is a huge leap.  It’s an even bigger leap to assume that any one act, especially an act committed from a place that is so clearly “not well” ties God’s hands and prohibits him from the exercise of mercy.  And finally is the fact that most suicides are not in any way rational.  They are based in a deep kind of illness which is deserving not of punishment but of compassion.  Suicide is painful enough for family members who have lost a loved one to it.  They do not need the additional pain of thinking their loved one has separated himself from them both physically and spiritually in that one act.  We need a more nuanced theology to deal with this, based less in fear and desire to control, and more in compassion and understanding of the love and goodness of God.” (This text originally appeared on DavidKFlowers.com. Check out the full post at:http://davidkflowers.com/2010/02/suicide-hell/)

Those of us who live with a depressed person recognize what a monstrous illness it is.  We commonly experience anger, loneliness, fear, and feelings of abandonment when someone we love suffers from deep depression. I’m hopeful that one day we’ll all realize that when suicide becomes the fatal outcome of this illness, those involved should not be left to experience guilt, blame, and shame.


Vassar Alumni Act Toward Respect and Change

It’s not easy accepting, proclaiming and living in our society as a homosexual man or woman. Gays and lesbians encounter discrimination at many turns. And this continuous upward battle often gives way to depression and suicide.

So it was with sorrow in my heart that I learned that Fred Phelps’ famous gang from Topeka was going to picket at Vassar College, a small college in upstate New York, one of the former seven sister colleges, because, as they put it, the college is an “an Ivy League whorehouse” and a “filthy institution”.

Vassar College has for many years carried a very open and welcoming policy toward gays. So it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise that when Westboro announced its plans to picket outside Vassar’s gates on Feb. 28 for 45 minutes, an alumnus organized an online fund drive for the Trevor Project, a national LGBT suicide intervention group. The alumnus had the goal of raising $100 for each of those 45 minutes. Within days more than that amount was raised (at present it is up to $87,000).

I’m proud of institutions like Vassar who offer an open and comprehensive course of studies including real world action. And I’m proud of the many Vassar alumni who quickly, with no second guessing or beating around the bush, raised this money to support those individuals who have the right to all the respect and love and pride that each of us do.

Maybe that group of committed individuals from Vassar can truly change the world.


The Healing Touch

touching-1It has been a rough weekend. And such a weekend makes me wonder if there is an end in sight and if that end is not a good one. Over the information line, stories came in about a country singer who took her own life on the heels of her boyfriend doing the same., about a high increase in suicide among the elderly in South Korea as families become more splintered, about sleep deprivation complicating depression in a society that is getting less and less sleep, and about depression being right up there with vision and hearing loss for the elderly. Complicating things even further for me was the fact that a good friend plunged this weekend even deeper into the depths of depression, claiming he was emotionally dead and just wanted to sleep and sleep and sleep.

One shining light that made me stop and think was a report about a decline in post partum depression if parents practiced skin to skin contact with their babies. Touch. I wonder if that is the key to everything. Have we become a touchless society? Is that why depression has climbed to epidemic proportions? We seldom shake hands for fear of spreading germs, we don’t hug one another lest we be thought of as attempting something sexual, we have strict rules about when, where and how a teacher can touch a child.

Touch is the most important, most abused and yet most neglected of our senses. We can survive without sight, without taste, without smell but studies show we cannot survive and live with any degree of comfort and mental health when we are not able to feel, to touch. Not one of us is without a need for contact with a warm being. Poet and composer Rod McKuen once said, “The need to touch someone can be so great at times that it is as close to madness that I ever hope to come.”

And granted, although we were born with strong touch needs, many of us have experienced birth trauma, injury or a physical punishment or unwanted sexual touch that makes us cringe when we are touched. But those incidents do not remove our need to be touched. Being touched is integral to our mental well being. We need to find how we can touch one another in healthy ways. When we do, we can respond like Walt Whitman in his “Song of Myself” when he said, “I make holy whatever I touch or am touched from.”

It has been a rough weekend, but I think I will find a friend I can touch or simply hold the hand of so that I don’t feel all alone, so I don’t despair, so that I know there is hope always and that hope is often in a simple touch.

Ask for help!

The Today Show recently ran a story about seven-year-old John Murray Jr. who had the simple message, “Ask for help !!!” written on four post-it notes, one word on each sheet, plus a sheet for the exclamation points. This message came out of a reading exercise he was doing while he and his mother waited in the army post pharmacy. Looking around for words he found “family” and “care” and “together” but he hesitated at a word he didn’t recognize. The word was “suicide.”

When that word came up, his mother, Ingrid Murray, said, “I wished I had a degree in psychology right about then. My first thought was to act like I didn’t hear it. But the Army wants everybody to talk about it.”

So she explained the word “suicide” and why someone might want to end his or her own life. John responded with a simple summation: “When they don’t have any broken arms or legs, and no blood, you can’t see the sadness inside them, but they still need help.”

His mother went on to explain that often people don’t get help because they are reluctant for one reason or another to ask for the help they need. Hence the post-it notes, created by John Jr.

Sometimes, whether we are the depressed person or someone living with a depressed individual, we can be reluctant to ask for help. The reasons abound – fear of losing others’ respect, fear of losing a job, fear of what might be in store in treatment, fear of losing a relationship with a son, daughter, mother, father. There are more reasons than can be listed. But the fact still remains: We need to ask for help if we want to get better, if we want to change things.

It’s not easy and it’s scary, but asking for help can mean the difference between living and dying. This is especially true if you are one of the invisible walking wounded, who, to paraphrase John’s words, don’t have any broken arms or legs, and no blood so you can’t see the sadness inside.” But the fact remains that they – that we – still need help.


Help for soldiers dealing with depression and other issues

The Center for Veterans Issues is an organization that is to be commended.  Not only do they help returning veterans with finding housing, dealing with post traumatic stress, financial situations, or drug abuse, they are all about treating the entire person and for returning veterans, that often means their families as they struggle to re-connect.  The center has a host of programs operating. Continue reading