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Truth or Fiction?

once-upon-a-time-719174_1280Do you believe that depression is not a real illness?  Or that if the person only engaged in hard work, he or she would beat depression?  Or worse, that depression is just self-pity?  And if you are familiar with depression, do you believe that getting help for it means drugs for life?  Or that talking makes things worse?

Those are just a few of the myths about depression that keep appearing in different places.  I have encountered so many in the past two weeks that it is time to set the story straight.

First of all depression is a real illness.  It took my spouse over forty years to realize and accept that.  It is an illness like cancer or heart disease and deserves to be treated as one.  People don’t plan on getting cancer or heart disease.  People with depression don’t plan on the illness coming into their lives.

Next, engaging in hard work is a variation of the “pull yourself by the bootstraps” theory.  Hard work might work for a mild case of the blues but not for depression and sometimes in men who overwork, it is often a sign of clinical depression.

People with depression are not caught up in self pity.  They are not lazy or feeling sorry for themselves.  Depression is a real health problem with real changes to the brain.   And being treated for depression does not mean that the person will be on drugs for life.  Some will, some won’t just as in other illnesses some people need to have radiation, some need chemo, and some need both.  Some stay on it for life.  Some only a few months or weeks.  When it comes to depression, medication can be a help and some people do maintain a regimen for life, others for only the time that they need, and still others opt for talk therapy or other methods to deal with the illness.

Other myths include the wild idea that depression is part of aging.  It can appear during the golden years but many navigate those years without depression.  People think depressed people cry a lot.  It’s true that some individuals do, but many simply feel worthless and think there is not emotion in them.  Some people believe talking makes the depression worse when in reality many depressed individuals find their salvation in talk therapy.

There are other myths, but maybe listing these few will make you think twice before you believe so called “facts” about depression.  Find out about the illness so that together we can make life better for so many individuals suffering from depression.


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!