It’s that time of year. The days are noticeably shorter. The mornings are cooler. The urge to sleep longer tugs on us. For some people, Fall is a welcome change with crisp leaves, hues of orange and brown, crockpot cooking and pumpkin everything.
But it’s also a tough transition for many, especially for those prone to depression – everyone from first-year college students to moms whose kids are going back to school, to school-aged children themselves, and to those who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Sometimes there’s no apparent reason for sadness. It’s just there, lurking in a dark place.
Instead of shoving it under the rug, we as a society need to crack open the depression discussion. The more human beings acknowledge the seriousness of debilitating disorders such as depression and the more we talk about it, the less power a stigma carries.
Depression doesn’t discriminate, so why should we? We need to be helping people who suffer, not turning our backs on them.
A Mark of Disgrace: Stigma
Three out of four people with a mental illness report they cope with the stigma – or ‘mark of disgrace that sets a person apart’ – of having depression. It’s unfortunate that negative attitudes and labelling someone creates prejudice leading to discrimination. Depression has nothing to do with lack of willpower and motivation.
Interestingly, a recent study on depression reported by NPR found that just because people screened positive for depression didn’t mean they would get treated for it. Not surprisingly, low income groups were five times more likely to have depression compared to the highest income groups.
Also, racial and ethnic minorities, men, and uninsured people with low incomes were less likely to be treated. However, white, non-Hispanic, females, who had at least a high school education and health insurance, were more likely to get treated for depression.
Primary Care Doctors
Mark Olfson, professor of psychiatry at the Columbia University Medical Center and lead author of the study, says most people with untreated depression make at least one visit to a primary care doctor annually and those visits could be used to screen people in disadvantaged populations and in rural areas, and ideally offer treatment at the clinic.
If the patient gets a referral to a mental health clinic, they aren’t likely to go. But by embedding the services within primary care, the treatment becomes ‘more accessible and less stigmatized’, Olfson said.
The case for integrated health care becomes even more important because almost half the U.S. population will meet the criteria for a mental health condition in their lifetime. The need exists for Electronic Health Record (EHR) implementation between primary caregivers and behavioral health clinicians, but it just hasn’t happened adequately yet.
Depression often exists alongside other illnesses and medical conditions. For example, 50-75% of patients with eating disorders experience depression. Feelings of guilt and shame often lead to another cycle of binge eating. When an eating disorder occurs concurrently with another condition that is not addressed or even identified, it can interfere with the recovery process and contribute to relapses.
People who abuse drugs and alcohol are also more susceptible to depression. 27% percent of individuals with substance abuse disorders experience depression. This percentage doesn’t include the children school counselors see for issues dealing with substance abuse, suicidal threats, and bullying by other kids in school.
The risk of clinical depression is often higher in individuals with serious medical illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. However, the warning signs are frequently discounted by patients and family members, who mistakenly assume feeling depressed is normal for people struggling with serious health conditions.
Depression is often a misunderstood illness. Don’t ask somebody with depression “Why can’t you just be happy?” Just don’t.
To close, think about this awesome quote from Bryant McGill and determine how it applies to you or anyone you care about suffering from depression:
“You may have to try a thousand different ways to make it work before you find the one way that works for you. There may be long pauses between your best and brilliant moments, where it all just seems cloudy. Looking back at all you had planned, you may find you are not even close to where you thought you would be. But it is happening; this life of yours. What works for you is good enough. Those long pauses may be some of your sweetest moments. Your journey may have taken an unexpected turn or two, but it took you directly to who you are today. It all added up to something after all — to you becoming you. Be patient with life and with yourself, and remember, you can always hold out for something better when you know your self-worth.”
Artwork by ©2016 defectivebarbie