Dealing with Depression

Since I began blogging I’ve received a number of inquiries about what people should do if they’re feeling depressed. These are the only emails I respond to promptly. I thought maybe I should talk about it openly in case other people could benefit.

I am not a doctor. If you have had “the blues” for more than 3 weeks, or just haven’t been feeling yourself–haven’t been enjoying your usual activities, etc.– TELL YOUR DOCTOR. Depression is an illness. Like many illnesses, it is created by a chemical imbalance. There are ways of correcting this imbalance, but if you let it slide and don’t get treatment it can escalate. Let flourish in your body unabated, depression can kill you.

There are a number of reasons people don’t go to the doctor about depression, and I’ll address two of them here. 1. People feel ashamed to admit that they’re depressed and don’t want to talk about it. But a doctor is going to be the best person to talk to in such a situation. They understand that it’s not lack of character that makes you depressed, but the depletion of certain chemicals. They may also refer you to someone who you can “talk to about your feelings,” which can be useful. But just going to see the doctor is not going to become an entrenched therapy session. 2. People don’t want “fancy” drugs. I will discuss how these drugs work in a later post, and you might change your mind about their effectiveness. But if you’re dead-set against prescription drugs and it’s keeping you from going to the doctor, remember that you can tell your doctor that you’d like to try herbal remedies and lifestyle changes first.

I will have more to say about treating depression, but this is key: depression is a potentially fatal medical condition that should be treated by a doctor.

A few general resources: NIH, Wikipedia, crazymeds.org (sounds weird, but is actually really good about explaining how things work). If you think depression is something that can be treated by Cosmo, you can take this quiz, but bear in mind that if you think you need to take this quiz you should probably be talking to your doctor.

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12 Responses to Dealing with Depression

  1. sandrasimonds says:

    this is interesting. i agree that depression is a serious problem for people who deal with it—but i just don’t see it as an illness. in fact, i feel like the label “illness” is a way for people in power to mark off and control and make money off of the mind.

    just some ideas to complicate your post about depression.
    best.
    Sandra

  2. Jessica Smith says:

    of course all terminology like “illness” and “disorder” assumes that there is a norm to which we all aspire. but i think it is useful to call depression an illness so that people know it’s not something they can just “get over” or are somehow morally failing to “get over.” you can have a lot of willpower and depression can still overwhelm you; in such cases, there are specialists who can help you feel better. where “better” = “not like killing yourself.”

  3. Rachel says:

    The apellation of “illness: is problematic in the same way it is for people who have any number of ‘permanent’ physiological conditions, and the resulting societal stigmas concerning them. I’m not sure it is that useful to make a body/mind distinction on the basis of ‘physical’ versus ‘mental’ illness because the brain is an organ, just like the kidneys or the spleen and there is not anything particularly special about it besides the fact that it ostensibly influences our functions of sentience.

    Legally speaking, the apellation of ‘illness’ is important because it is the basis of the Parity Laws- which state that if you have a medically defined ‘mental’ illness, they have to offer you the same coverage as, say, if you have diabetes or parkinson’s disease or something–insurance companies like to make the “body/mind” distinction and they don’t like to pay for mental health services; so it is important in a pragmatic, if not ideological, capacity to continue to label depression as an “illness” in order to hold the ruthless corporations that control how we are able to care for our bodies accountable…

  4. Mark says:

    Me again; the New Blogger comments function sucks…

  5. François says:

    The French physician and philosopher Georges Canguilhem (also one of Foucault’s teachers) had this amazing saying about illnesses. “La santé est la vie dans le silence des organes.” (Health is the life in the silence of the organs) Extrapolate toward mental health.

  6. Jessica Smith says:

    Rachel– oh yeah, I forgot about the politics of separating mind and body. Rather I guess I don’t normally think of them as different (anymore), so thanks for pointing that out.

    Mark– did you have something to say?

    François– silence? really? i would think of it more as a rhythmic hum… like the sounds Cage describes hearing in the soundproof chamber at harvard. if organs were silent wouldn’t they be dead? or do you think it’s more a Cage-ian “silence” to which he refers?

  7. sandrasimonds says:

    I think being depressed is a perfectly normal reaction to the society in which we live. The society is ill—full of disorder and that is the voice that says “get over it” “you really should be happy.”

  8. Jessica Smith says:

    oh yeah, sure. i wouldn’t say it wasn’t a normal reaction. but if you want to feel better rather than being miserable and you can’t make large-scale social changes, there are drugs for that ;-)

    but maybe i should make a distinction here between a general depression or melancholia or stress that many people (esp. poets in a 1st-world country) feel, and real depression (MDD). i think when people contact me about it, they’re usually on the edge of the darker kind of depression and need help. because people don’t usually complain about feeling depressed until they really can’t stand it anymore. and then it’s a slippery slope b/t life and death. based on the assumption that it is better to be living than to be dead, there’s a point at which one can’t discount the medical reality of depression.

  9. Jessica Smith says:

    to add– i’m not talking about “being happy.” I’m talking about “not walking in front of a bus.”

  10. sandrasimonds says:

    Yeah…it’s important not to forget about the things you can do for yourself too—exercise, yoga, not drinking too much…

    I know that it’s a cliche but these things can really change a person’s mood. Also, they can give you a sense of control over depression.

    Oh yeah….let’s not forget making books! (personal favorite)

  11. Mark says:

    I’m saying that “Rachel” is me; for some reason Blogger logs her in (even though she does not have a blog, has never commented on a blog in her life) as the default unless I change it to me.

  12. Dan Coffey says:

    Chemical depression is something that cannot be abated by yoga, exercise, traditional methods of “making yourself feel better.” It is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, period. I struggled for many years with the idea of taking a medication to alter my brain chemistry because I thought it would make my personality, my “self,” “false.” I now know that the “self” is always in flux, and I’d rather be able to cope and do more than tread water much more than hold on vainly (in both senses of the word) to some idealistic “sense” of “self.”

    And, like Jessica, I’m not talking about wanting to be HAPPY all the time. I’m talking about being in a place where happiness can be experienced with some degree of normalcy (which of course can’t be standardized, but can be counted on to ebb and flow) and the ebb and flow can be seen for what is – temporary – and not permanent.

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