The brain is an amazing little machine if you think about it. It’s like a computer that can store information for years on end and is compatible with every OS. It can learn new skills, it can feel and consider, it can judge and adapt. The possibilities are endless. But like any other part of the human body, it can also be injured and damaged. When the Ambassador’s friend, Jedi, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, the outpouring of support was understandably endless. And when Jedi died, the community grieved in ways that still continue today. Jedi was an amazing kid with a smile that lit up a room; his loss is felt sharply by anyone who ever met him. Football players are lobbying the NFL for better protection from the seemingly endless concussions suffered repeatedly by players. The long term effects of the brain getting bounced off the inside of the skull can be devastating, and sometimes even fatal. When a coworker of mine had a stroke, we all helped him re-integrate into his job, whether it was with accommodations to his requirements at first, or just humorous deflections of his embarrassment when he would stumble over words or drop his pen.
Explain to me, then, why a chemical imbalance in the brain is somehow a cause for shame. The stigma associated somehow leads to averted eyes, whispered conversations and people who need help avoiding it. The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that one in ten people suffer from depression at any given time. How many of those people remain untreated because they are just that reluctant to admit that they need it? The insurance companies do not make it any easier, often offering lower coverage and higher deductibles for visits to a counselor or psychiatrist, and heavy push-back on coverage for psychiatric medications. Dog forbid a person needs to be hospitalized for their illness; many policies cover such a low percentage that the stress of the out of pocket cost far outweighs the benefits found in treatment.
Depression is rampant in my family. I have Situational Depression; I get down occasionally, but it is generally in reaction to something specific and I can see it clearly enough to do something about it without too much trouble. The Scientist deals with Chronic Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder. He has yet been untreated except by our therapist, but has recently started using a S.A.D. light for thirty minutes a day. I’m crossing my fingers and toes that this helps him, and really, it should. I hate seeing him miserable every year. The Professor also deals with Chronic Depression and Anxiety. She does not use any chemical treatments, as several of them would conflict with her other meds, but she is working to get into a behavioral therapy routine that seems to be working when she is consistent with it. The Artist is a serious Season Affective kid. She too, has a light now, and the hope is that it, along with St John’s Wort, will ease her symptoms. I’m still waiting to see about the Ambassador. He kinda shows symptoms of possible Chronic, but for now I’m sitting back to see if it’s just teenager angst. He is a perfectionist over his grades (no, we do not demand 4.0 from our kids; this is something in himself), and he gets down sometimes, but teenagers also have a lot on his plate. He is 17 years old, in his sophomore year of college, taking 16 credit hours. Throw in his volunteer work and his job, and of course, a girlfriend, and you’ve got a lot of pressure. So we’ll see.
So what is the big deal? Why is a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes problems somehow shameful? A concussion causes some of the same symptoms at times, but isn’t seen as something to hide. Apparently, the mentality of being “crazy” from olden times still pervades the thought processes of otherwise intelligent people. Why is this?
Look around you. Chances are you know someone who suffers from depression. An even better chance is that person suffers alone.
Next, look in the mirror. Almost no one recognizes the signs of depression within themselves. Do you? Check and see.
My challenge to everyone who reads this: face it in yourself if applicable, and reach out to someone else. It doesn’t take much. You can’t cure depression in someone else, but you can absolutely make a person feel less alone. And that can make all the difference.