Official blog for the book "Just Behind the Door"

Posts tagged ‘depression’

A Comedic Messenger

Robin Williams, the absolute genius of comedy and from all accounts a wonderfully generous human being has passed away. By now, we have all heard the reports of his untimely death. We are saddened and shocked that a person who appeared to capture the hearts of so many by giving us non stop laughter was so depressed that he could no longer find the strength to go on. Maybe because of his fame, his passing will help all of us learn more about depression and Parkinson’s disease.

Being strong does not mean that we can ignore or talk ourselves out of a serious depression. I’m not talking about a day or brief period in our lives when we feel overwhelmed with life. No, I’m talking about serious clinical depression that can be caused by psychological, environmental, biological or genetic causes. Think of it this way, if Robin Williams the talented and successful comedian was not immune to the ravages of clinical depression is it time to sit up and take notice when we hear or feel that someone we know or love is seriously depressed?

It has been said that if a person feels hopeless, helpless or worthless they are prone to depression and even possibly suicide. That makes sense – if your bucket feels totally empty to you it would be hard to continue to carry it. The World Health Organization estimates that 13% of U.S. men suffer with depression. Studies also show that the older men get the higher the rate of suicide from depression. This is a note to my baby boomer friends. You are more than your career (now retired) your physical stamina (becoming less so yearly) or your physical appearance (with age comes those lines that indicate you gave it your all).

We do a great disservice when we expect men to suppress their emotions, be strong and keep a stiff upper lip. That expectation is not only ill informed it is a tremendous disservice to them. Men are not machines functioning without emotions. Yet, sadly, many men have naively accepted this stereotypical image that is not only wrong but psychologically dangerous. Give me a man that shows honest, heart felt emotions and I will show you a human being who will make a difference in this world. No one is invincible or immune to times or periods in their life where they struggle with their own self worth. What we can do to help ourselves and others is to have enough strength to recognize that we may need a listening ear, a medical intervention or even to seek the help of a mental health professional if the depression is prolonged.

We now understand that Robin was experiencing the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. This disease can fuel the fire of a person already fighting the effects of depression. The first longitudinal study from the national Parkinson’s Progression Makers Initiative was published in the August 15th issue of Neurology (Robin was always the master of timing). The researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania tracked Parkinson’s patients rate of depression from the time of their initial diagnosis over a two year period and compared the rates to more healthy peers. The depression rates were TWICE as high in the first year alone (14% to 7%) and even higher in the second year!

What caused the significant increase in depression among Parkinson’s patients? Was it caused by hearing that they had a disease that was serious? No, it is much, much more than that issue. It seems that not only are bodily motor functions affected but the chemicals that affect Parkinson’s disease are also closely associated with mood regulation due to changes in the brain! The physical changes in the brain contribute to depression. It is not mind over matter but the change in brain functioning specifically that makes this disease more difficult. Our vigilance to be sure our friends and family members who are diagnosed with this disease are regularly monitored for depression is essential.

Thank you to Robin Williams for all the brilliant moments he brought to us and thank you also for his last act… not one of selfish indifference – but one that may help hundreds or thousands of people better cope with clinical depression and Parkinson’s disease.

Have a great few days!

Survivor Guilt

Survivor Guilt also known as survivor syndrome was first identified in the 1960’s. It was the topic of a CNN special aired this week and dealt with an important aspect related to loss, grief and healing. The program delved into the topic by reviewing aviation. In the history of air flight only 14 people have survived major airplane crashes that resulted in a sole survivor. Many live with the question of ‘Why was I spared’ which seems to be a burden they carry for the rest of their lives. During the interviews some of these survivors made the comment, ‘I’m supposed to be grateful I survived but…’

In researching this topic It appears that this type of guilt is more common that we might first imagine. We know that many of our brave servicemen who return from war suffer from PTSD which often includes this type of guilt. But in addition, this type of guilt may even surface when a person experiences the death of a loved one and can be a major challenge to overcome.

The symptoms related to survivor guilt can included anxiety, social withdrawal, depression, physical complaint and loss of drive. Basically, the reason, purpose and relevance of life is called into question by the survivors. Without help they can become stuck in a space of anger, denial and feelings of hopelessness.

Recognizing this in ourselves or others is paramount for healing. Regardless of the type of situation involved in the loss we are suffering, we did not cause the loss and, in fact, could not have prevented it. The Universe is much more powerful than we are and destiny plays a major role in our lives. Each one of us has chosen the lessons and lives that would result in helping us learn our lessons. The loss of a loved one and our survival was the result of a life agreement long, long ago. Unfortunately, being human we sometimes believe that we should have been powerful enough, smart enough or wise enough to prevent the loss from happening. That’s just not how the Universe works.The American Politician William Jennings Bryan said, ‘Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved (and understood).

When we reach out to others to help them process their grief it can make their grief a bit easier to handle. Any one of us may say just the right thing at just the right moment to help someone begin to overcome survivors’ grief. It is always worth the try and even if we do not see immediate improvement it is again, worth continuing our effort to reach out to a fellow traveler who is suffering.

Being there for someone and encouraging them to talk about their loss experience
helps immensely. Everyone needs someone to listen to them from time to time and experiencing a loss intensifies this need. It is always better to surface the feelings regardless of their nature than to keep them bottled up inside. Think of it as helping a potential volcano release some of the pressure before a full fledged eruption. A person’s loss may, at times, be like lava seething, bubbling just below the surface creating the type of pressure that can cause them to explode unless the occasional stem vents ( in the form of conversation and connection) surface to help release the pressure little by little.

We are here to learn our individual lessons and make the world a little better place by being in it. Helping others through their loss allows us to become a conduit for healing.

Have a great few days!

Your Social Footprint

A recent article in ‘The Week’ magazine summarized a research study from the University of Michigan regarding social-networking sites (Facebook). Looking into this a bit further, I discovered that there are many research studies that have been conducted on the topic. The conclusion of these studies is a bit unnerving. It seems that frequent and continual use of these sites (5 times or more per day) leads to greater feelings of loneliness, depression, sadness and even anger. Whoa! I had no idea about the research but had felt a nagging unease when I saw teenagers and adults waiting in line to check out of a store while simultaneously viewing a social media site or texting a 5 second response to someone. I have wondered how present are they in the moment? Watching a family attempting the annual school clothes shopping trip while half of the members are on their phones and emotionally out there in space somewhere just takes the joy out of the experience.

The good news is that the study also found that when the research subjects used direct face-to-face communication with others it resulted in happier and more cheerful feelings. Remember the idea of staying in the present? Another way of thinking about this is to try to keep our attention where our feet are planted. You, your friends, clients and colleagues are worth the time.

Could it be that PART of the reason that people in the United States rate the highest (9.6%) for depression compared to 14 other countries is that we have begun to substitute actual personal contact with a social media site? Are we choosing to live in the shadow of texting and posting rather than ‘live’ contact?

Granted, there are many additional reasons for depression. The economy, personal challenges, family obligations, the pharma companies telling us that if we feel ‘down’ there is a pill for this or that … are just a few examples. What if part of the solution to unhappiness is the overuse of social media and the lack of face-to-face communication? You can fix that one – no cost, no worry, no problem. Just a slight change in habit. Are you up to it?

We may think we do not have a moment to spare in our lives as it is and to take the time to reconnect with a friend or make a new friend is simply out of the question. It may just seem easier, faster and more ‘with it’ to post a message and wait to see who responds. But now you know the long term effects. We can fix this – one person – one commitment at a time.

Like everything else in life the issue becomes one of awareness and moderation.

Have a great few days!