Sunday, September 18, 2011

Noticing Depression

There have been several high-profile suicides recently:  two hockey players - Rick Rypien and Wade Belak - and a social media fellow named Trey Pennington.  Let's face it, they were all depressed - in fact, what person takes their life without being depressed?

So the question that arises for me is:  How do you recognize depression?  What can I tell people to look for so that they don't end up in the same state?

I'm not actually going to discuss the medical symptoms of depression in detail.  For that, there are lots of articles on the Internet (check out this checklist).  But I'll make an extremely short list here:

change in sleeping patterns (excessive sleeping or sleep disruption)
lack of interest in things that used to interest you
feeling sad/hopeless
inexplicable weight loss/gain
inability to act or make decisions

And there are lots more.  These are symptoms that the individual might notice in themselves, but not necessarily something you'd notice in others.  And if someone doesn't know to look for these symptoms, they won't necessarily even realize anything is different or wrong.  What they are going through will just feel "normal" to them even though they are slipping.

With such a number of high-profile people killing themselves recently, perhaps the better question is not how do we recognize depression when we have it, but how do we recognize it in other people? 

Well, really, the first point to make here would be that YOU are not responsible for someone else. It really is up to the person with the problem to take care of themselves. However, they are not always able - children don't have the skills to know, and adults are sometimes so detached from themselves, and so far gone that they don't see it or don't see it as being as bad as it is - or as being anything but something they just MUST get away from at any cost.

There is a good article here about signs and symptoms of depression in chidren.  I've been thinking about this a lot lately as my son is showing signs of anxiety.  I suspect it is coming with the stress of school starting, but it could be the signs of something more to come.  And I am trying to think of strategies for curbing it before it gets bad for him.  Wish me luck.

Similar symptoms to those of children may be visible in adults, too, but here's the rub - the adult might not know they are depressed, might not realize there is a problem and may really think that how they are feeling is reality and can't be changed (or not even recognize that it should be changed).

So keep your eyes open, be willing to talk to people, and know that you may not always be able to recognize what is going on.

I recently was talking with some people about all of this and realized that I was maybe a little upset with the adults in my life for not noticing the anxieties I experienced as a child.  I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome and was affected every time I was stressed about anything (which really ended up being daily), and instead of even considering anxiety, allergies were the focus.  I went without every kind of food for a while.  Knowing what I know now, it all seems pretty damned obvious, but when you aren't in the body, and you are either buried in or in denial about your own problems, figuring out someone else's may be near impossible. 

My answer:  as always ... is to talk about it, people!  We need dialogue.  People who are depressed need to know they are not alone, need to know they have a problem, and need to know that they can overcome that problem with the proper treatment.  Children need to know this, too.  They need to know that how they are feeling isn't "normal" for everyone else, but that they aren't the only ones dealing with it, too. 

I've been asked many times why I feel the need to share what I do about my life and my emotional state.  My relatives, in particular, have a hard time with it.  Apparently I'm bringing up stuff that they don't want to deal with and at the same time telling family secrets, so I am now barred from discussing individuals who are affected with it (thus the use of the term "the adults in my life" and "relatives" instead of specific people).  I don't mean to hurt anyone in my family - as a matter of fact, I want to share our stories so that other people can recognize their problems sooner and get treatment sooner.  I mean to help, not hurt.

The more denial out there, the more embarassed people feel, the more they won't talk about it. This disease shouldn't be any more embarassing than having, say, reduced kidney function, scoliosis, diabetes - none of us chose this, and none of us can just change the way we think so as to make it all better. So acceptance and knowledge should help a whole lot more than denial and silence.

So the reason I share ... is because I believe that the earlier someone recognizes their emotional problems, the easier it is to start managing them.   Because the earlier the intervention, the less damaging the disease.  Early intervention is key - as it is with any disease. 

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