Friday, January 23, 2009

Depression good for you? What a sick joke!

A study this week by overpaid boffins at New York University has claimed that being depressed is actually good for a person and, in addition, taking medication to tackle that depression could actually be stopping people achieving their goals.
They (the overpaid boffins) have said that extreme sadness or depression can actually help us learn from our mistakes, move on to new and wonderful times in our lives and move our focus away from destructive thoughts. Yes, I had it read it several times to allow it to sink in.
Let’s think about that again - being depressed can help us move our focus away from destructive thoughts or actions, they said. Something just doesn’t add up there, does it? Now I’ve spoken before very openly about my experiences with depression. And yes, in some ways experiencing depression has helped me make some positive changes in my life. I was able to write a book loosely based on my experiences of the illness after the birth of my son and it did quite well for me.
That put me in the priviledged position of being able to reach out to people going through similar experiences and assure them they were not alone. But I was only able to do that after receiving the relevant treatment and support, I’ve no shame in admitting that there have been times in my life when a wee dose of Prozac has done the business or that I have a shelf full of self help manuals and books to help me understand and tackle the condition.
But would I say that being depressed is a good thing - even though in a way it has brought me a degree of success? Would I say that it helped me move my focus away from destructive thoughts and actions? No. Categorically and emphatically no. What utter, utter rubbish.
It is clear to me (and I’m no overpaid boffin at New York University) that anyone who could make such a statement - never mind commission an entire report to argue their point - has clearly never experienced depression. Yes, they may have been sad from time to time. They may even have gone through a severe rough patch and yes, I agree that perhaps we are all too keen sometimes to medicate away general sadness.
Sadness is a fact of life. Bad things happen and we all need a time to grieve over them and come to terms with them. But there is a huge difference to feeling sad (even if at times that sadness seems overwhelming) and suffering from depression. From my experience depression is all encompassing. It invades every aspect of your life until you can no longer think rationally or feel any inkling of positive emotion. It steals your confidence, your sense of self and it certainly steals your ability to look to the future with hope or excitement. It is very different from having a bad day day or reacting to dreadful circumstances in your life (and that’s not to dismiss any notion that a real, clinicial depression can come about as a result of difficult times).
For a lot of people depression is an illness - a deficiency of the happy hormone Serotonin - a condition which needs treatment above and beyond being told to pull yourself together. It is a condition that, at its worst, can be life threatening. And it is certainly not the reserve of the great minds of this world. (The over paid boffins, just so as you know, pointed out a number of great leaders or figures in history who were afflicted and went on to do just fabulously for themselves.) It doesn’t care who you are, what you have or whether or not you should be happy on paper.
It is one of the biggest misconceptions out there that depression only happens to people who have bad things happen to them. The fact is that true clinical depression - the depletion of serotonin - doesn’t give a flying fig what you have or what you have achieved or hope to achieve.
I’m pretty sure there are people who swing the lead and I’m pretty sure there are medical professionals out there who hand out magic prescriptions a little more readily than is justified. I know there are people who use depression as an excuse - a label which they are happy to wear. But for every person swinging the lead there are countless others battling against a genuine illness and getting on with their lives in difficult circumstances. Our GPs and other medical professionals are doing the best they can to help the people who need it, in the difficult position of having been allocated just 10 minutes per appointment.
I think it is wrong, and also verging on the dangerous, to suggest that those who suffer from true depression let it wash over them and avoid trying to treat it. If you are lucky - as I was and am - it can be treated and controlled fairly easily.
You can get your sense of self back and you can feel well again and it is often only when you start to feel well again that you realise just how unwell you had been. That realisation can often be a scary experience. Far from helping us achieve great things, escape the stresses of life and not repeat past mistakes - avoiding help when it is truly needed could cause untold damage. That damage extends not only to those personally afflicted with the condition but their friends and family also.
So when overpaid boffins analyse their statistics and come up with their grand and sweeping statements they would do well to think about the real human impact of an illness which deserves as much treatment, sympathy and understanding as any other life threatening condition.


Fionnuala said...

You go girl! A well written thought provoking case CB. Fx

la blogette said...

Hi Claire,
Fionnu' Told me about your blog today and I was both relieved and delighted that you'd written so clearly about the utter feelings of hopelessness that depression brings, and no control over it! I've had two major illnesses in my life cancer and depression..for the cancer I had the most help etc and recovered, for the depression I didn't know I was that bad and no-one knew how to help and as you say until you're recovering YOU only realise how bad. I asked for help and I had super support from the local Mental Health Services, psychiatric nurses, "Nut Doctors" CBT etc...and its DEFINATELY NOT GOOD for you! You can't eat, dress, make a meal or concentrate, and confidence (what confidence?) is shite!! I believe the boffins have never had depression or they wouldn't write such rubbish. Its like priests talking about contraception and giving birth is like pushing a button!
On that note! Good luck with the birth, you're nails will grow back for another day, eat and sleep as much as you can now!..and Thanks

bfs ~ "Mimi" said...

I just can't imagine someone writing that and actually believing it. They've obviously never suffered through it, nor have they known someone they cared for suffer through it.

Now, good things may come out of having suffered depression, e.g., I may be much more compassionate now and more empathetic now toward those who suffer because I understand depression and the havoc it wreaks.

Good for you ~ for your blog today. I am hoping that you will share these thoughts with the editors/writers of the hogwash you read from NY.

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