Depression Awareness: Notes from the Health Ministry

About 6 percent, or 1 in 17 Americans, suffer from a serious mental illness. It is one of the ten leading causes of disability in the US and other developed countries. Mental illnesses are biologically based brain disorders. They cannot be overcome through will power and are not related to a person’s character or intelligence. All ages are susceptible, but the young and the old are especially vulnerable. Without treatment the consequences are staggering: unnecessary disability, unemployment and often substance abuse as people attempt to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Early identification is important as medications and social support are highly effective.

The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon is an excellent book on depression. He advises that when in the depths of depression occupy your day as fully as possible. “You won’t get these hours back. Keep living. Wait it out. Seek out the memories depression takes away and project them into the future. Be brave; be strong; take your pills. Exercise because it’s good for you even if every step weighs a thousand pounds. Eat when food itself disgusts you. Reason with yourself when you have lost your reason. Block out the terrible thoughts that invade your mind. Listen to the people who love you and believe that they are worth living for even when you don’t believe that you are.”

Depression casts a long shadow, affecting everyone in the family as they watch a loved one suffer. Solomon advises family, “Just be there. You can’t fix it, but you can blunt the isolation. You can care.”

The National Alliance on Mental Illness is an excellent resource. NAMI offers support groups and assistance to families navigating the often-frustrating mental health system.