Tag Archives: mental health

The Depression Files–The Launch!

I had been “stockpiling” the interviews for several months. My idea was to launch a podcast in which I interview men who had experienced depression. The goal? It was threefold:

  1. To educate people on depression; the serious and often times debilitating nature of the illness
  2. To give hope to those who may be suffering from depression
  3. To help minimize, or even eliminate, the stigma around mental illness

I wanted to create a “stockpile” of interviews to eliminate any stress of getting episodes published on a regular basis.  I knew that I would need to find willing guests, schedule the interviews, record the interviews, and edit them. In the meantime, I was having a friend help me create a temporary logo (one that I hope to change in the near future) so that I could also post to iTunes.

I had a teaser up…and I had even created a “Sampler” for possible guests. I had no interviews published, so I figured possible guests may want to hear a sample of my interview style and get a feel for the project. I had created an intro, but had not yet created an outro. All of this allowed for me to continue down the path of promoting my teaser, without the worry of whether or not the show would be successful once I actually launched it. In the coaching world, we call this the Saboteur…and mine can be HUGE. The Saboteur is the negative self-talk that prevents us from moving forward. For example, “What makes me think I could be a successful interviewer?” or “I’ll never be as good as Terry Gross, Mark Maron, or Larry King” or “What if nobody listens to the show?”

Sometimes, there needs to be something that gives one a big kick in the rear to begin to move forward. That kick in the rear for me…World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10, 2017. I figured, if I were ever going to launch this project, The Depression Files, there would never be a better day than World Suicide Prevention Day. I quickly made an outro, finished editing the show that I had decided would be the first episode, and…launched it! That was a big day for me! My teaser had been published at the end of June and I had been working on the project well before then.

My first episode was an interview with Steve Austin. As someone who is used to public speaking and hosts his own podcast, he was an ideal interviewee that made my “job” pretty darn easy. Steve is a life coach, author, speaker, and host of the #AskSteveAustin podcast. Steve has a website at iamsteveaustin.com. He is the author of the best-selling From Pastor to a Psych Ward: Recovery from a Suicide Attempt is Possible and other books, which can all be found by clicking here.

I have a new episode coming out every other Sunday and have just published my third one. I have been thoroughly enjoying the interviews and learning a great deal from every one of my guests (I believe I have about eleven more interviews recorded, awaiting to be edited).

I hope that you will listen to The Depression Files and that you are able to get something out of them. I hope that you will understand that depression is much, much worse than simply feeling sad. I hope that you will gain a deep sense of empathy for those who may be struggling with depression. In addition, I am hoping that any listeners who may be in the midst of a depressive episode, or living with chronic depression, are able to gain a sense of hope from the show. As cliche as it may sound, after going through major depression myself, I would never wish it upon my worst enemy.

If you would like to read more about the podcast, you can check out one of my earlier posts: Giving a Voice to Men with Depression: New Podcast Coming Soon!

As always, comments to this post are welcomed and encouraged! In addition, I hope that you may be willing to ‘like’ and/or share comments to any of the episodes of The Depression Files. Thank you!

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My Thoughts on the Word “Stigma”

I have recently heard of the idea of getting away from the word “Stigma” when speaking about mental health. There are various articles that speak directly towards eliminating the word from the conversations altogether. For example, the article titled, “The Word Stigma Should Not Be Used in Mental Health Campaigns”. In this article, the author makes the case that “The focus of our efforts should be upon society and the perpetrators of this discrimination, not the subjects of it. If we accept the concepts of parity of esteem, then we should describe not stigma, but rather bigotry, hatred, unlawful and unjust discrimination.”

I prefer the definition offered by Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, Ph.D., “Stigma is a perceived negative attribute that causes someone to devalue or think less of the whole person.” in an article titled, “What is Stigma?

In my opinion, the stigma is the negative feelings that some have regarding mental illnesses.  When one mentions that they have depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, or another mental illness, the stigma is what causes people to take a step back. The stigma causes people to begin to whisper when they discuss a mental illness. Another example of stigma is when someone tells a person who is suffering from depression to “Just go for a jog” or “Watch a funny movie”. This minimizes the serious and often times debilitating nature of the illness.  Stigma also creates shame and/or fear in people and often times prevents them from seeking the support they need.

The stigma, I believe, is what leads to the discrimination and bigotry and, yes, this certainly needs to be addressed as well. The discrimination and bigotry are the actions one takes towards a person living with a mental illness. For example, an employer not hiring a prospective employee because the employer discovers that the person has a history of depression. Another example would be a landlord choosing not to rent to someone due to the fact that they discover the possible tenant lives with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

In summary, I do not believe that we need to stop using the word “stigma” in our conversations around mental health. I believe that both the stigma and the discrimination/bigotry need to be addressed. If we are able to minimize or even eliminate the stigma, we would see much less of the discrimination. We need to continue to talk about mental illnesses, share our stories of living with a mental illness, and help educate others. These are a few of the ways that we can help end the stigma…and the discrimination.

As with all of my posts, I welcome and encourage comments. Thank you!

Supporting One with Depression

The night before I entered a three-week partial hospitalization program for a major depressive episode, I invited two close friends over to my house. I explained the situation to them and asked them for their support. When they asked me how they could support me, I had no idea.  When one is in the thick of depression, it’s difficult to know what is needed and it’s certainly difficult to reach out for support.  Throughout my depressive episode, my wife had the very same question: “How can I help?” She wanted to support me, yet also didn’t know how.

Knowing how to support someone who is suffering from depression can be very challenging.  My goal for this post is to help provide ideas for those who are attempting to support someone with depression.  The support for people may look very different, particularly depending on the relationship one has with the person dealing with depression.  For that reason, I have separated  my suggestions into three categories based upon the relationship; 1) Spouse or family member, 2) Close friend, or 3) Acquaintance. While there may be some overlap amongst the three categories, there are also some significant differences.

Spouse or Family Member:  When supporting a spouse or family member, it is incredibly important to practice patience. (Note that from this point on, when I use the word, “spouse”, it is to include “or family member”).  Your spouse will most likely seem quite different in many ways while depressed compared to when they are mentally healthy. He/she may seem sad or emotionless.  He/she may not be able to do simple tasks around the house that they had normally done. In my case, I found myself sitting on the couch,  resorting to my bedroom, or following my wife around the house not knowing what I should be doing.  Practicing patience, understanding, and being empathetic will go a long way.

Offer to join your spouse for some of their appointments. My wife joined me for several appointments with my psychologist, hoping to gain some insights into what was going on with me and to learn how she might be able to support me. In addition, my wife and sister joined me for at least one of my psychiatrist appointments, particularly when I knew I was going to need their support. My wife was also at my side while at the intake meeting for the partial hospitalization program that I entered. Having her with me was hugely beneficial. She supported me morally and emotionally, as well as providing the support team with accurate answers to the questions that we had to field. Being severely depressed impacted my cognition and memory, so her support was indispensable.

Gently “push” your spouse to get exercise. I remember one bitter cold evening, my wife suggested that I go for a walk around the block. It was highly invigorating (relative to the major depression). Fresh air and exercise are both beneficial in overcoming depression. It may be nice to offer to join the person for a walk.  Understand that exercising, or even the idea of exercising, may feel like a massive chore for someone who is depressed, so there is a fine line in how much to push this piece. Consider asking him/her to walk to the store for an errand, if it’s not too far.  Asking to support with some of the chores around the house may be another way to get your spouse off of the couch or out of the bed.

Ask if there is anything you can do to support your spouse. Simply asking shows that you care and opens the door to a conversation. Do not be offended if the person is not very conversational. Engaging in conversations can be very challenging when depressed.

Provide resources for your spouse. If he/she is not yet a part of one, seek out support groups for him/her. If they are not seeing a psychologist, help him/her seek on out. Ask your spouse if it would be alright if you asked your friends or family members for a referral to a psychologist.

Close Friend:  There are several ways to support a close friend who is going through a challenging time of depression.  The first thing is to make sure to have the conversation. If you are concerned that a friend may have depression, ask the question. Let him/her know that you are concerned and worried.  It is really easy to isolate oneself when dealing with depression.  There’s a good chance that your friend, particularly in the case of males, may be masking his/her depression and may not be the one to broach the topic. Ask the question.

Ask if there is anything that you could do to support him/her. Your friend may not have an answer, but there is a chance that they do know and are able to articulate this for you. It is well worth asking.  Ask if he/she has the resources to support in their recovery. If not, offering to find resources would be a great way to help.

Reach out to your friend. Ask if he/she would mind if you check-in with him/her weekly or so. Ask him/her what the best way to reach out would be. In many cases, simply sending a text once a week or so to ask how he/she is doing is enough. Perhaps they prefer a phone call or an email. In any case, many people who are dealing with depression tend to isolate themselves and avoid friends. It’s important to take the initiative to reach out to your struggling friend.

Invite your friend out.  Again, this is a great way to prevent a friend from remaining inside and isolating him/herself.  It is not wise to drink alcohol when depressed (as alcohol is a depressant), so consider inviting your friend out for coffee, breakfast, or a lunch. Perhaps you could invite your friend to a movie.  One to one would most likely be the best scenario for any of these outings, as people who are depressed often do not want to be with a large group of people.  Consider inviting your friend to join you in an outdoor activity or a walk. This would provide fresh air and a bit of exercise. If you know a hobby or something that your friend typically would enjoy doing, offer that suggestion. I was really able to enjoy myself with a friend who invited me down to the river on a brisk winter day to take some pictures, as he knew that we both enjoy photography. He had to twist my arm gently, but this was a really positive day for me in the midst of my depression.  You may also consider having your friend over to your house to watch a movie or a favorite TV show.

If your friend is married, consider checking in with his/her spouse to see if there is any support the family may need.  Many times, when someone is ill with cancer or other serious illnesses, friends and neighbors create a rotation for bringing over a meal for the family. This rarely happens for one suffering from a mental illness.

Acquaintance: Just as with a good friend, if you’re concerned that an acquaintance may be suffering from depression, it’s worth asking the question. Be sure to ask in private and to let him/her know that you are asking because you are concerned.

Ask if there is anything that you could do to support him/her. Ask if he/she needs some resources and, if possible, offer to seek out resources for him/her.

Ask if you could reach out once in a while to support him/her. As mentioned above, a friendly text message to check-in to see how the person is doing weekly or so may be very supportive.

Encourage him/her to reach out to other trusted and loved ones.  Sometimes people resist reaching out for support.  Encouraging and supporting one in doing so could be very helpful.

In all of the cases, it is important to remember that depression is an illness, just as cancer or any other serious disease is an illness. Understand that it is not the person’s fault for being depressed, just as it is not the fault of anyone who has battled cancer, or again, any other serious illness. The person most likely does not want to be depressed and did not ask for it. He or she is not lazy, but ill.  Educate yourself on depression so that you can have a better understanding of what a person with depression may be experiencing.  Empathy and patience will go a long way! Be compassionate.  Offer support.

(Note: I feel obligated to mention that if you feel that someone is actually considering suicide, ask them the question directly. There is a false assumption held by some people that mentioning suicide will give the person an idea that they never had. This is not the case and has been shown by research. Asking the question will open up this dialogue that the person may never be able to discuss if not asked. If they actually have a plan, seek resources with the person immediately and call 911, if necessary.)

(Another Note: As always, comments to this post, or any of my other posts, are highly encouraged and would be greatly appreciated)

Depression is NOT Sadness

As someone who has been through a major depressive episode, I can assure you that depression is nothing like sadness.  Sadness is a normal emotion that people feel at times.  Sadness comes and sadness goes.  At times, sadness is the least of the feelings or emotions that someone in a depressive state may be experiencing.  In fact, I believe that one small part of the lack of understanding is the way people overuse the word “depression”.  People use it synonymously with the word “Sad”.  How many times have you heard someone say, “This weather is depressing?” or “I missed the show, I’m so depressed”.  This significantly diminishes the severity and debilitating nature of depression.  Would we ever describe the weather as “Cancerous”?

Depression often times manifests itself in a physical manner.  I have heard depression described as a ‘numbness’ rather than a sadness.  One therapist I saw described it as dealing with the flu or a traumatic brain injury.  People experiencing depression may not be able to get out of their bed for days on end.  I was lethargic.  Often, it felt as though I was trying to move through quicksand.  Many people experience a significant gain or loss of weight.  I lost over forty pounds and often times was unable to eat when I was going through my major depression.  I could not sleep, sometimes getting no more than ten or twelve hours of sleep for the week.  Although I couldn’t sleep, I wanted to remain in the safety of my bed, rather than be awake and at a loss of what I should be doing.  I had uncontrollable crying bouts, mostly contained to the evenings after struggling to “hold it together” for the entire day.  The depression impacted my cognition and memory.  I got lost when driving with my daughter to pick up a carpool friend who lived only blocks from our house.  I knew exactly where they lived and had been there on a number of occasions, yet I had to pull over and map their address on my phone.  Depression is often accompanied by a sense of guilt, particularly in cases in which there is no known trigger.  In my case, I still cannot put my finger on what caused me to go into a major depression, or any depression for that matter.  I had thoughts such as, “Why can’t I just be happy?”.  I was worried to leave the house and struggled, as a typically very outgoing person, to engage with others.  In my case, there were gradually increasing suicidal thoughts that I had eventually created a plan for.

I’m not sure if people who have not been through a major depressive episode can truly understand how it feels and how incredibly debilitating it can be.  I hope that people begin to consider how they use the word “depression” and try to gain a better understanding of what it means for someone to be depressed.

As always, comments are welcomed and encouraged!

A Problem with the Mental Health System

I am sure that throughout this new blog, I will be sharing entries that describe pieces of our current mental health system that simply are not working for those who it is supposedly meant to serve.  Here are just a few concerns I have right off the bat:

  1. I have worked with high school aged students who were suicidal and have had to wait for a bed in a facility for three weeks.  Not only is this tragic for the young man, but imagine being his parents, crossing your fingers each day and each morning, just hoping your child is still alive.
  2. I have met at least one man who needed immediate care who had to travel more than seventy miles outside of the city in order to get a bed in a facility.  How is that person to see loved ones for support?
  3. In my own case, I go to a behavioral health clinic that charges a patient for any missed appointment and will not see them again if they have missed two (consecutive?) appointments.  How does this serve patients (some of the most vulnerable people) who have a mental illness, many of whom struggle to get out of bed or leave their house?  Unfortunately, I do not believe this policy is outside of the norm.
  4. At my intake meeting at a partial hospitalization program, I went through a three-hour or so intake meeting.  After this meeting, I was given a diagnosis and a regimen of medicine.  This was the first time these staff members had ever met me.  I had a mental illness.  Who knew if I was even answering the questions honestly or correctly?  Many mental illness significantly impact memory, cognition, judgement, and much more.  Many patients may be incapable of answering correctly and others may be fearful of being honest, particularly with questions such as, “Do you hear voices?” or “How much alcohol do you drink?”.  Patients may then be given an incorrect diagnosis and put on meds that, in the worst case scenario, could be detrimental to their actual illness.  As a bare minimum, I believe that patients should be requested to bring a loved one or someone who knows the patient very well.  Of course, such a person may not be available, but the recommendation should certainly be made.  In my case, I was very thankful to have brought my wife, who corrected many of my responses for me.

These are just a few of the concerns that I have.  We need a system that truly serves the patients for whom the system was developed.

As always, comments to any of my blog posts are welcomed and encouraged.  Thank you.

Isn’t it Time to Talk?

Webster’s definition of an epidemic:

  1. 1 :  affecting or tending to affect a disproportionately large number of individuals within a population, community, or region at the same time <typhoid was epidemic>

  2. 2 a :  excessively prevalent b :  contagious 4 <epidemic laughter>

  3. 3 :  characterized by very widespread growth or extent :  of, relating to, or constituting an epidemic <the practice had reached epidemic proportions>

Webster’s definition of a pandemic:

  1. :  occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population <pandemic malaria>

The statistics around depression, and particularly suicide are, in my opinion, at a catastrophic level.  It is mind blowing to me that this is not a topic of conversation on a regular basis throughout our society. 

Here are just a few of those statistics that I’m referring to:

  • In 2014, the number of deaths by suicide in the US was 42,773. (CDC)
  • There is one death by suicide in the US every 12.3 minutes. (CDC)
  • There is one death by suicide in the world every 40 seconds. (WHO)
  • For every suicide (12.3 minutes) in the US, there are 25 attempts. (CDC)
  • Suicide costs the US $44 billion annually. (AFSP)

Is this not clearly an epidemic?  A pandemic?  And this isn’t a public topic of conversation on a regular basis????