Note: I had hoped to post this topic earlier in the month, but I wanted to complete my reading of a book languishing on my shelf for years. It is called The Secret Strength of Depression by Frederic F. Flash, MD. Despite the older publication date (1974), the basic information was solid and helpful and much of what you will read below is from that book as well as the article in Consumer HealthÂ Reports. The photo below is from: www.vahealth.com.
In a special report called “Worried Sick,” posted in the Feb. 2010 issue of Consumer Reports on Health, the first topic sentence reads: “Anxiety is the most common form of mental illness.” A few paragraphs later the authors write: “Anxiety often triggers depression, and it appears to increase the risk of other health problems, too.” (For example, when I searched for the photo I used above, this was the information that appeared under the photo:
Diabetes and depression are major health problems, especially for women. Research shows a definite link between depression and diabetes:
Diabetes doubles the risk of depression.
Depression increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, especially among women over the age of 45 and minorities.
Depression reduces the ability of individuals living with diabetes to care for their health. (Source: www.vahealth.com)
By itself, depression is difficult enough to handle, But when it triggers another health problem, the issue becomes more complicated. In one of my readings there was the statement that depression is the common cold of mental illness. Based on my own experience and the comment in Consumer Reports, depression is just the tip of the iceberg of mental illness, more serious than the common cold.Â So how do we define/recognize depression? Here’s Dr. Flach’s definition. He notes that no two people manifest each of the changes described at the same time or even in the same way, so keep in mind this is a general definition, quoted from pages 55-57 in The Secret Strength of Depression.
1. First, depression is commonly associated with a sleep disturbance.
2. The second important sign of depression is a lowering in sexual drive and ability.
3. Closely related to the decrease in sexual drive are a lossÂ of appetite and the disappearance of normal enjoyment in eating. (Can lead to aÂ significant loss in weight.)
4. The depressed person often has a feeling of urgency and of being trapped…His mood ranges from apathy to despair.
Later in the book the author writes about depression being a reaction to stress and then the depression itself becomes stressful, manifesting itself through a particular kind of behavior characteristic that may differ from person to person. Unfortunately, some people still consider depression a weakness of character, so a person experiencing depression might cope in ways that society finds less “abnormal,” such as drinking a little more than usual or partying a little harder.
However, as so many other issues have come out of hiding, such as homosexuality, alcoholism, and even menopause as a topic of discussion, the fact that someone is “clinically” depressed and on medication is not so unacceptable as when I experienced (postpartum) depression in the mid-60s and then again while going through menopause and divorce at the same time. Some people have said, ‘Who wouldn’t be depressed with that combination?’
Much of the book is about the kind of therapy and/or drugs that can help. Again, many people may still feel that going to a therapist means the person is crazy, rather than seeing it as a way to get help. I have an ongoing relationship with my therapist who lives 3 hours away, and when I need advice, I make a phone appointment. Talking to someone who is totally non-judgmental is very comforting. Plus I have two friends who are therapists and I can always call them to get their take on an issue. Very often, our perspective is skewed when we are stressed over something and another opinion is eye-opening.
Speaking of getting help, the article in Consumer Reports on Health has an interesting section called “When to seek help for anxiety,” listing the five most common types of anxiety disorders, suggesting that if they interfere with your life, find a doctor who can evaluate you or refer you to a mental health professional. Here is a link recommended by the article: www.freedomfromfear.org. (Here are two important statistics from this website: Anxiety disorders alone affect more thanÂ 40 million adultÂ Americans each year, causing them to be filled with fearfulness and uncertainty. Depression affects approximately 20 million adult Americans causing them to have symptoms such as hopelessness, sleep problems and feelings of being “down” andÂ “blue”. )
1. Panic disorder: Repeated, sudden, unexplained spells or attacks in which you feel anxious, frightened or uncomfortable.
2. Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia): The fear of being humiliated in front of others, or of being watched or the focus of attention (in public situations.)
3. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Experiencing or witnessing an event that included actual or threatened death or serious injury to you or someone else, followed by distressing re-experiencing of the event through dreams, memories,or physical reactions.
4. Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Excessive worry or anxiety about two or more things most days for the past six months. (This can be anything from work, family, health,finances, etc.)
5. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Recurrent images, impulses,or thoughts that take up more than an hour a day, are unwanted, distressing inappropriate, or intrusive and that you recognize are excessive and not rational.
Ongoing anxiety and/or depression are not to be ignored. As I noted earlier, I think depression (often triggered by anxiety) is the tip of the mental health iceberg. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. Camouflaging it won’t make it go away. Using drugs or alcohol to suppress it won’t make it go away. It is a problem that needs to be addressed head on, because your depression affects everyone around you. As the ad on TV says, “Depression hurts.” It doesn’t just hurt you; it also hurts those you love.
I think the hardest part is asking for help. But having someone professional “in your corner” may be the best first step. And you might find, as the book title says, that there really is a Secret Strength of Depression, because it keeps you alert to the signs and helps you cope better the next time a stressful issue rears its head, hopefully avoiding depression. (The cover photo above is my copy, while the one below is the cover of the newer edition. Available online.)
P.S. I think this book languished on my shelf because I didn’t really believe the title, and after reading it and understanding the nature of depression, I can more readily accept the title and what it promises.
Also, I checked my Home Page & realized I posted a different book to review, Dealing with Depression Naturally. I will post that at another time. The one above I have had too long not to investigate.