The Face of Depression

I’ve spoke of this many times before but feel the need to reiterate it now: depression isn’t always hiding under the covers, frowning or crying all the time. You may be sitting at work next to someone now who is fighting depression or you may pass someone on the street who offers you a smile, all the while fighting their own demons and wondering how they’ll make it through the day.

It’s not secret that I’ve had my own off-and-on battle with depression, I think it’s something I’ll always have to deal with. That’s partially why I haven’t written lately…I wasn’t really sure what to say. So many things have happened around me in the past 6 months that relate to mental health and suicide and I just couldn’t bring myself to write. Until now. I saw this video Chester Bennington’s wife posted on Facebook months after her husband died and I knew I had to share it. Maybe you’ve seen it, maybe you haven’t, but it’s a good reminder that depression doesn’t isn’t all tears and staying in bed, some people are better at hiding it than others. So use this as a reminder to hug your friends & family and always be open to lend a shoulder or a listening ear to someone who may need it.


The Chemistry Behind Depression and Mental Illness

Last month I received a phone call from my sister out of the blue. We often catch up weekly, but on this particular week, I had already spoken to her. When I answered the phone, the voice on the other line was full of passion and frustration.

My sister is a chemist who has only a few short months until she receives her PhD. While doing her research, she came across data supporting and explaining the chemical imbalance that someone suffering from depression or a mental illness faces. Although my sister has been a major part of my support system, it wasn’t until last month that I realized just how supportive she really is. She went on to tell me of the frustration she feels when people believe that medications are a “crutch” for someone dealing with a mental illness and the stigma that surrounds this topic.

The comparison was brought about that if you had cancer or diabetes, that medication would be the first step in overcoming and working through those diseases.

“Why, then, wouldn’t someone with a mental illness want to get that same help and treatment?”

My point exactly.

It is in these out-of-the-blue moments and side conversations that I remember why I fight for this cause.

Below is a post from the (almost) Dr. Hoover:

As a scientist, I like to look at problems in a critical manner. When I think of depression or any mental illness, I think of these from a chemical imbalance perspective. If you can inhibit the production of a certain chemical (dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine) and induce depression, how can one argue there is not a need for medication to restore a better balance of these “feel good molecules”?
Major depression affects 5% of people globally. While we refer to it as a chemical imbalance, it’s truly not that simple. Many chemicals are involved in the process, working both inside and outside of nerve cells. Millions, even billions, of chemical reactions are responsible for controlling a person’s mood and how they experience life. Scientists understand the brain better than they ever have, but we have a long way to go to truly understand how depression works at the molecular level. For now, I will choose to focus on dropping the stigma of taking medication that may help a person live a happier, fuller life.

Giving Back

It still catches me off guard when I see someone wearing a TWLOHA (To Write Love On Her Arms) shirt or sporting a bumper sticker. It always takes me back to the first time I heard about this organization and realized how much of an impact speaking up about suicide, depression, and self-harm can actually make.

If you’re feeling generous this week and want to support a great cause, log on to the Sevenly website and support TWLOHA with your purchase.

There is Still Good in the World

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been looking at articles, blogs, and other publications that have been making light of many serious topics ranging from the War in Afghanistan to suicide. This got me thinking, is there really much good left in the world?

After a few days of my cynism, I came across an organization called Sevenly. This is an organization based out of southern California that chooses a different non-profit organization to support each week and donates a portion of their t-shirt sales to the selected organization. After following the organization for a week and a half, I was pleasantly surprised to see TWOLHA as their organization of the week. Sevenly was supporting them in order to help raise money for awareness of teens battling depression and suicide. A smile spread across my face as I ordered my t-shirt and appeared again a week later when I received my package and on it, which read “woah, you just changed a life.” My skepticism seemed to wash away with the discovery of this new organization. That is, until I read another article.

The following article was written by The Onion, which is an online satire publication. Of course you have to take what you read with a grain of salt, and normally I find many of their articles witty and entertaining. This one, however, wasn’t appealing to me, which was a brief picture mocking Seasonal Affective Disorder (or Seasonal Winter Depression, as the article calls it). This is already a type of depression that is often joked about and poked fun at because many people don’t believe it is a true type of depression; many people fall into a funk in the winter, is often a popular rebuttal. It was after reading this article that I remembered something positive I had read about a few weeks earlier.

Lady Gaga, who was kicking off her 2013 Born This Way Ball, was offering the chance for attendees of the concert to receive free counseling pre-show in her Born Brave Bus. The pop star, along with counselors, were giving teens a chance to talk about depression, bullying, or any other topics that they may not feel comfortable talking about at home. This took me back to a post I wrote last year as Lady Gaga honored the life of Jayme Rodemeyer, one of her loving Monsters.

I realized my cynicism had been misplaced. If I allowed myself to fall into the negative trap that so easily encompassed me the past few weeks, then I was just as bad as the people writing them. Organizations like Sevenly and TWOLHA coupled with celebrities going out of their way, like Lady Gaga and Demi Lovato, reminded me that there is in fact still good in this world.

The struggle between the negative and positive, good and bad that I had been struggling with lately is nothing compared to what it is like to battle suicidal thoughts or depression every single day. Have you ever been conflicted between two very major decisions in your life? One of them you know is the obvious answer, and yet, you just can’t bring yourself to come to the conclusion right away? That is a brief glimpse into what it is like to struggle with suicide or depression. Just as we all have decisions we have to make — choosing good or bad, positive or negative — for a person with a mental illness, every day is a difficult decision. That person has to decide what is going to take over, the light or the dark. With strength from within and help from others, it is something that can be overcome. Maybe this is done through a positive message from a non-profit, a hug from a friend, or maybe just through the compassion of a stranger, the negativity, the darkness, is something we can all overcome together if we just try.

Is There Always a Silver Lining?

silver-linings-playbook-posterA few weeks ago I went to see David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook. Though I went to see it as a way to escape the mundane elements of my own life, I found that it made me think more about the day-to-day aspects of life for those suffering from mental illness.

Two of the main characters, Pat (Bradley Cooper), and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), suffer from mental illnesses. The movie begins with Pat leaving a mental institution after spending a court-ordered eight months there. Pat, who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, must learn to live his life with this illness and mend relationships that he had broken in the past. Meanwhile, he meets up with Tiffany, who is dealing with issues of her own. After her husband dies, she begins a downward spiral into depression and a series of poor life choices. These two share a unique sort of bond, talking about medications and their supposed “craziness”.

Though the movie, in my opinion, was a great way to shed light onto certain aspects of mental illnesses, much of the movie seemed to focus on the manic personalities of these two characters. Along with the somewhat overplay of their mental illnesses, the role of the therapist, Dr. Patel, seemed to upset some mental health professionals, believing that this was not an accurate portrayal, “A therapist should provide a place of all feelings. If Dr. Patel had, Pat might have discovered his sadness isn’t crazy at all,” said Dr. Kunst in her breakdown of the movie.

Though the movie may not have accurately depicted some aspects of mental health issues or mental health professionals, the fact that this type of movie was released and has been doing well at the box offices says a lot about our society and their acceptance of mental illnesses.

Unlike Pat, I believe there is a time to be sad and to grieve, and that is a natural part of being human as well as living with a mental illness. However, I did enjoy his philopsophy on trying to stay positive in life, he said, “This is what I believe to be true: you have to do everything you can and if you stay positive you have a shot at a silver lining.”

National Suicide Prevention Week 2012

Out of the Darkness Walk 2011It has been over a year since my boyfriend killed himself.

It has been over a year since I started this blog which has forever changed my life.

It has been over a year since I, myself, was diagnosed with depression.

In the past year I have offered myself, and my stories, to be exposed to the people who have known me my whole life, and also to people whom I barely know. Taking the time to educate myself and others about suicide and depression will be something that will continue to be very important to me and I will strive to do for years to come.

This upcoming Sunday, September 9th, marks the start of National Suicide Prevention Week. To kick off this week, I will be walking in an Out of the Darkness Walk, which supports those who have lost someone to suicide. During this week, I’ll be sharing pieces of my own story as well as working to educate and spread information on how suicide and depression is being dealt with in our world and our media, and what you could do to help.

During this week, I ask that you all take a step outside of your comfort zone. Take an hour out of your day to share your story, or listen to someone else’s. All it takes is a few minutes that could save someone’s life.

Mental Illness Does Not Discriminate

Last night former Congressman, Patrick Kennedy, opened up to CNN’s Piers Morgan about his own struggle with addiction, bipolar disorder, and depression.

The famous last name has been around for years and I have yet to meet a person who can’t name at least one Kennedy, but just because a name may be famous or a person may be successful does not mean that they can’t struggle with the same illnesses or problems that many of us do. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate due to a name or a status in the society.

Kennedy told Piers Morgan that he is willing to talk openly about his own battle with mental illness in hopes to break the stigma that surrounds this subject. His story goes to prove that opening up to one person may change the life of another, “I spoke openly about it, because I knew that that’s what my constituents wanted, and that’s what they were anxious to hear. And in fact, many of them started talking to me about their own sets of challenges that they felt ashamed about,” Kennedy told Piers Morgan.

Someone as famous as a Kennedy could get a lot of negative press from opening up about such struggles, but it seems that that aspect was never a worry to him; he will share his story and open up about his past if it can help others and work to break this stigma around mental illness.

Talking about mental illnesses or even sharing a personal story could make a world of difference in someone else’s life. It’s time we all start talking about this more openly.

Has Technology Gone Too Far?

When it comes to technology, normally I’m all for it as it comes out. However, this week as I was looking into applications and smart phones I found some technology in the making that might actually push back the process of other people understanding and dealing with depression.

Researchers at Northwestern University are working on a technology that can help sense if someone is depressed. The technology would take into account a person’s mood, activity, location, and social context to determine whether or not a person is feeling depressed. If this new technology decided that a person is feeling slightly depressed, it would give the person an option to text message or call someone close to them.

Although I think it’s great that researchers are looking to develop new ways to help those suffering with depression, I feel as though this new smart phone technology may make the idea of depression seem too common. The fact that many people don’t take depression very seriously is something that myself and many others are working hard to defeat and my only worry is that this new technology would work to reverse all the efforts of many people. For now, the technology is still a work-in-progress and nothing may come of it; the fact that people are working to research this subject and talk about it is a step in the right direction.

Social Marketing Campaigns

Social marketing is one of the best ways to share information through different mediums. This type of technique tends to use many outlets to ensure that the message can be distributed to as many people as possible. One of the social marketing campaigns that I have come across is called Don’t Erase Your Future.

This campaign seeks to bring about awareness to people who may be having suicidal thoughts. What made this campaign interesting to me was the fact that they look at different famous people from the past and see how the world would be different if they had chosen to end their life. One thing that stands out to me is how blunt this website is. Although some people may find it too forward or not interactive enough, the fact that it is simple to maneuver and is honest is one of the things that caught my attention.

Social marketing campaigns are very effective and have become popular among many groups. When it comes to suicide and depression, I think these campaigns can be very effective if they can actually reach a large part of the population.

Here’s another marketing campaign that caught my eye. We Can Help Us :60

Risk Communication

There are many ways to go about spreading information over a general area. Public Service Announcements, other forms of advertising, and word of mouth are sometimes the easiest way to share information; the problem with some of these can be that the information can sometimes be altered along the way or affected by biases. Risk communication, or RC, is one of the most effective ways to share information among a large population.

Risk Communication, according to the U.S. Public Health Service, can be defined as “an interactive process of exchange of information and opinion among individuals, groups, and institutions”. Although Risk Communication is usually very effective and helpful, it doesn’t always go as planned.

After Japan was hit with a terrible tsunami last March, the country was in a state of shock. When the news of a radiation leak was spread, the country was even more disrupted and the population was increasingly nervous. Some people, including the writer of this Scientific American piece, believed that the risk communication taking place after this news was released could have been better. Even though the country as a whole had been disturbed and many lives had been turned upside down, this writer thought more communication could have made the situation better. Risk communication is vital in many aspects of health safety, including medication that is treated for those with suicidal thoughts and depression.

When it comes to SSRI’s and other medication, some people are skeptical. Every medication can have it’s own risks and benefits depending on the person and what type of illness is being treated. In 2006, some medical professionals were concerned with the warning labels the FDA was sending out on SSRI’s. Although communication over these medications has changed over the years, the concern over different treatments is still evident today. The way in which these journals, doctors, and other medical professionals go about their research and sharing their wealth of knowledge can have a major impact on how the public responds to these different types of treatments.