Have you ever felt joyless, hopeless, lethargic, sad, for an extended period of time? If so, you may be among the 21,000,000 Americans diagnosed with depression annually. It is an epidemic of monumental proportion that every person -- no matter their status, income or personal life -- can experience.
Recent suicides by college students at Cornell join the list of tragic deaths that include fashion designer Alexander McQueen, Growing Pains actor Andrew Koeing and Marie Osmond's son, Michael Blosil. Medical experts agree that taking one's life is the ultimate act of despair, self-hatred, mental anguish and, most often, major depression. With suicides in the limelight, it is vital to raise awareness of this mental disease and help those in need.
Depression is sometimes triggered by a situation, but just as often it is not. The worst economic disaster of modern times occurred in the United States and around the world during the 1930s was called The Great Depression. During that era, the suicide rate grew from 14 to 17 per 100,000. Today, with family, work and severe financial stress on the upswing among Americans, there are many triggers that can exacerbate the symptoms of those suffering from major depression.
It is important to understand that major depression is a mental condition and there is a genuine medical basis for this disease. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression has been shown to have a direct relationship with what is commonly called "a chemical imbalance in the brain." In fact, that is an apt description of what happens during a depressive episode. Researchers from the Canadian-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health have determined that an enzyme -- monoamine oxidase A -- actually breaks down mood-related chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine. This happens in periods of major depression and, in one study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, scientists found that the presence of that enzyme averaged 34 percent higher in patients with untreated depression.
Through my own struggles with depression, I discovered that knowledge, therapy, medication and education can provide the strength to get through it in one piece. It's often difficult for those who are lucky enough to have never experienced what true depression is to imagine a life of complete hopelessness, emptiness and fear. I embarked on this expedition of sorts, not only for my own healing, and for the healing of others, but for awareness for those who are parents, children, spouses or friends of someone living with these feelings day in and day out. Depression affects loved ones in such a profound way.
According to studies conducted and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, depression is one of the most prevalent, yet silent mental health issues our country faces today. Here are the facts:
- Fifteen percent of depressed people will commit suicide.
- Depression is the cause of over two-thirds of the 30,000 reported suicides in the U.S. each year.
- The third leading cause of death between ages 10 and 24 is suicide, most often a result of depression.
Facts can only tell you so much about this debilitating illness. Real knowledge comes from the hearts and minds of the people suffering from it. I have spoken with many victims of depression and their families and friends.
Ask anyone who has experienced major depression and they are likely to tell you it is insidious, deceitful and treacherous. It betrays you and misleads you in subtle, mysterious, unfathomable ways designed to trick you. You may even believe there's nothing wrong with you and that you don't need help. And that's just the beginning of the horror and misery of depression.
As I look back, I recognize that being able to talk about my depression was almost as agonizing as going through it. Ultimately, though it was therapeutic for me. At first, I was hesitant to share my own personal experience with depression. Over time though, I developed a responsibility, a sense of obligation, which led to my desire to publish my book.
I share my own journey through depression and recovery in my poetic memoir, Depression and Back, which will be in bookstores in April. The book consists of my very personal poems that open a door into what it feels like to suffer from depression, treatment and eventual recovery. My poems depict the pain and suffering I experienced, giving readers an opportunity to gain greater understanding about depression through my deepest feelings, rather than reading about the symptoms in a medical journal.
Spreading the word about depression is my mission. I am working to build awareness, educate people about the symptoms, and change public opinion and individual attitudes about depression. It won't be easy, but if more people understand depressed people, the easier it will be for them.