Afternoon InquisitionScience

AI: Depression & Let’s Say . . . Nudity

As Rebecca pointed out this morning, laughter is not the best medicine.

Everyone knows that booze is the best medicine, followed closely by penicillin, then more booze, then chemotherapy, and then laughter.

I would have included nudity in there somewhere, but I suppose with enough booze . . . well, anything could happen.

Now it seems — at least in regard to clinical depression — that early therapy for young people with symptoms may reduce the need for any medicine later. This article at Time.com details a study that suggests early therapy for kids suffering from depression lessens the severity of the symptoms associated with the disorder, making it a more manageable and less deadly affliction as they become adults.

(No word on whether any of the control group members chose to join fake laughing groups.)

Has your life been touched by depression or other mental illness in any way? Are/were you skeptical of conventional treatments? How did/do you cope? Therapy? Medicine? Laughter? Booze? Nudity?

(Full disclosure: I’ve never suffered directly, but a close family member was diagnosed manic/depressive, and it was a rough haul for all of us.)

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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88 Comments

  1. I have a lot of mental illness in my family, on both sides. My uncle on my dad’s side had schizophrenia, and he actually had an exorcism when he was about 19. I’ve heard rumors that his initial breakdown with schizophrenia was related to LSD use in the army. The tests happened and my uncle was in the army, but I don’t know if he personally was given LSD.

    My mom has been taking medication for depression for years, but the best treatment she got was divorcing my manipulative father, who I believe is a genuine psychopath. My uncle on my mom’s side has also taken medication for depression.

    I have a mild case of OCD and a tic disorder. The two are related because they both affect the same part of the brain, the basal ganglia. Unfortunately, problems in the basal ganglia can also cause Parkinson’s disease, which my other paternal uncle had. I wonder if this it makes it more likely that I will get it. My case of OCD is relatively mild, so I haven’t needed any treatment yet. One time an incompetent doctor gave me anti-anxiety drugs for what turned out to be a thyroid problem. They had some effect on certain aspects of my OCD, but not all of them. I think the drugs had a semi-permanent effect, because those things I got rid of haven’t come back in the years since I stopped taking any medication for it.

    I also have synesthesia, but that’s not really a disease and I’m glad I have it.

    I think there’s a lot of social stigma and doubt about mental illness, and I would like to see everyone take it more seriously. It drives me nuts when someone says that people with depression just need to get over it.

  2. video games, tons and tons of video games, till you’re so tired, when you go to bed, you crash out.

    I suffer from depression, and have attempted suicide before. It was when I was Xian, and dealing with my sexuality.

    Still, when I’m alone, and its quiet, I end up reflecting on the past problems of my life, from not fitting in, to not being all I could have been. I go downt he list of done-me-wrongs and done-wrongs.

    I also have a coworker who’s just as messed up in the head as I am. She feels the exact same way. A month ago or so, I had a really bad night, and after everyone had left, we were talking, and I told her: “Don’t want suicide, its the wimp’s way out. Don’t want homicide, it has some knarly side effects. Running away is too expensive. Sometimes, I with I could just fade away”. She’s just as fluent in crazy as I am, and knew exactly how I felt.

  3. @catgirl:

    I think there’s a lot of social stigma and doubt about mental illness, and I would like to see everyone take it more seriously. It drives me nuts when someone says that people with depression just need to get over it.

    I admit I was one of the insensitive ones until depression hit so close to home. I was ignorant of the severity of the illness, but I am now much more informed, and would never make light of it.

  4. Last year when I graduated college, I got a side of depression and social anxiety with my diploma. I think it was triggered by change and uncertainty. I was put on Lexaproe for the depression which was supposed to calm my social anxiety and anxiety attacks and sent to an LPC. I stopped taking the drugs because I didn’t like how they made me feel, but I continued to see my counselor for almost a year. I think, for some people, therapy is the best way to go.

    On a totally related note: I saw my depression as a failure which was reinforced by my mother who would make fun of SSRI commericals. She and other people also equate my depression (and my smoking habit) with not having a relationship with a god. That drives me crazy… I was Christian when I started being depressed. I prayed about it all the time. Then I realized, “Hey… this douche bag in the sky is supposed to have a great plan for me… why is it that I have to be miserable my entire life because he won’t share it with me? What an ass…” And I left religion… there are a lot of other reasons, but that was the main one. So in a way, depression cured my “delusion!”

  5. Grab some chips, this is a tad long.

    I once did go into a suicide moment when I was younger (I think around 16, I don’t remember exactly). I overslept the day I wanted to kill myself. So it was another day to school and I figured I might as well give the school counselor a shot. I told her everything and I kept seeing her for I think several weeks. All she did was just allow me to talk, but she never answered any of my questions about God’s plan and all that nonsense. Eventually she told my parents about me and dad sent me to a session with another psychologist. He was just as useless as my counselor.

    The thought of suicide never left my head, and to keep myself in check I invented a new reason to live, video games. So for those years, I coped with my depression by playing video games, and only living for the next game. But it wasn’t until 2007 when I watched Penn & Teller: Bullshit! when they first introduced me the concept of critical thinking and completly destroyed my notions of suicide.

    It turns out the real problem with me is that I felt something was very wrong with the whole plan of religion, but I never was told that I could question or challenge it. I live in a country in which the first line in the National Principles states “Belief in God” — that’s why I never knew. So once I tore myself from the burden of arbitrary rules, I started seeing things in a better perspective and realized my inquisitive mind.

    And so on, and so on, and so on…

    Now obviously I’m not saying the school counselor and psychologist I met are indicative that it doesn’t work, I’m just saying these two idiots didn’t help me. I’m rarely depressed within these past 2 years and I mostly play video games for fun and studies now.

  6. My brother-in-law was an alchoholic with bi-polar disorder. It wasn’t obvious at first but, as the strains of marriage and parenthood mounted up, his behavior became less and less under his control.
    I believe a great deal of this was being raised by a violent, abusive father. My brother-in-law was consciously aware that his dad was a monster, he knew he never wanted to be like him, he knew he was emotionally scarred by his upbringing. Yet, there he would be, smacking my sister and the children around, drinking away his problems, and obsessing about his son becoming a “faggot”.
    When my sister filed for divorce, he went off the booze and started on the therapy and medication. He actually loved my sister and his kids; he was just mentally ill and driven by cumpulsion.
    Unfortunately, the intervention only handled the manic portion of his bi-polar personality.
    One afternoon, he walked out the door with a pistol, drove off to a park he liked and shot himself twice in the chest.
    No one was skeptical about his problem or treatment. There are no promises or certainties with regard to mental health treatments. It helps some people. Sadly, not my brother-in-law.

  7. I have been a more-or-less functioning depressive for about as long as I can remember.

    This depression manifests in a variety of forms, some more severe than others, but I’ve never opted for medication. I’m not saying I’m anti-med for EVERYONE, and would not recommend ditching any meds you’ve been prescribed, but I’ve never felt comfortable with them, and (thankfully) have never had them prescribed anyway.

    As far as coping goes, well, it can be tough because there are easy times and times that aren’t so easy. Usually, when I get down, I can sleep on it. Doing orderly things (cooking, baking, making things) can help, as can getting together with friends (although that can sometimes lead to a BIG comedown).

    When things get really bad, I need to talk to people… friends and family can help, but are too emotionally involved and lose patience easily. When that happens, it’s best for me to go to a therapist. Even if I don’t buy into a lot of psychoanalytical methodology, I find it helpful to talk to someone and fall into a regular pattern of helping myself rather than just sitting there, lost and alone.

  8. I have cyclothymia, essentially a fairly low-grade bipolar disorder. Mine’s slighly unusual because, while I have well-defined and typical hypomanic episodes, I have very few and very mild dysthymic (depressive) symptoms. Many of the people on one side of my family have some sort of bipolar disorder, so there’s probably a genetic connection.

    It hasn’t been a serious problem for me. In fact hypomanic spells can be advantageous in getting some kinds of work done, though they can be thoroughly annoying in some other respects. I’ve had to make a few firm rules, such as NO discretionary spending during a hypomanic spell — I can buy essentials, but that’s all. I am prone to ill-considered impulse spending during those periods, which is very contrary to my character the rest of the time.

    Cyclothymia is just something I’ve learned to cope with on my own. I’ve never felt a need to resort to treatment of any kind, though my relatives with more severe bipolar disorders have done so, generally with fairly good results in recent years.

  9. Just short of a year ago, in fact, I think it’ll be a year next week, my mother-in-law killed herself. I didn’t talk about it online at the time, in fact, this is the first time I’ve mentioned it online at all.

    When it comes to depression, and mental illness, I am extremely skeptical about conventional treatments, therapy, medicines, you name it. Going through all that, and even still, watching my wife still struggling to recover, it struck me how much, as a science, psychology is still very much in its infancy. When it comes to physical diseases, conventional medicine and contemporary medical science may be better than they’ve ever been in the past. But when it comes to diseases of the mind, our contemporary understanding, in my experience, is still only slightly better than so called “woo”.

    A year ago, I was following the skeptical community pretty closely. You may recall, I was here just about every day. And I’m with you; A lot of that “alternative” stuff is bunk, and ought to be removed from the market.

    But a year ago, if someone had given us a homeopathic anti-depressant, even if it was just a kick in the placebo effect to buy us another month or so for the conventional treatment to kick in, I would have shut my mouth and let them administer it to her.

    We had my mother-in-law in the psych ward for over a month just before she died. The psychiatrist released her, because they couldn’t keep her against her will more than a month, at least not without more legalities. We were told that she’d made considerable progress. She kept going back for follow-up therapy and appointments. Two days before she died, she even called the suicide hotline, and had two police officers and an on-call counselor come to her home. But in the end, it didn’t work. It didn’t work, because she convinced herself that it wasn’t going to work, and wouldn’t give it a chance to work.

    My wife is in counseling, dealing not only with the trauma of her mother’s death, but the legacy of depression that she inherited. In addition to seeing a counselor, she’s also seeing a naturopath (*shrug* I’m the skeptical one; she’s not. What can I do?)

    Maybe it’ll help, maybe not. If it does help, maybe it is just placebo effect. But the only thing I can do at this point is watch for warning signs, and be ready to take over when needed.

    And yes I could teach her meditation. But I’m every bit as skeptical about my own spiritual practice as I am about anything else. Besides which, most of the books I’ve read warn that people with depression or schizophrenia shouldn’t do meditation practice without a qualified teacher. There are no meditation centers in our city that I’ve been able to find, and I’m nowhere near qualified. So it might be fine for me, but in her case, it could make things a lot worse.

    But from where I stand, from what I’ve seen, conventional medicine isn’t much better for psychological issues. And if it is, it has to get there a hell of a lot sooner to do any good.

  10. My mum’s battled with depression ever since she had to identify the body of her dead brother when she was 16. And other stuff followed as well, but those aren’t really my stories to tell… The depression is still off and on.

    My best friend from college wants to kill herself almost every winter, and this past winter she was so bad that her own mother actually did try to off *her*self and nearly succeeded. They’re both better now, for now, but I really think they need stop spending winters in New Jersey. I don’t know about her mom, but I think my friend’s depression might be more bearable if she didn’t have the S.A.D. on top of it.

    I’ve never been depressed to the point that I actually felt suicidal, but I have had thoughts like, “What would happen/How would people react if I were to just not look both ways before crossing the street and I got hit by a car.” That only happened this past winter, and not very often. Just a couple times here and there and only while actually crossing the street after having looked both ways.

    I have mild ordering/arranging OCD, and I don’t like my skin (just the skin on my back, shoulders, décolletage, neck, and face) to be touched. As in, if I’m wearing a sweater, fine, hug away. If I’m wearing a tank top, don’t touch me. Also, if you’re wearing a tank top I don’t want to touch you, but you’re fine if you’re wearing a sweater. All of that is with the very fortunate exception of my husband. No limitations there. ;-)

    The ordering/arranging used to be quite bad during college. I couldn’t start reading books or articles until I’d counted and wrote down how many pages are in each chapter and calculated how long it would take me to read it all. I wouldn’t be able to start writing papers until I picked all the lint off my bed comforter, and I would pick lint off other people’s clothing. And I couldn’t get to class until I’d arranged the push-pins on the dorm hallway cork board into a ‘satisfying’ pattern, whatever ‘satisfying’ meant at the moment. And I’m very indecisive, so when I have to pick from a number of things, I’ll use the number 8 (or a divisor or multiple thereof) to help me make a decision. It all got better once I met my husband. Then it reverted a little bit recently, then got better… It seems to ebb and flow depending on how happy I am. But I’m mostly okay now. I’m also usually very happy now. Aaron likes to think that he “cured” me, and really, I can’t think of any other way to explain it. ::shrug::

    Never sought treatment for any of it, though I almost started seeing a therapist this winter. I mostly try to channel the OCD as productive energy, when it’s around. But it’s still nothing like what it was.

    Except for the skin thing. Seriously, don’t touch me in the summer. ;-)

  11. My work can be quite stressful and depressing at times but the episodic incidents of my feeling depressed resolve on their own fairly quickly, and a couple of margaritas or a BIG Scotch can be quite medicinal at the end of a rough day. My ADD is an ongoing irritation, inconvenience and bother which is generally effectively managed with a typical medication. I have worked with hundreds of clients with significant mental health issues who have not been able to manage a normal life even with medication and treatment. I’ve also seen as many folk with substantial mental health problems who manage life pretty well with medication and support from friends and professionals. I regularly read research about the effectiveness of different kinds of therapy, and talk therapy is typically found to be no more effective than having a friend to talk over issues with. The rub is that if someone has mental health problems that are not being managed and they don’t have a friend to talk with then therapy can be effective if the issues are not genetic or biochemical. Many medications for mental health issues are very effective and the science behind them is constantly improving. Sadly mental health is one of the worst funded areas of medical and public health research. And the stigma of having mental health problem will often lead people, especially the young, to avoid having an assessment or treatment.

    And as others have said medical science is still in the early stages of dealing with mental health diseases, disorders and conditions where often the life circumstance of an individual exacerbates or reduces the level of dysfunction occurring.

    sad about David Carradine apparently hanging himself today

  12. Has your life been touched by depression or other mental illness in any way?

    Yes. I suffer from fairly conatant but usually very mild depression that is usually exacerabated by external curcumstances outside my control.

    Are/were you skeptical of conventional treatments?

    Was and am. About 9 years ago I was prescribed a very mild anti-depressant. It just about ruined my life. I’ve never felt so fuzzy, so out of touch, so numb.

    How did/do you cope? Therapy? Medicine? Laughter? Booze? Nudity?

    For me the only truly successfuk way to get out of the depression — though it never completely goes — is to find a way to, as they say in clinical psychology, feel well used. You know, have a good job, be actively looking for ways to improve my mental state. That sort of thing.

    A big irony here is that when I was homeless in 2005-06, I was not as depressed and down as I was when I finished my adult return to college in 2000 and was having trouble finding work and was facing financial hardship. That was probably the single most dreadful time of my life.

  13. Personally, no, nothing worse than the typical depression any emotional person gets when they lose a loved one. However one of those I lost committed suicide and I just wish I’d known what was going on with him. It was the most awful day of my life when I found out, it was the first time I’d ever lost someone my own age and besides being a friend he was also an ex. The thought that this person I’d been so intimate with was gone tore me apart and it was months before I felt normal again (not helping things was my grandfather also passing away and my brother leaving to join the military).

    Also my mom’s foster brother was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and still suffers the consequences of his mother’s stupidity 38 years later. I know it’s a developmental disability not a mental illness but that doesn’t make it easier for him or the family. Since my foster-grandmother passed away my mom has been his guardian and he’s wonderful even if I need to frequently remind myself that mentally he’s equivalent to an 8 year old. I just get angry thinking about the fact that he didn’t need to be born with all the problems he has, he could have been perfectly healthy.

  14. Yup, depression and social anxiety. Was on Paxil for 1.5 years then weaned off it, and things have been pretty stable since. The pangs of depression and anxiety are still there, but I’ve been able to reason myself out of it so far.

    Critical thinking skills from reading skeptic/atheistic blogs have helped a lot, as well as reading Feeling Good, which essentially teaches you the basics of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. The cover makes it look like some anti-drug, wooey self-help pap, but it’s actually rather down-to-earth and unobtrusive, and not at all anti-drug (in fact there’s a chapter covering various drugs). It probably helps most those people who are already introspective and at least selectively able to think critically.

    For the depression skeptics our there, my best explanation of it is that it’s a sort of delusion, where you generally just think things are far worse than they actually are. A depressive spiral usually starts with some minor setback in one’s life, which just snowballs out of control.

    So like, your grandma dies, and suddenly you become obsessed with the idea that everyone you love is going to die, which means your life sucks, and there’s no point.

    Or, somebody turns you down for a date, and suddenly that means you’re ugly and unlovable and nobody likes you and your friends aren’t actually real friends because this one time one of them said something mean to you, and so your life sucks and there’s no point.

    Or you fail a test, and that means you’re going to going to drop a letter grade, and so you won’t get into grad school and you’ll end up at a shitty job that you hate, and so your life sucks and there’s no point.

    It might all look very silly to an outsider, but it’s this negative feedback loop that’s hard to “just snap out of”. And even if you do snap out of one particular downward spiral, there’s another stressful event lurking around the corner to crank your amygdala up to 11.

  15. I’ve suffered from some form of depression since I was little – maybe around 9 or so. I also have PTSD and bulimia. I’m on meds. I also go to therapy. Mostly, what helps is being around other people. I need to remember that when I start isolating I could end up losing another year under the covers. So, that means getting off the computer, out of the house and socializing IRL.

    As for the PTSD, it’s all about remembering that I’m not where I was, I’m safe and staying grounded in the here and now. I’ve never done alternative treatments – for me, medicine is the best medicine.

  16. I’m sorry this isn’t very well written. I’m exhausted…

    I finally called it quits with my husband last night. As mentioned a few times previously, my husband is a bipolar I, mixed-state & rapid-cycling although I think a couple other labels could be added. I won’t replay all the other posts, just a few more facts to fill in the story. When we met, he had been diagnosed but had given up on therapy and was in complete denial that he actually had a an illness-and I believed him. The episodes started small, mild depression, mild mania, etc. Quirky, but deal-able. Over the next few years, he became increasingly unstable. His illness was compounded by drug use (marijuana, alcohol and cocaine). A year ago, he went sober after a rage-fueled suicidal drug binge. Long story, short: he still refused treatment for his bp and the sobriety ended in March. By April he had lashed out at my daughter (scariest moment of my life) and beat, and I mean BEAT our dog. The man I married would never have hurt a creature. I’ve watched the depression destroy his career, value system, our savings, his self-esteem, his social life, as well as my self esteem & confidence. Still, I stayed and helped him out of love and compassion, got him into some treatment (what he would accept) and watched as I became the enemy. I have no defense for staying so long except to say that the stress of living this life for years had slowly warped my view of what was acceptable.

    Yesterday was our 3rd wedding anniversary, and for some reason I called up his dad. This was the first time I had ever talked to any of his immediate family (warning sign there, but it’s a complicated story). After introducing myself, I just laid out what had been going on for the past few years. His father was bawling on the phone. He told me of the years of abuse and bp behavior he endured from his mother (my husbands grandmother) and told me of Lance’s childhood (I think both of his parents had mental issues). He begged me to get out with my daughter, to save her. The conversation was so horrifying-ly elucidating that I knew the cycle had to stop here and now. I looked back at the past few years and saw so many small markers of abusive behavior, ones I passed off as new parenting mistakes and self-centered behavior. My husband is so scarred, and his bp behavior has so warped his perspective that I know there is no way he can raise our daughter. I read him the riot act last night, told him what he had to do to be involved in his daughter’s life, but I don’t expect him to do it. His behavior controls his brain now and it twists reality in a way that only validates his rage and delusions. He has no idea of appropriate behavior, no understanding of boundaries or healthy love. I can’t describe the amount of pain bp disorder and the accompanying mania and depression has brought into my life. What keeps me going is raising a beautiful little girl who will have a chance.

    So, yeah…

  17. @nollidge: CBT and D(Dialectical)BT therapy have been very useful for many of my clients. I really like the way the program works to give people tools and methods to manage their thoughts and life in general. Much better IMO than many other programs out there.

    @Ashley.Ele: I’m sorry, and applaud your ability to make a thinking and rational decision. Best wishes for the future.

  18. @Ashley.Ele: I don’t post much around here, so I don’t know how this will sound coming from a stranger on the Internet, but my heart goes out for you. From what you told us, you definitely made the right (and hence the most difficult) decision. You have my best wishes for the future.

    As to the Inquisition, I have SOMETHING going on with my brain, I just don’t know what it is. Some of my earlier doctors thought it schizophrenia, though that latter turned out to be inaccurate. Schizophrenia requires either a set of positive symptoms (hallucinations, delusions) or negative symptoms (poverty of speech, emotion, etc…) combined with thought disorder. Problem is, I didn’t have ANY of that. I’d never hallucinated, my speech was fluid, and while I have trouble organizing my thoughts sometimes it’s because I’m nervous or am working through a thorny issue. I do not suffer from the specific thought distortions typical of schizophrenic or psychotic patients.

    What I did have: I was depressed as hell, and had some OCD traits. I was nervous, getting fairly paranoid, and so angry I couldn’t think straight. Meds have hurt as well as helped: when I was away from home dealing with this, I gained a TON of weight. What has helped the most was therapy and the relationships I’ve managed to develop with others. Thanks to a combination of the good meds and good company, I’m much more stable now. OCD and paranoia are practically gone, just leaving me with my low (but improving) self-esteem and depression.

    Skeptical of treatment? Of course. Mixed in with the science in the recovery movement is a metirc ton of woo. (I once went to a “spirituality group,” which was complete New-Age nonsense.) When I was in treatment, the people around me also tried all they could to convince me that I was suffering from an inherent, biological tic that could not be changed. I was, in short, inherently different from other people, and would never be the same, and would have trouble accomplishing the same amount as others. This notion is unacceptable to me, especially given that I can see distinct psychological factors (bullying in grade school, upbringing, extreme tensions with parents) that contributed to my experiences.

    I really think that we draw a false dichotomy between the brain and the mind: everything psychological is biological, everything biological is also psychological. But people think that if it’s your brain that’s gone wrong, it’s irrevocable. While if it’s just your mind, you’ll be all right. Forgetting, of course, that they’re the same thing. Neuroplasticity has never occurred to some people.

    So, in short: yes, mental illness has touched my life, and I ‘ve dealt with it through therapy, friends, medicine, and a dash of vicarious nudity.

  19. When I was close to suicide I got but one person utter some support words. I’m sure she didn’t even pay much attention, but it was no other than Rebecca Watson (if I was a stalker, I would likely ride a SUV and knock bikes around).

    I don’t know how I got “out” – sometimes the feeling returns, but I can recognize it clearly and feel like its no big threat. I probably became depressed for being a misfit in family, school and society.

    Today I know I also have SPA, which is fun!

    I didn’t look for treatment because I couldn’t afford it before, and now I “think” I can just live with it (I still have to be careful with the money). However, my younger son is showing some problems (which I attribute to my own non-verbal communication) and so we arranged for an appointment so he gets help.

    I am amazed and inspired by others’ experiences. Even if I don’t answer back, be sure that I stop to ponder about each one.

  20. Depression and migraines, for as long as I can remember. I’ve resisted medication for both, or acknowledging that I had either. I called the migraines “sinus headaches” and called depression a bad moo and just dealt.

    Last year, my doctor listened very patiently to my description of a sinus headache. Then she said “Great. So, let’s call a spade a spade. You have migraines. There are medications.”

    This was the first doctor who had ever, in three decades, taken the time to actually listen to me about much of anything.

    I demurred anyway.

    This year, the PA who was conducting my yearly checked her notes and asked if my migraines were improving. They weren’t, they were worse, clocking in at about 2 a week. She asked if I wanted to try medication. I demurred. She actually just flat out asked “Why not? If it can help, wouldn’t you want to stop the migraines?”

    She had a point.

    I can honestly say that this particular drug (sumatriptan succinate) has completely changed my life. It got rid of my migraine when I took it, but more importantly, it killed the depression. I no longer feel hopeless and dead. I go whole days without thinking about killing myself. I can contemplate how much my friends hate me, or how little I’ve done this year, or whatever, without spending the next 3 hours obsessing about it.

    And as long as I keep taking the trips, I’m fine. But for some reason, I’ll push it. I play chicken with it. I’ll see how I feel after 3 days, 5 days… by a week, I’m slipping back into my own personal desperate hell.

    I don’t know why I do that.

  21. @Ashley.Ele: I’m so sorry you’ve had to make such a difficult decision, but it sounds like you’ve made the right one. I wish you nothing but the best for the future.

    My personal experience with mental illness has been mild depression, but my grandmother’s mental illness was the one that was most scarring for me emotionally. She had some sort of delusional disorder and turned from this wonderful lady who had played hide-and-seek with me when I was young to an extremely paranoid individual who would accuse my mother of terrible things and who attacked my 90 year old grandfather on multiple occasions.

    Her illness tore my family apart because my uncle and his family are basically mental illness deniers. She went untreated for so long because they didn’t believe that there was a problem, and my grandma could put on quite an act in the hospital to convince her caregivers that there was nothing wrong with her.

    She passed away last year, and I was heartbroken that, even though she was FINALLY medicated close to the end, I never got to interact with her in a meaningful way now that I’m an adult.

    So, yeah. I’m a firm believer in using conventional treatments if they are available. At least try them, adjustments can always be made if a particular therapy doesn’t work properly.

  22. I have schizoaffective disorder, which combines symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. It’s an extremely bad illness to have, but I’m what they call “high-functioning”. Nonetheless, I’m on disability because of my disorder. I used to be a computer programmer, but I can no long concentrate long enough to write code. I’ve only been hospitalized once for my illness, so I’ve been lucky that way.

    Medication has been both curse and blessing. Over the years meds have made me have panic attacks, rapid cycling, weight gain, fine tremors, hair loss, and other fun symptoms. On the other hand, I’m now on the right meds and I’m doing pretty well. I’m going back to school right now to become a librarian.

    I will say that I look forward to conventional treatments getting better. One of the meds I’m on, for example, can cause diabetes. I’ve gained about forty pounds on it and have to have regular blood glucose tests to make sure the drug isn’t having any permanent effects. Lots of psych meds have terrible side effects. I can’t wait for better drugs.

    Amusing side note: I used to really be into the occult, because I saw ghosts and demons and other hallucinations. And that’s what they were: hallucinations. Once I got on the right meds I stopped having them. It was at that point I got skeptical.

    My sister has pretty bad OCD and anorexia, my half-sister has bipolar disorder, and our father has depression (and possibly mild bipolar disorder). So it runs in the family. Both my sisters are on meds. My father manages his illness with B vitamins, fish oil capsules, meditation, and exercise. He swears by all this. As long as he doesn’t get suicidal I don’t care what regimen he’s on. I have found that my mental health has improved since I started exercising in January, though. So I think Dad’s right on that bit.

  23. @ Everyone

    First of all, thanks for all the hugs. Second, to anyone who has ever been touched personally by mental illness, ((((bear hugs)))

    Its been a long difficult road and I’ll be on it for awhile longer. I hold a great compassion who has ever been held captive by mental illness and love for those who have stood up and helped those they love, regardless of stigma or abuse.

    The National Alliance on Mental Illness has some fantastic support groups. I am currently attending their new step-by-step program for family members of bp/schizophrenic/schizo-affective disorders. If you are caring for someone with mental illess and are doing it alone, I recommend reaching out to NAMI’s network. Nobody has to travel this road alone:
    http://www.nami.org/

  24. @Ashley.Ele: Oh, crap… I’m both sad and glad you did what was right, even though it’s going to be tough. I hope you and the little toe-sucker are somewhere safe with people around you who have your best interests at heart. (BIG E-HUG!)

    I think that more people have issues than not, so I’m skeptical when psyche terms get thrown around. I think that, sometimes, it’s just the cost of being human. But, I have the utmost sympathy for those who really can’t do for themselves and get the help they need. Whether it’s medicinal, therapeutic, or (gasp) spiritual (forgive my agnostic leanings). As long as they retain some control in who they really are.

    I’d be remiss not to mention that I consider myself one of those people. Got tired of being where I was in life and decided to change it. I don’t want to go into it too much, but I can sympathize with the majority of the people here.

  25. My sister was suicidal for a long time in college until they got her meds correctly adjusted. She attempted suiced at least once I know of but her roommate got her to the ER in time. She will be on anti-depressants for the rest of her life. My first wife may be descending into schizoprenia. Whenver I talk to her she seems to be further and further out from reality. I don’t like letting the kids go with her. My current wife takes anti-depressants and moodstablizers. My father’s mother’s insanity deystroyed her family and fucked up all of her kids to some extent or another. Several of them ended up in prison at least for a while. My great grandfather died in an insane aslyum in California in the 1930’s and his son died in a soroity house shower when he was in his ’90s after he was released from an insane asylum. Not sure why but I don’t think I have any mentla problems.

  26. Just wanted to say how amazing I think this thread is, and everyone who’s posted to it sharing their stories. It certainly helps to know we’re not alone with this type of stuff…

  27. @Ashley.Ele: I don’t which is more brave, resolving to get out or hanging in there for so long. Best of luck to you girl. I’m quite new to this blog but it seems there are some good people here to talk things through with.

    About 2 months ago my wife had her second sudden breakdown. A good helping of depression with a big side order of psychosis. Both times were about 6 months after giving birth. Is that too long a gap to call it post-natal psychosis? This time she was hospitalised for a month. Needless to say it has scared the crap out of me, her, everybody.

    I fear the stigma of mental illness is going to be a lot harder to shake off than some other cultural prejudices. Something with the power to change how we think, our very personalities, the single thing that makes us who we really are, instills a very special and, I think, rational fear. When someone you love changes so completely, unrecognisably, you wonder if you’re ever going to get them back.

    But the pills and the counselling seem to have turned my K around. The 3 kids have their mum back at home and they are starting to forget she was ever away. She has her bad days but she’s trending upwards.

  28. @Ashley.Ele:
    You are amazingly strong. ((hugs))

    I’ve often tangoed with depression. I’ve got a history of it (looking back at my life), and about 10 years ago I got the diagnosis. That was after I signed myself up for an emergency psych eval. Prior to that I had been seeing a counselor, but that wasn’t doing enough. I was hestitant about going on meds, but they probably saved my life. They certainly saved my academic life. My psychiatrist was good about sending me in for lab tests to make sure it wasn’t my thyroid (my maternal lineage has thyroid issues). After getting the all-clear there, she put me on Paxil. I was on that for a few years, then switched to Celexa. I had some fantastically vivid dreams on the Paxil, but I was also pretty tired on it. I’m pretty much a lifer on it. I’ve been able to get my dose down to 20mg (and I’m on a generic, so it’s much cheaper), but in the last six months I’ve had to increase it due to another episode.

    I’m doing better now, with the increase in my meds and seeing a therapist. I’m going to stay on this higher dose up through next year (that’s my applying-for-tenure year–for that I want to be as medicated as possible. ;) ) I’m not sure how long I’ll stay with this therapist. I’m over the worst of it.

    So, yeah, mental illness–I has it. Mostly under control, and it sucks rocks when it isn’t.

  29. @SJBG: I, too, am overwhelmed by this thread.

    @Sunny Ng: I think it’s awesome that skepticism brought you solace. A lot of people I know don’t understand how living without religion can be uplifting. I do. Thank you for sharing that.

    @ everyone – thanks.

    I was first diagnosed with depression in elementary school, and have been trying to figure out how to live with it for 17 years now. I had some awful medicines and some not-so-bad ones. It’s something that has a looming and direct impact on everything I do and it affects me every day.

    I find it really hard to silence that part of me that tells me that it’s just me feeling sorry for myself or being lazy or taking things too seriously. Yes, I know it takes and will take a lot of hard work on my part, but please – don’t tell me to “snap out of it.”

  30. Does it help if I say I’m nude while I’m posting?

    I come from a distinguished line of the crazy, with a rather nice touch of it myself. My grandfather certainly had the most unique illness – never officially diagnosed (one didn’t get diagnoses in those days) but he claims to have undergone a transformation to a higher order of human just before my mother was conceived. He writes treatises on his biology and philosophy, and sends them to university professors. He’s also monstrously manipulative, violent, and a pedophile. My mother ensured he couldn’t contact her after I was born. I think perhaps if my grandmother hadn’t come from the long line of abusive families that she did, she wouldn’t have stayed with him as long as she did… but that’s the fun thing about the crazy. It runs in the genes, and in the environment. The nature/nature debate has always struck me as myopic and useless, since it seems to assume that these things are separate from each other. It’d be easier to list the family members on each side who don’t have clinical depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, or ADHD. Oh, and tourettes (but I think that one’s pretty much all genes). The genes give everyone a tendency, and the unstable environment tends to make that tendency a reality. My mother tried really hard to help me when I began displaying high perfectionist tendencies and typed behaviour as a child, and to protect us from her own dysthymia, and I think that’s helped me be as high functioning as I am.

    I’ve ‘simply’ got “generalized anxiety disorder” (I scare-quote it in my mind, since it sounds like such a permanent thing- a disorder – I like to pretend that one day, it’ll just go away. Like the plantar wart I used to have.) My generalized anxiety flares up to panic when I’m called on to eat in public, which makes socializing and working (I have to travel and eat out a lot) pretty difficult. I was very skinny in highschool, and was teased a lot for being “anorexic”, which I wasn’t. I ate over 3000 calories a day, trying to eat fatty, sugary foods right before bed in an attempt to gain weight, which probably exacerbated the acid reflux and esophageal scarring I was prone to from a hiatus hernia. I had always coped by just gorging myself in public, to demonstrate that I wasn’t anorexic (because evidently anorexic girls are to be hated, because they make other girls feel fat and bad about themselves), and I eventually became so anxious about the constant real and perceived judgement around food that I began to feel nauseous every moment of every day, to the point where eating was a strain, and it took me 45 minutes just to eat a bowl of cereal. Going to restaurants, previously a treat, became torture because I was convinced I would throw up in public, and would simply sit there shaking and sweating and poking at my food.

    I tried Zoloft twice – first time for 6 months after a massive panic episode upon moving town and starting my career, and it made the constant 24/7 nausea I’d had since I was 17 go away (it’s hard to believe I lived like that for 5 years), but I had a terror of becoming dependent on drugs to live, the way I perceived my mom (who developed Serotonin Syndrome this year, and is now no longer able to take any medication), so I went off it. Then a year later panicked about going out in the field to work, and tried to go back on, only to have the worst side effects, with such excruciating acid reflux it burned when I inhaled. So, off that again. I’ve yet to have a doctor do more than chuckle indulgently at my anxiety and reach for the pad within 30 seconds, then usher me out the door, and once saw a counselor, after trying for months to get a referral. I stopped seeing her after 5 visits when my insurance ran out. She also told me that she’d never had a patient who was as hard on themselves as I was, and seemed genuinely at a loss as to how to help me. Which my perfectionist self was quite proud of (I can hate myself the bestest of everyone!).

    Besides the societal stigma of mental illness, I’ve avoided more attempts at treatment for three reasons. 1) I’ve been nuts my whole life – the boundaries of my 27 short years have been defined by the limits of my safe, stifling, choking fear. I’m like one of those inmates who deliberately commits a crime after being released, just to get back to the safety of prison. I don’t know if I could handle the freedom, man.

    2) It’s difficult to get treatment for anxiety or depression, because it requires exactly the type of determination and ability to constantly put yourself out there, seeing doctor after doctor, until someone finally listens to you and takes you seriously, that someone in that condition simply doesn’t have. When you don’t care about yourself, or have an insane fear of rejection, that just isn’t possible.

    and 3) bonkers as I am, I’m the most balanced one of my family, the one everyone else comes to for some sanity, and some hope for the bloodline. If I admit my problem is as bad as it is, I feel like I’ve let everyone down. If I can just ignore it well enough, then maybe the family curse will end with me.

  31. My great-aunt killed herself with a pistol when she was in her early twenties. Her two children, a girl of about four and a boy of about two, were alone in the house with the body for many hours before anyone came by. Her sister was brilliant, graduating from university with high honors in an era when very few women pursued academic degrees. Then the mental illness set in, and she spent decades institutionalized, and often begged for a gun to kill herself with.

    My aunt had a lengthy hospitalization for depression, including electro-convulsive therapy. After maybe two decades of suffering, her depression curiously faded away in her forties. Her sister, my mother, has been briefly hospitalized for anxiety and depression, and has OCD.

    My first cousin was a young Air Force lieutenant in Vietnam, working a desk job at a large base, not in combat. One day he locked himself in a room with an M-16. I remember the highway patrolman coming to notify us when we were on vacation at the coast. I was about 9.

    I’ve had severe depression, insomnia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder all my life. Severe enough that I understand exactly why my relatives committed suicide. But for some reason I’ve never been hospitalized or attempted suicide like the others in my family. One way I’ve dealt with this is by deciding that I would never have children. I am not passing these genes along.

    Has anyone else made this decision?

  32. I’m dysthymic which means I have chronic, low level depression. Meds have helped, but I still suffer from low self-esteem, and I’m working on that with a counselor. My FIL also is depressed, though his depression seems to be somewhat in the bipolar range. Again, meds help.

    Although talk therapy helps me with some specific issues, it wasn’t until I got on meds that I actually felt better. I’ve often said that when it comes to mental illness, everyone becomes a Christian Scientist and tries to steer you away from medical intervention. Thankfully, both my FIL and I have people around who understand that some mental illnesses have a physical basis and can be treated by physical means.

  33. @PeteSchult: On some of the specific suggestions in the AI: Booze and pot didn’t really help. Speaking as a nudist who gets naked whenever possible, I’d like to think that nudity has helped, particularly social nudity, but I can’t prove it.

  34. @SaraDee: Does it help if I say I’m nude while I’m posting?

    —————

    Yes.

    Hey, I was with you at one point. I’m not even on a depression med, I just lucked out by responding well–and yes, I looked it up, and yes, there are clinical trials showing that the drug I’m using is more effective than placebo for depression–to my migraine meds.

    When I was first diagnosed with depression, it was because I my wife told me to get help or get out. She couldn’t take it anymore. I hadn’t realized how hard it was to live with me. I went to see a Cognitive Behavior Therapist because I wanted a diagnosis without an immediate drug prescription.

    And I still didn’t do much for a year, besides reading “Feeling Good”. Which is a great tool, by the way, and might be worth looking at.

    My friends have all told me, privately, that I’m better now than I’ve ever been. People who met me after college are seeing the guy my college friends knew. I’m starting to win. The people who know me are thrilled that I’m breaking out of my prison.

    And my depression still tries to drag me back into jail. Years of walking hell, insomnia, panic, and hiding hiding hiding all the time… and my depression wants to drag me back.

    I get it, Sara Dee. I get what you’re saying. But it’s better out here. Really, it is. And help isn’t that hard to find. Really, it’s not.

  35. I suffered from depression for over two years and it runs in my family as well. I never sought treatment which was an absolutely terrible idea. If it comes back (which I’m sure it will) I’ll be seeking all the help I can get, especially in the form of medication. I tried so hard to overcome it on my own but force of will alone was not enough to make me feel better.

    The “lucky” part of having it run in my family is that no one ever treated me like it was “just in my head” and the support was always there, if I’d been smart enough to take it. I have some amazing friends as well who never gave up on me even when I stopped initiating contact with them. Never have I been so glad to have a bunch of stubborn people as friends.

    It’s given me insight on to why people try dubious treatments for illnesses both mental and physical. A friend who was suffering from depression swears by a specific supplement, says it takes the edge off and helps him function. If I hadn’t been completely broke, I would’ve given them a try.

  36. Mental illness runs in my family. I have an uncle (dad’s side) with issues (not sure on specifics) who is also an alcoholic and was at one point bulimic. His daughter, my cousin, is in prison in Texas for life for killing her toddler children (google “Tina Marie Cornelius” if you are curious).

    My younger sister has issues, as well. I’ve always suspected bi-polar, but she’s never been diagnosed. She’s also had a long history of drug abuse and was put in rehab at 19 for alcoholism (she ran away). I could write a book on her alone.

    And then there is my mom. Bi-polar? Who fucking knows. She’s nuts. I love her, but she’s nuts. About 4 years ago, she was sent via helicopter to the hospital in Phoenix because of a major drug overdose. She almost died. The doctors told us she’d be unconscious for several days at minimum … the next day she woke up, ripped out all of her tubing, and started yelling at the nurses. Typical!

    She was in rehab for a while, then found god. My dad left her (which was a GOOD THING), and my mom got better. Well, somewhat better. She’s still nuts, we still suspect drug abuse (mostly pills, meth is suspected), but she’s at least able to hide it better.

    Me? I don’t know. I’ve never been prone to depression, at least clinical depression. I’ve had my moments.

    I’m pretty sure I have anxiety issues, and I might even have adult ADD (I find it VERY VERY hard to concentrate or get motivated on a daily basis, and I find that I can’t geta grasp on my thoughts, which is scary, because it’s a lot like my mother). I have MAJOR sleep issues (waking up every hour (literally) in the middle of some crazy dream) that sometimes severely effect my life (I was near tears yesterday). Seriously, I once had 2 glasses of wine, a xanax, a shit load of pot, and 2 somas. I still woke up every hour or two. Normal people would pass out, right? I’ve NEVER “passed out” – no matter how drunk or how fucked up I am, it’s like my brain won’t shut the fuck up.

    One day I’ll go to therapy. Or at least ask my doc for some ambien. But I don’t. I don’t know why. I’m stubborn. Oh, and scared of ambien. If the above can’t knock me out, I will likely sleep walk on ambien. Scary thought.

    Also, I’m afraid of getting a prescription, because if I’m having a bad night, and I have the pills, I’ll just take another. And another. Just so I can fucking sleep. That’s not good. :/

  37. @PeteSchult:

    I’d like to say that going to college with people who thought like me helped.. unfortunately, while in college I was under the pretense that there was a higher being who had a bigger plan for my life. Now I know better, but am still in the same town where everyone else is still under the impression that a talking snake brought down humanity, and if you’re depressed it’s because you’re not pleasing the Lord enough…

    @ everyone.. I really appreciate everyone’s openness and honesty. Without getting too existential, none of this seems to have any meaning. I think as long as we can find *something* that gives us meaning, we’ll all be … a little closer to okay. But maybe I’m naive. In the mean time, bring on the nakedness… and booze.

  38. This thread is beyond overwhelming…there are so many here that understand… (tears)

    @Ashley_Ele: First of all, I hope as you read these words, you and your daughter are safe. That’s the most important thing right now.

    From what you wrote, it sounds to me as if your husband has far more serious issues than anyone can be expected to bear. You did all you could – now he has to continue on his journey alone. Your marriage vows are not a suicide pact and you have your daughter to think of. Once he became dangerous to you and/or your daughter, all bets were off, IMHO. You have done the right thing: Get out and keep going.

    Most of the people here have heard my story, so I won’t get too deeply into it here. My mother’s entire side of my family has depression/alcoholism issues. ALL of her siblings and her mother had it. Denial was a way of life for them. It was for my father, too. He tried to “toughen” me up. All he did is mash my already-fragile sense of self deeper into the mud of depression. He didn’t understand, though. Not his fault.

    Being raised by an alcoholic mother cheated me out of being raised as a normal kid. The Catholic and Baptist Churches merely piled on guilt, alleged sins and “lack of faith.”

    I am still trying to recover (at 51), with some success, but not enough, I’m afraid. I was in my mid-30’s before I started suicidal ideation and went for help. For the first time, I realized that for most people, life didn’t always suck and pain wasn’t the norm. However, my emotional state is such that my “good moods” are barely above neutral, and my bad moods… :-( They call it dysthymia, but from my reading, I’m beginning to think it’s atypical depression. We’ll see…

    My meds are failing me and so has my MD. I will be seeing a new MD in about two weeks to change my depression meds and find a counselor again. This will be the third time since the 1990’s for me.

    Meanwhile, my marriage has grown distant (she is a kid of an alcoholic, too. Has her own depression issues) and my closest and only close friend (happened to be a woman in her mid-30’s) has broken off with me because I was becoming too emotionally attached to her. She’s probably right. However, the pain is intense. I’m on my own – no family nearby, no close friends.

    Add a midlife crisis and you have Hell on Earth. My rope has a knot in it and I’m just swinging in the wind, waiting for that appointment.

  39. @QuestionAuthority: DO NOT hesitate to change docs. Most of my friends who have dealt with depression, etc., don’t just use one doc. It sometimes takes a while to find a doc/therapist that fits with you. Don’t get discouraged. 3 since the 90s actually seems pretty low: Most people I know, it takes several changes before they find the one they are comfortable with.

    Also, make sure to find a therapist that has the same world-view as you. I, for instance, would find someone who is LGBT friendly and/or specializes in clients who are LGBT. I wish there was a way to find an atheist therapist. I’d be down.

    Also *hugs*

  40. Thansk, folks. It means a lot, even though I’ve never met any of you face-to-face. Especially you, Ashley_Ele. It says much that even in your trials, you can reach out to a complete stranger.

    I have no problem with switching MD’s. As noted above, it’s finding one that listens that is the problem. Finding a good counselor is hard, too. In one place, I actually lucked into an atheist counselor in a town up to it’s Bible Belt armpits in Xtian “counselors.”

    When I said “three since the 90’s,” I meant this was my third foray into deeper depression since then, including med changes and counseling. I have too much practice in “holding out” until I can’t stand it anymore before seeking help.

  41. I suffer from anxiety and depression, and probably ADHD (though that has not been formally diagnosed). I was diagnosed in college, though I suffered from all since I was a wee one.

    I do alright on medication, but it was expensive before insurance ($150 per 30 day supply). Now that I have insurance, I haven’t had time to find a therapist so I can get my prescription renewed (and some actual therapy, which I’ve never really had).

    I will need to fix this before August, as my first year of teaching was hell without my meds. *sigh* I hate being a slave to pills, but it really does help.

    I think I hate the anxiety part the most, but it all really sucks.

  42. @QuestionAuthority: I have that same problem – “holding out” until it’s so bad I either have to do something or give up. I’ve had suicidal thoughts off and on since… middle school? Maybe earlier. I don’t think I’d ever go through with it, though. It’s not that I want to die, it’s that sometimes I just don’t feel like being alive anymore.

    Mental illness runs in my family, too.

  43. @Gabrielbrawley: I have come to the conclusion that the world is largely made up of two sorts of people: those who have already experienced some form of mental illness, and those who have yet to experience it but will.

    My two anxiety attacks hardly seem worth mentioning here in the face of much more serious concerns. My wife suffered from serious post-partum depression and is still on meds after 7 years. She tried going off them a couple of times but the symtpoms kept coming back so she has decided not to try anymore. Especially after we heard a presentation from a NAMI person that said that the same medicine might not be effective if you go off it and then try to go back on later. The downsides of Paxil (eg. reduced libido) for her were not worth the risk of losing an effective treatment. I agree with her 100%.

    We helped to start a Mental Health Support group in our church to try to help people talk more openly about issues like this and reduce the guilt and stigma. The two of us were the last people many would have thought to have experienced mental health problems, so that helped spur a number of people to come forward and come out of the mental health “closet.” As many here have noted, churches are frequently a real source of problems for those who have mental illness, so I’m glad to be able to hold out mine as a counterexample that is trying to be an active force for change.

    @Ashley.Ele: My heart goes out to you as well. I hope the strong show of sympathy and support you have found here helps, even if only a little bit.

  44. @SteveT: Good point. I just wish more people understood and that health insurance would start treating mental illness as the serious problem it is instead of offering band-aid solutions and pushing pills. Too many times, sufferers are pushed onto drugs, told to take them for life and cut off from counseling benefits. It makes for good profits, but terrible health policy.

    Though my wife works for a major health insurance company, I am firmly against medical care for profit. I think they are antithetical, because the drive for profits encourages releasing patients as quickly as economically possible, not when it’s in the patient’s best interest.

    Not only was the religious establishment not a possible solution for me, I firmly believe that it helped create and enabled my depression to grow.

    Speaking of libido, I haven’t seen mine in about 15 months. If anyone finds it, can they mail it back to me?

  45. This is not the perfectly bestest place to do this; however, as a form of meaningful, skeptical devil’s advocacy, perhaps we should ponder a few things here:

    a. Why are so many Skepchick participants also experiencers of or claimants to mental dysfunction?

    b. What role does iatrogenesis1 play in our lives, and hence, this discussion?

    c. What role does conflict theory2 play in our medical lives, and hence, this discussion?

    d. What role does medicalization of society3 play in our lives, and hence, this discussion?

    e. What role does the profit motive of phramaceutical companies4 play in mental health?

    More questions to ponder:

    – Do poor people in places with reduced access to medical services and drugs (such as the United States where there are no free social medicine plans) suffer less, more, or the same from mental illness?

    – Is the current rate of mental illness in Western countries really on the increase, as some medical authorities claim?

    – If the answer to that is YES, what might be the cause? Social conditions; diet; iatrogenesis?

    My point being, that while I am not for an instant trying to diminish, dismiss, and deny anyone’s suffering or life challenges — hell, I face tons of that myself — I am trying to apply the skeptical process and critical thinking to issues of mental health and disease, and our and society’s experience, definition, and treatment of it.

    I find it exceeding strange that so many of us here at Skepchicks appear to be undergoing, or have in the past undergone personal bouts of mental disease or dysfunction. It seems rather remarkable that so many individuals in such a small population would be so afflicted. And I think that deserves some serious pondering.

    NOTES

    1a. Iatrogenesis (clinical): injury/disability/disease resulting directly from the work of a doctor, i.e., addiction to prescribed drugs.

    1b. Iatrogenesis (social): the medicalization of our daily lives, and the increasing addiction (without rational reason) of modern people to medical institutions and practices.

    1c. Iatrogenesis (structural): the loss of individual autonomy and the creation of dependance, i.e., the responsilbity for good health being removed from the individual due to the imposition of the medical model on society.

    2. Conflict theory: social conflict theory predicates behavioural patterns on power differences in society resulting from class and gender.

    3. Medicalization: labelling or turning normal, operative social states and human conditions and behaviours into disease and/or dysfunction that requires medical intervention in the form of drugs and/or therapy. For example: “… those with less education and lower family incomes are more likely prescribed mood-altering drugs (Rawson, Nigel. and Carl D’Arcy. 1991. “Sedative-Hypnotic Drug Use in Canada”, Health Report, 3,1: 33-57) — “…a process of the medicalization of the symptoms of poverty and other socio-economic positions may be occurring (Harding, Jim. 1994b. “Social Basis of the Over-prescribing of Mood-modifying Pharmaceuticals to women” in Bolaria and Bolaria, eds., Women, Medicine and health. Halifax, Fernwood: 157-81).

    4. “… between 1970 and 1974 [Roche (“We innovate health Care) – http://www.rochecanada.com/portal/eipf/ca/portal/roche ] had given away Valium worth an estimated $5 million…. in order to get the drug into hospital pharmacies, where it would be picked up by the leading doctors, who would then influence residents and interns to prescribe it on a continuing basis” (Lexchin, Joel, 1984. The Real Pushers: A Critical Analysis of the Canadian Drug Industry. Vancouver: New Star Books).

    Explanations/definitions of medical terminology quoted and/or paraphrased from: Clarke, Juanne N. Health, Illness, and Medicine in Canada. Oxford university Press, 1996.

  46. Wow. Giant *hugs* all around!

    First, @Ashley.Ele, your story has me crying but you are absolutely doing the right thing. Please take care of yourself and your daughter. As painful as it is when you can’t help someone like that, it’s best to take that influence out of your daughter’s life before she can remember it.

    All of these stories are so touching and this kind of awareness of mental illness, and how it touches so many people, should no longer be taboo in “polite society.” My bout with depression was brief, I was on Paxil for 6 months since I was moving off to college at the exact time my parents were getting divorced. But medicine alone was only a bandage, real healing came with therapy. Nothing new-agey or complicated or Freudian, just a kind college counselor who let me bitch about my father and cry because I missed my mother. All other attempts at therapy before or since were terrible or obnoxious, there’s hardly a “science” to it all. Medicine, too, can be dicey. I was lucky in that the Paxil worked well with hardly any side effects, but I watched a close family member try one drug after another for his anxiety, battling with terrible side effects until he found one that worked. Someone said before, and I think this is correct, the science of treating mental illness is still in its infancy. So I am skeptical whenever someone claims that a particular drug or therapy will work, since each experience is so individualized with so many variables. It feels like trial and error for every person.

    I still deal with general anxiety now, but then again, who doesn’t? Nothing a little nudity can’t help. ;-)

  47. @QuestionAuthority: I just wish more people understood and that health insurance would start treating mental illness as the serious problem it is instead of offering band-aid solutions and pushing pills .

    Or ignore it completely. I just got mail from my office (I’m on educational leave, and haven’t been in to work in months) about the new Wellness Program that we all must enroll in to qualify for our health insurance. We got bought out by a much larger company in January (second in 18 months, yay!) and they’ve slashed our health coverage, while upping the amount of creepily eugenics-like health monitoring. Our previous coverage included counsellors/psychologists/psychiatrists up to $500 (which runs out fast, but better than most people have) and free counselling through the insurance provider if your problems involve drugs, and great services around assisting employees find access to mental health practitioners. We got health bulletins that also covered mental health topics, as well as carpal tunnel, and the usual workplace stuff. Gone, all gone (along with maternity/parental/adoption leave, but that’s another thread).

    The new Wellness Program involves bloodtests and weigh-ins, with ‘voluntary’ Health Advocate counselling if we fall out of the “healthy” parameters. The health appraisal form I just filled out did not mention a single metric for mental health, despite the fact that according to our last plan, depression was one of the largest causes of employee downtime. Aside from feeling horrified about the ableist, sexist, ageist, and fat-phobic aspects of our new health care regime, I’ve been completely horrified at how they’ve managed to de-legitimize mental health concerns.

  48. @SicPreFix: “a. Why are so many Skepchick participants also experiencers of or claimants to mental dysfunction?”

    Define “so many”? Out of how many potential commenters who read this post, what percentage of those actually shared a story? Isn’t there a selection bias there that says only those who have something to say will actually comment, and those without experiences will not?

    That aside, you bring up some interesting points of which I have no formal knowledge. But I wonder how much of mental illness is a side effect of having evolved such a complex brain and built a seemingly complex society in which to function. Actually naming disorders may be helping to classify various experiences within that spectrum of human experience. And immediately turning to medication as a solution is another sign that our understanding of the whole thing is still in its infancy. (In other words, I really don’t know, but can speculate!)

  49. @SicPreFix:
    In my particular instance, the fact that I have a history of suicidal ideation pretty much confirms that there is something seriously wrong with my mental health. Now, whether the drugs are appropriate is another story, but they DO help for significant amounts of time. What I have been told is that the drugs are used to help the patient buy time to get through counseling and remedy the issues, if they are psychological. If they are a result of biochemistry, the drugs may be necessary to lead a normal life.

    I have believed for quite some time, based on the evidence, that depression may well be the only sane and logical response when faced with the condition of today’s world. I have told counselors that and received thoughtful looks and non-replies.

    I do believe that my mental health is worsened by life stress, some unavoidable. Society seems to use up people like natural resources: drain them dry and discard them as waste. Indeed, that’s my view of many human resources departments. What is “churn” but using people like a machine gun uses ammunition?

    I do agree with the above that some of the “wellness monitoring” is a bit creepy. I have trust issues anyway (some justified) and I do not trust my health insurance carrier or employer to act in my interest against their own financial best interests. However, it may be the price we have to pay to get what care we can. Welcome to the horns of a dilemma.

    SaraDee does have a point when she says that for many insurers and companies, mental health is either ignored or given short shrift. It angers and horrifies me that we think so little of others that we will let them go untreated for these illnesses, but it does go hand in hand with the widespread starvation and lack of basic care and services on this planet.

  50. @Nicole: I don’t mean to minimize your anxiety symptoms at all. The difference between what a lucky, healthy person like you experience and some of us experience is on the order of magnitudes.

    Imagine, if you can, feeling so down and worthless that you can barely function at all. Or even worse, you can’t function. Driving is dangerous – you have no attention span or reaction time worth mentioning. (Imagine this: I worked around airplanes with propellers and jets daily for years in this condition. Good habits probably saved my life. I almost walked into a running prop only once in my career. If I had taken another step, I would have been 200lb. of low-grade hamburger.)

    In my case, I overeat, oversleep, and try to do my job/survive as best I can. And that’s with the drugs in my system, but not working well. I don’t want to know what I’d be like without them. Probably dead.

    Be a husband or father? Impossible. Have some fun? Nope. It just dawned on me that I don’t think I have ever experienced joy. My emotional “thermostat” doesn’t go that high. I wish that I could be “comfortably numb.” (Gratuitous Pink Floyd reference). Another of their songs that sums it up for me is “Keep Talking.” I honestly believe that many of Pink Floyd’s lyrics stand with some of the best poetry in history.

    Only 18 days to my appointment.

  51. @SicPreFix: It seems rather remarkable that so many individuals in such a small population would be so afflicted. And I think that deserves some serious pondering.

    ——-

    Really? How does the rate of self-reported instances of mental illness in the Skepchick fan community compare to either the population at large or other online communities? Can you link to that study?

  52. @QuestionAuthority: I’m so sorry to hear that. That’s actually why when my last therapist told me I had an anxiety disorder, I called BS and refused to talk about medication, since I have seen loved ones go through that and I know I’m not there. When those symptoms do occur, I know it’ll only last a few days. But to say that I do have anxiety that I can’t explain from time to time is not incorrect.

    *hug* I hope your appointment goes well and that the new doctor is better than the last!

  53. @SaraDee: The new Wellness Program involves bloodtests and weigh-ins, with ‘voluntary’ Health Advocate counselling if we fall out of the “healthy” parameters.
    ———

    Which is especially scary if the “healthy” parameters are based on BMI. BMI classifies most professional athletes as “obese” due to their above average muscle mass. It could be the least meaningful metric in health care.

  54. @SicPreFix: a. Why are so many Skepchick participants also experiencers of or claimants to mental dysfunction?

    Um, because 1 in 4 people suffer some form of mental illness in their lives? (According to the posters in my local mental hospital).

    An alternative subject for ponderation is why something that is so prevalent is not discussed more frequently and candidly.

  55. “An alternative subject for ponderation is why something that is so prevalent is not discussed more frequently and candidly.”

    That’s easy. It’s the same reason that people don’t want to see the “handicapped,” amputees, the homeless, etc. These groups and others, make people very uncomfortable , mostly because of stereotypes. You can’t discuss those you are avoiding or don’t want to see.

  56. @Nicole said:

    Out of how many potential commenters who read this post, what percentage of those actually shared a story? Isn’t there a selection bias there that says only those who have something to say will actually comment, and those without experiences will not?

    Quite right. My question was baseless.

    @sethmanapio said:

    How does the rate of self-reported instances of mental illness in the Skepchick fan community compare to either the population at large or other online communities? Can you link to that study?

    Also quite right. I should have said “It seems to me to be rather remarkable….” Another, though perhaps slightly less, baseless statement.

    @Gammidgy said:

    because 1 in 4 people suffer some form of mental illness in their lives? (According to the posters in my local mental hospital).

    I did not know that. Thanks for the elucidation. That strikes as a remarkable figure. And indeed gives great weight to your next statement: “An alternative subject for ponderation is why something that is so prevalent is not discussed more frequently and candidly.”

  57. @QuestionAuthority: I have believed for quite some time, based on the evidence, that depression may well be the only sane and logical response when faced with the condition of today’s world.

    ———————-

    When looked at through the lens of depression, that does seem to be the case. But looked at through the lens of depression, people who consistently go out of their way to spend time with me hate me, so I’m not sure that the lens of depression provides a particularly clear picture of the world.

    In other words, depression is the state where you think that feeling worthless, bereft of hope, unlovable, and disgusting is the sane and rational response to any given stimuli.

    But the world has, in no particular order, caffeine, termite mounds, Amanda Peet, the Yamaha FJ 1xxx, and free porn.

    Sure, it has bad stuff too. But the good stuff’s worth fighting for.

  58. @sethmanpio: I just keep reminding myself that depression is a fundamentally irrational state of mind. That helps keep me sorta-stable. There may be something in some of the alleged “Vulcan philosophy.”

    “Violent emotions are a form of insanity.”

    “There are always…possibilites.” (This one is helping to keep me hanging on until the MD appointment.)

  59. I have been depressed essentially my whole life. I have a very distinct memory of asking my mother’s permission to kill myself when I was 8 or 9. Much of the early childhood stuff was secondary to being bullied and abused (physically and emotionally) by my 3 older brothers. I still have PTSD from that. I have been on meds for ~25 years, and in therapy for longer. They all worked to some extent, imipramine gave me terrible constipation (i.e. toilet clogging constipation). Typically they would work for a while and then stop working. I would then taper down and try something else. The SSRIs are a lot better than the older tricyclics, fewer side effects and they work better.

    The largest change for me has been since I raised my NO level. I have since cut the meds I was taking in half, and feel better than I ever have. This change has persisted for several years now, longer than was usual for the older meds for me. Observing my own idiosyncratic reactions to increased NO levels has been instrumental for me in formulating some of my hypotheses as to how NO does regulate neuronal physiology. When I then went to the literature and examined what pathways would be affected by increases in NO levels, as it all fit together I had an epiphany.

    My hypothesis is that depression is a completely normal and absolutely necessary physiological response. Under extreme near death metabolic stress, organisms induces euphoria so that organisms can run themselves to death to escape from a predator. When a bear is chasing you, your best option is to run until you either escape or drop dead from exhaustion. Very few individuals have actually experienced this, but could in a heart beat if a bear came crashing through the door. Being able to do that is what the euphoria of the near death experience invokes. That is what is called the runner’s high. I think this is the source of the euphoria from using stimulant drugs of abuse, such as cocaine, amphetamine and PCP, solvent huffing, and the autoerotic asphyxiation that just killed David Carradine. (don’t try autoerotic asphyxiation to get a rush, each time you do there is brain damage, you don’t notice the cumulative damage until it is too late).

    Where does the feeling that one can run forever come from? Does an emergency new source of energy come on line when all other sources have been exhausted? Of course not, that would be terribly inefficient, to have an emergency energy source that is only used a few times in an organism’s life time (but which costs overhead all the time). What happens is that physiology frees up more energy by turning stuff off. It turns stuff off that is important, but not as important as escaping from a bear. For example, healing is important, but if a bear is chasing you, you can put off healing until you have escaped, because if you don’t escape, healing doesn’t matter. What gets turned off are all the maintenance and housekeeping stuff that you need to do now, so that your body lasts another 50 years. When your body is worried about the next 5 minutes, all that long term stuff can be deferred.

    This is why all the stimulants of abuse are so hard on people’s bodies. The stimulants don’t generate more energy, they turn off the consumption of energy by involuntary pathways; pathways that you need to have on to stay healthy. The ability to run yourself to death is a great “feature”, it can save your life when running from a bear. That “feature” needs to be used wisely.

    Lactation is an extremely energy intensive process. If a mother does not have the metabolic resources to sustain an infant until it is weaned and can survive without milk from her, the “evolutionarily correct” response is infanticide and starting over. I discuss the physiology of that in my blog post on postpartum psychosis and infanticide. (warning, some of it is quite disturbing)

    Depression is the necessary aversive state between the normal at rest state and the euphoric near death state. If organisms could enter a euphoric state easily, they would and would uselessly damage themselves and risk death. That is where depression comes in. A small amount of metabolic stress causes fatigue, pain and depression. That provides an incentive for organisms to do something to reverse what ever is causing the metabolic stress. If the stress is so great that it invokes euphoria, then you are in a life-threatening situation.

    There are two reasons why I think there are so many reports of mental health problems by skeptics. I think the actual incidence of depression and anxiety is increasing due to the actual reductions in basal NO that are occurring. The reduction in NO parallels the increase in obesity and the increases in depression and anxiety.

    The second reason is that skeptics are more toward the “theory of reality” part of the spectrum, rather than the “theory of mind” part of the neurodiversity spectrum. They have a better grip on reality and when subjected to extreme levels of stress tend to become depressed and anxious before becoming delusional.

  60. I just learned that my HS chemistry and physics teacher killed himself sometime in the past. From what I know now about depression, I imagine he suffered from it. As a HS student, you never know what your teachers do outside of school, but he seemed lonely and not by choice.

    On a related note I wonder whether introverts in general are more often depressed than extroverts. I know that extroverts can be depressed, too, but it seems that if you thrive on being by yourself, any negative thought patterns are going to feedback without correction from an external source.

  61. @daedalus2u:

    Then why would you refer to the “so many” skeptics with some mental illness, if you have no freakin’ data to back up the “so many” or indeed even an operational definition of “so many”?

    Why would I care about your conceptualization of mental illness after you’ve demonstrated a willingness to make large scale, baseless generalizations and then speculate on the causes of a phenomena that you have no evidence of the existence of? Why should anyone?

  62. @SicPreFix: Lighten up seth. Just ligthen up.

    ———

    No.

    What I love about you, Sic, is that when I point out that someone is making things up, you make me the issue.

    If I think that the claims you make should have some grounding in fact, Sic, that isn’t being demanding, or browbeating you, or being hostile. It’s skepticism. And really, most folks here are on board with my standards, because this is a site with a–wait for it–skeptical theme.

    What you are doing–attempting to characterize me as a bad and mean person and asking me to “lighten up”–is browbeating. See, you’re making this personal, making it about me, rather than having it be about the claims that people are making and the content of their communication.

    I wasn’t hostile to you, Sic. I just asked the most glaringly obvious question I could think of that might indicate to you that you were talking out of your ass. If I had been feeling hostile, I would have pointed out that your whole post of inane, psuedo-skeptical, irritating, pointless questions was a fucking insult to the deeply human conversation occuring between real people struggling with real problems.

  63. What I love about you, Sic, is that when I point out that someone is making things up, you make me the issue.

    Oh now, I’m sure it’ll be a cold day in July when you love this old bag o’ bones.

    Seth, I am not skirting the issue, and I am not making you the issue. Your claim that I am doing so is a logical fallacy. Perhaps an argument from fallacy, with a sprinkle of bare assertion fallacy, some icing of appeal to ridicule, and maybe a frisson of red herring. Haw, haw.

    Seriously though, I’m only pointing out that I feel you are being unnecessarily pushy and rude.

    If I think that the claims you make should have some grounding in fact, Sic, that isn’t being demanding, or browbeating you, or being hostile. It’s skepticism. And really, most folks here are on board with my standards, because this is a site with a–wait for it–skeptical theme.

    Even if I sometimes fail to do so myself, I nonetheless fully agree that claims should have some grounding in fact. I have nowhere, in any way or at any time stated otherwise. It is not what you are asking for that has me pissed off; it’s how you are asking.

    Stop throwing red herrings around like it’s Fulton’s Fish Market or something.

    What I’m here doing is pointing out that I feel you are being unnecessarily pushy and rude in demanding such claims be made. I don’t think being pushy and rude is either necessary or effective. Why not a simple “Could you provide some evience for that claim?” Rather than your clearly hostile, dismissive, and diminishing tactic.

    I think you are being pushy and rude. You don’t think you are being pushy and rude. Fine. We disagree.

    What you are doing–attempting to characterize me as a bad and mean person and asking me to “lighten up”–is browbeating. See, you’re making this personal, making it about me, rather than having it be about the claims that people are making and the content of their communication.

    Nonsense. Manipulative, paranoid twaddle.

    I wasn’t hostile to you, Sic. I just asked the most glaringly obvious question I could think of that might indicate to you that you were talking out of your ass. If I had been feeling hostile, I would have pointed out that your whole post of inane, psuedo-skeptical, irritating, pointless questions was a fucking insult to the deeply human conversation occuring between real people struggling with real problems.

    I’ll repeat for the sake of consistency: I think you are being pushy and rude. You don’t think you are being pushy and rude. Fine. We disagree.

  64. @SicPreFix: Stop throwing red herrings around like it’s Fulton’s Fish Market or something.

    —-

    I think that perhaps you don’t understand what a red herring argument is… Allow me to explain, using a hypothetical example:

    If person A makes a claim, and person B points out that this claim is made up, and then person C says that person B is pushy and rude, person C is engaging in the red herring fallacy. B’s attitude is not relevant to the question of whether A made up a phenomena and then claimed to have an explanation for it.

    Another word you don’t seem to understand is “paranoid”. You see Sic, if you write a post that is negative, about my communication style and addressed to me, it isn’t paranoid of me to say that you are making me an issue. It’s an observation.

    As to rude… people are talking here. They are discussing deeply personal issues, the struggles of their personal lives, and issues with mental illness. My own depression has almost destroyed my marriage. It’s come close to killing me more times than I care to count. It’s bad news.

    And the difference I feel now, after getting some help, is so incredible, and so noticeable, that it is difficult for me to even understand how bad I felt before… except on days like today, when I can feel that soul sucking emptiness clawing at my chest like a deranged mole rat.

    And into this situation, of people talking about their very real struggles with a very real neurological disorder, wanders SicPreFix, with his bundle of trivializing pseudo-scientific bullshit introduced by a baseless assertion, and you have the gall to call me rude? I don’t think so.

  65. @daedalus2u: Seth, why don’t you read my blog post on acute psychosis and infanticide before you decide if my ideas are baseless.

    ————-

    Because your ideas about acute psychosis and infanticide are not relevant to the specific comment that I’m criticizing, so wouldn’t add a basis for that comment.

    You may have many good ideas, but what I was specifically referring to was the idea that the skeptical community has an above average incidence of mental problems. I don’t believe that this claim is based in fact, and I therefore think your analysis of the reason that this dubious state of affairs persists is baseless.

    If you are still reading, Sic, this is an valid example of a red herring: Daedelus asks me to evaluate a blog post that has nothing to do with the actual comment that I’m criticizing.

    Technically, what you were doing is probably closer to an ad hominem, attacking me rather than my argument.

  66. @PeteSchult: On a related note I wonder whether introverts in general are more often depressed than extroverts. I know that extroverts can be depressed, too, but it seems that if you thrive on being by yourself, any negative thought patterns are going to feedback without correction from an external source.

    —————-

    According to what I’ve read and experienced, the thing about depression is that whatever stimulus you receive, the response is always to… well, Paint it Black.

    Sorry. It’s an apt metaphor. To a depressive, the best night possible, with friends, laughter, great food, sex… on reflection, everything gets warped. That joke that struck a slightly false note becomes a huge faux pas, something that people must be thinking about today. That tiny mis-step in lovemaking, a moment of hesitation, anything, is a sign of incompetence, the focus of attention today.

    So I don’t know if there would be a correlation… if anything, I would guess that depressives might be more gregarious than the norm, but I don’t really know.

  67. Ummm…red herrings and scrambled eggs in the morning. ;-D

    I haven’t follwed the argument above, but sethmanapio did hit right on target with this:
    “To a depressive, the best night possible, with friends, laughter, great food, sex… on reflection, everything gets warped. That joke that struck a slightly false note becomes a huge faux pas, something that people must be thinking about today. That tiny mis-step in lovemaking, a moment of hesitation, anything, is a sign of incompetence, the focus of attention today.”

  68. @sethmanapio: My experience with depressive phases does not involve painting it black.
    It involves a strong desire for seclusion and the total inability to recall happy memories…or to be more precise, the inability to induce happiness from memory.

    Also, I find it generates strong feelings from people who have never suffered from it to offer up such gems as …”Suck it up princess”

    I have only had time to give cursory scan to the above thread….but, man, one or both of you is in a bad mood today

  69. @Electro: It involves a strong desire for seclusion and the total inability to recall happy memories…or to be more precise, the inability to induce happiness from memory.

    ————-

    That’s exactly what I mean, though. Depression changes the lens through which you see your personal history… painting it black, destroying the positives and accentuating the negatives.

  70. @sethmanapio: destruction is a powerful word….it really doesnt reach that far…I have to put some distance between myself and that comment.

    ‘Cause I have to force myself to get up and attack the world every day…really ..its an effort

  71. @Electro:

    Substitute “diminishing” for destroying and apply the degree to which the positives are diminished that is appropriate for your own experience… my point is just that depression warps your impressions of reality. That is actually close to the definition of depression.

    If find that to be an empowering realization, personally. It means that things probably aren’t as bad as I think they are, and prompts me to try to look at experiences more objectively.

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