If you're not suffering from depression yourself, chances are
that anywhere from 15 to 50 of every hundred people you know
are. It is an insidious illness that sucks an individual further
and further into a state of "impotence" and at the same time
impacts the well-being of everyone who comes in contact with
him/her. The numbers offered here are somewhat ambiguous because
depression is only recently recognized as a real illness and not
a figment of one's imagination.
Diane, who has been suffering from depression for more than
eleven years, is one of those who are willing to talk about her
illness. She says, "Most people are still very much surprised
that I admit and am willing to talk openly about my depression.
There is still a stigma associated with the disease. People
still don't understand." For this reason, we won't use real
names in this article although the people who shared their
stories are very real.
Incidences of this illness are staggering. An estimated 10-14
million Americans suffer from depression, according to a recent
article in the Alliance for the Mentally Ill publication. Other
estimates range as high as 35-40 million.
No one is immune from an attack of depression. Keep in mind
that everyone feels "down" or "blue" at times. That's normal.
But it's been estimated that 26 out of 100 women and 12 out of
every 100 men will have a major depressive episode at least once
in their lives. For creative individuals the estimate increases
to 38 out of 100.
Statistics can be deceiving and any attempt to quantify this
disease could be challenged. Particularly since, according to
the Alliance for Mentally Ill, we're talking about those who are
only now beginning to and seek help -- 80 % of those suffering
from depression never seek treatment and suffer needlessly.
DuPage County is not immune. In fact, Dr. Martin Russo, a
physician working with Central DuPage Hospital with offices in
Bloomingdale, reports that easily forty to fifty percent of his
patients are suffering from depression. Social workers and
doctors throughout the county report similar statistics.
For this article only the most conservative numbers will be
used. The indication, then, is that at least 150 out of every
thousand suffer from this debilitating disease. In DuPage
County, Illinois that translates to more than of 132,000 -- in
Elmhurst, approximately 6,300 people -- live with some level of
THE HUMAN FACTOR
Sondra Dodds at Family Service DuPage in Wheaton, IL says that
those who are depressed often feel isolated and alone, different
and unusual, misunderstood by family and friends, powerless and
defeated. Many also feel the need to hide their real feelings,
even from those they love. Those who are more willing to share
their experiences share many common experiences although each
case is dramatically different.
They share a common bond. They live in a no-man's land that's
sapping the community of its most valuable
resource...competent contributing citizens. They don't choose to
live there. And they can't will to get out of there without help.
An insidious disease, depression is multi-faceted. The onset
and the symptoms of depression are not always the same.
Frequently depression is an outward manifestation of undetected
physical illnesses such as cancer.
For some the disease can be traced to low self esteem; for
others to excessive drain on their physical health and energy or
chronic illnesses; for others to abnormally high levels of
stress-related life experiences; for others realization that
life is passing them by and their goals will never be reached.
In all instances the illness points to imbalances: physical,
mental and spiritual. A depressive illness is a "whole-body"
illness involving your body, mood, thoughts and behavior. It's
not just a passing bout with "the blues". You cannot "will" or
"wish" it away.
Rose had frightening bouts with burning sensation in all parts
of her body. It was as if her stomach, head, nerves were all
"aflame". Katherine began to withdraw from friends and
One Elmhurst resident tells of his experiences, "I felt
helpless and unable to cope with every day stresses. I saw
myself as worthless as a part of the community I worked for.
Frequently I entertained thoughts that my family would be better
off if I just disappeared or died. I knew I was on a self
destruct kick...ignoring my health, setting myself up for
failure in my job and getting myself in no- win situations. The
harder I tried, the worse things got in my life. I saw myself
reacting to even the simplest setbacks with uncontrollable rage."
Anna, who has been treated both in and out of the hospital for
depression said, "Over the years, I've seen a big change in the
people who are suffering depression. They're getting much
younger now and they are filled with anger."
Some deal with the constant sensation that they are "not
connected with the rest of the world" and "unimportant". For yet
others, the illness may just hover at the point where there's a
gnawing stomach ache and the constant knowledge that "something
just isn't right". Nearly all report that their level of
productivity fell dramatically. Many find that they just "can't
attend to the task at hand". In the worst case scenario, suicide
seems to offer the only way out.
The bad news is depression renders a person unable to cope
adequately with life events and, frequently, it goes undiagnosed
for months -- even years -- because the victim generally blames
him or herself for uncontrollable problems and their inability
to function in a reasonable manner. It's a vicious downward
spiral that sucks its victim into a hopeless pit of despair.
IMPACT ON THE COMMUNITY
While many manage to function at some level of competence,
their difficulties "connecting" and "attending to task" often
limit them to minimum-wage positions although they may, under
normal circumstances, be highly competent workers.
Heddi reports that her income dropped from nearly $3,000 per
month to less than $800 a month while she was working much
longer hours. A significant number of others have found
themselves homeless. Evidence of this can be seen at the DuPage
PADS site, where a striking number of clients are middle-
management professionals who have lost their jobs.
The June 1995 county reports indicate that there are just over
884,000 people in DuPage County. Of those, the Labor force in
DuPage numbers 492,169. If we calculate just 15% of those and
figured that 73,800 people lost just $10,000 in earnings during
the course of a year due to depression we're talking about the
kind of losses that would be considered intolerable in business.
It's a vicious cycle. Stress, illness or financial difficulties
strike sapping the individual and breeding a sense of
hopelessness which aggravates the situation. Meanwhile, the
sufferer must cope with others who are frequently equally
depressed and stressed with their own problems. At the same time
they have to deal with others who haven't the foggiest clue
about what severe depression does to a person. In all cases
misunderstanding and the inability to communicate the real pain
lead to further hopelessness.
Stress continues to build in today's society where people
dealing with stressful situations attempt to find solutions.
When people dealing with any kind of stress or depression try to
resolve difficulties or get answers to problems and get trapped
into voice mail and mechanical phone menus or are put on waiting
lists. When they feel treated like number, taken advantage of or
overwhelmed constantly by circumstances they can't change,
In a society where both parents in a dual income family may
hold down two or more jobs just to keep the bills paid, a
person's value is equated with how much money they bring into
the household rather than unconditional love and appreciation.
One, or both, can slip easily into depression. The situation is
much worse for single heads of households.
Barbara Hayes, a Family Service DuPage Licensed Clinical Social
Worker, believes that "role strain" is a major contributing
factor in the higher incidence of depression in women. Not only
are women parenting or grandparenting a younger generation,
while, frequently caring for elderly parents; but, they are also
required to cope with the challenges of maintaining a certain
level of career growth in an uncertain economy -- frequently as
sole support of their entire family structure. To meet the
demands of each of these roles, a woman must maintain an
exterior facade of strength. For many there is precious little
time for attending to personal needs. All too frequently,
functioning on far too little sleep and nutritious food, they
Meanwhile, the media, particularly women's magazines, focus on
introspection, self analysis, poise and youthful figures,
mounting anxiety, anger and insecurities. At the same time they
juxtapose these weaknesses that turn us inward upon ourselves,
with idealistic reports of the affluent life that many of the
population will never achieve.
IT'S NOT A CASE OF BUZZ WORDS
Depression is not a new disease of the 20th century. Sufferers
are among the elite. Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Edgar
Allen Poe, Mike Wallace, Joan Rivers and Dick Cavett are among
the many who have been afflicted.
Indications are that those who are more sensitive, creative and
intelligent are more prone to suffering from depression. One
study performed in the '80s found that 38% of 47 writers, poets
and artists had taken medication, sought psychoanalysis or had
been institutionalized for depression and bi-polar disorder.
Another study performed in the 80's showed that more creative
people suffered from emotional strife synonymous with certain
neurosis. (Time-Life Books, 1992)
THE GOOD NEWS
Although the problem appears to be hopeless, there is good
news. If you're going to have an illness, you want it to be
depression. It's the most easily treatable.
The afflicted needs to work at getting back in balance.
Professional counseling, support groups and the medical
profession are learning to work together to speed recovery.
The medication is a critical aspect of treatment. The new drugs
are marvelous even with the occasional discomfort of side
effects. They work to re-balance the synapses that are
responsible for the transmission of brain impulses.
Social workers and psychiatrists, too are much more skilled at
identifying symptoms today than ever. Group counseling, support
groups and crisis lines are more accessible. There's help and
information out there for those who have the courage and
determination to find it.
Much of the work, says Barbara Hayes, a licensed clinical
social worker who oversees a 12-session group that's been
running throughout the summer at Family Service DuPage, focuses
on teaching cognitive reasoning techniques. Those who
participate in this therapy learn to evaluate the validity of
their thought processes and to recognize distorted thinking
patterns. Then they learn to restructure their thought
processes more positively and realistically. It's a sort of de-
programming that allows individuals to discover that there are
other ways to look at one's life experiences. Hayes has found
this kind of therapy most productive when participants have the
appropriate medical support. She assures her patients that
"using medication is not wimping out." Trying to pull yourself
out of depression without the proper medical attention just
doesn't work, she says. It's like a diabetic telling his
pancreas to shoot insulin into his system, she says.
Unfortunately current health care programs, both private
insurance and public aid, put unrealistic limits on treatment.
All too often they cut short coverage long before the patient is
able to cope without the medication and psychological support.
When this happens they "hamstring the health care providers,"
said Rose. It's not at all uncommon for these programs to cut
off the payment for medication and counseling sessions just
about the time a patient starts to show some progress and before
the patient is sufficiently recovered. The only recourse in
cases like that, short of going "cold turkey", is to get on a
waiting list for services that are offered on a sliding scale
fee. All too often the patient is not financially able to handle
Fortunately it's the patient who does the real work of
recovery. Those who discover that they control of their own
destiny have the greatest hope of recovery. They can then learn
how to maintain balance in their lives and their habits. They
practice being less compulsive nurturers. They begin to trust
themselves and be a bit more open with others. They learn to
maintain a childlike attitude of gratitude and wonderment. And,
they learn to be less sensitive to outside turmoil.
One of the key ingredients to healing lies in getting away from
introspection and self-centeredness and to reach out to others.
Those who have been afflicted and have made the most progress
typically have found ways to give of themselves to others less
fortunate or to share their unique talents with the
community...the challenge being that a person who is severely
depressed has great difficulty breaking through his/her feelings
One group of women developed a phone network that they said was
particularly helpful. One of the women is dealing with a
pregnant teenager, another with a financial problems, a third
with the death of a mother and a fourth with an overbearing
aging mother. These women discovered that being able to pick up
the phone and connect with someone who they knew would
understand helped to speed recovery. In short order, often a
matter of minutes, they managed to break the downward spiral of
day-to-day crises. These calls provided the ladies a life-line
that they turn to before the crisis could escalate. Most often
within a very few minutes, they found they could put the
experience into perspective and they'd find themselves laughing.
And therein they found a cure, because you simply can't be
depressed and laugh at the same time.
Dr. Russo's findings confirm that depression is indeed a multi-
factorial disease that encompasses genetic, biological and
environmental factors. He voices the concerns of many when he
says, "The reason that depression is so pervasive is that
society is losing its sense of security and moral fiber in both
the family and in the community. As it's losing its fiber we're
losing our sense of purpose and personal value. At the same time
we need to look at the spiritual component that gives us a sense
of wholeness and peace when looking for solutions."
Those who understand depression agree, with Heddi, "I need
people, but I need people that I can be myself with. And, I need
to find a way to make sense out of the madness I face every day
I walk out my front door. When things get off balance, I need to
make some changes. Alone I can't do it."
NOTE: Although most of the quotes here are those of women, the
situation is far from a woman's problem. Women are simply more
susceptible to depression. "Role strain is a factor, according
to Barbara Hayes. "We are more aware of depression than we were
in the past, but there are more stresses in society today for
women to fulfill multiple roles. They make very heavy demands
upon themselves. Women traditionally are the nurturers and very
often in the process of nurturing others they forget to nurture
themselves....as a result, at some point, people just start
The experts tell us that women today suffer twice as much
depression as men. While one in four women can expect to develop
depression during their lifetime, one in eight men can, too.
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JOAN-MARIE MOSS is a non-fiction author published in both
national and regional markets. She specializes in business
communications and public relations for businesses and
professionals. She serves as consultant and
communications/public relations specialist offering a full range
of services from writing to desktop publishing and public
speaking. Joan-Marie teaches Business Writing, Copyediting and
Public Relations at Oakton Community college and has been guest
speaker on WWCN and WDCB Radio. She currently writes for the
Daily Herald and Press Publications, and is working on her