Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Depression a disease in disguise

Victims say it cost them their jobs, families - and nearly their lives

By Peggy O'Farrell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Its signs and symptoms are often not outwardly visible, but make no mistake: to many people, depression can be as debilitating as any serious illness.

The soul-crushing pain of depression drove Maryland "Butch" Sorrells to attempt suicide four times and to smoke crack for years. The disease and drug addiction cost him jobs, a home and his family.

Take a one-minute survey and get an immediate diagnosis from the New York University School of Medicine
To find a depression screening site in your community Thursday, visit Web site and click on "depression screening." Here is a partial list of sites:
Mercy Hospital Clermont, 732-8767
Family Service, 753-6428
First United Church of Christ, 541-7302, Ext. 14
Mental Health Association of the Cincinnati Area Inc., 287-8545
Mental Health Services East, 321-8286
Professional Pastoral-Counseling Institute, 791-5990
Mental Health Association in Northern Kentucky, (859) 431-1077
Also on Thursday, faculty from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine's psychopharmacology division will offer free screenings downtown from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Main Public Library 800 Vine St., and from noon to 1 p.m. at Fountain Square.
Some cases of depression are extreme, prompting the need for hospitalization, but the majority of folks who simply report feeling "blue" may benefit from cognitive therapy - learning to recognize and respond to the warning signs of a depressive episode.
The National Institute of Mental Health offers these suggestions for people fighting depression:
• Set realistic goals in light of your illness, and assume a reasonable amount of responsibility.
• Break large tasks into small steps, set priorities and do what you can.
• Try to spend time with friends, and try to confide in someone. Isolation makes depression worse.
• Try to participate in activities you enjoy.
• Mild exercise and activities like going to a movie or a ballgame or church service can help you feel better.
• Realize that recovery, even with medication, will be gradual.
• If possible, try to postpone major decisions - changing jobs, moving to another state, etc. - until you feel better.
• Let family and friends help.
• People rarely "snap out" of depression, but they can feel better day to day.
Depression hospitalized Ruth Allen and left her unable to work for several years.

Depression is a secretive disease that disguises itself with many symptoms - sleep disturbances, irritability, drug or alcohol abuse, risky behavior. It's a mood disorder that can be disabling and, in some instances, deadly.

Once diagnosed, it can be treated with medication and lifestyle changes. But, experts say, too few people recognize or take seriously the warning signs.

"People should get help. There are people who think they're strong enough to overcome it, but they're not," Allen says. She's battled depression since 1975. "I know a lot of people who should be on medication, but they won't take it. At least talk to somebody."

Women seek help sooner

Thursday, counseling centers across the country will mark National Depression Screening Day by offering free, confidential tests to help people determine if they're suffering from depression.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 18.8 million Americans are affected by depression at any time.

For some, the disease may last only a few months or a year.

For others, like Allen and Sorrells, it's a chronic disease like diabetes or hypertension that has to be managed daily with medication and continued counseling.

Women are diagnosed with depression twice as often as men, statistics show.

Part of that discrepancy could be attributed to theories that women are biologically more vulnerable to depression and other mood disorders.

And part of it might be due to the fact that men are less likely to seek treatment or even recognize they have a problem, says Dr. Jacqueline Collins, a psychiatrist and medical director of the Hamilton County Mental Health Board.

"I think men don't come in because they don't want to acknowledge that something's wrong," Collins says. "Women just come in. It might not be depression that initially gets them in the door. For men, usually they have to feel under a lot of pressure from their families, or they're under some pressure legally or with their jobs."

The result is that men are often much more seriously depressed when they get help, Collins says.

Faith and counseling

Sorrells' case is an example.

He had battled depression and drug addiction for years before he sought help. Suicidal thoughts prompted him to seek counseling and to join Narcotics Anonymous.

"My disease was telling me to turn on the stove and commit suicide," the 50-year-old Silverton man says.

He'd driven a cab or limo for years but lost one job when he stole a car to go on a drug binge. He kept getting into fights, and he has been stabbed and shot. He talks about his recovery with the fervor of the preacher he used to be.

"I should be dead," he says. "The way I was living, I should be dead."

Sorrells credits faith and treatment for his continuing recovery. For a spirituality class, he had to list things he's grateful for. At the top, Sorrells listed "belief in God." Other entries included having money to pay the bills and being able to smell the flowers.

Allen, 53, works as a housekeeper near her Clifton Heights apartment. Riding the bus scares her, she says - she doesn't like crowds, and worries about the looks she says she gets from other passengers - so she has to be able to walk to work every day.

She and Sorrells are both clients of CRI in Walnut Hills. CRI is a comprehensive case management service for the seriously mentally ill, with offices throughout the city. Through CRI, clients get treatment and counseling, job training, life skills classes and help finding places to live.

Both still struggle from time to time with depression, finding themselves alternately paralyzed by sadness or irritability.

"My brain kind of shuts down," Allen says. "I'm like in a zombie state. I might sit for hours, just thinking, and when I'm tired of thinking, I just stare. It's a bad feeling, and it's your whole body. It's not just your mind. Your body hurts, too. You get an ache here or an ache there and you just don't want to do anything."

Allen spends her free time reading her Bible or praying. Sorrells goes to class and church, watches soap operas and prays.

"I think I'm doing pretty darn good," Allen says.


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