Talking About Depression: Confronting the Elephant in the Room

Christopher Lukas Health Guide
  • Reading Deborah Gray is good for me.

    It gives me a chance to reflect on someone who seems to have had many of the same  kinds of experiences I have had – at least when it comes to depression.
    • I’ve had a few episodes of deep depression, but dysthymia is what has dogged me most of my life.
    • I’ve been able to manage the depression with medication and therapy.
    • I, too, believe that support and information are the keys to getting on with our lives.
    Her advice on talking to people with depression (i.e., not ignoring the “purple elephant" in the room) is right on target.

    Of course, no two people with any disease or disorder are exactly the same, and that causes problems when we try to extrapolate too much from our own lives into others. I’ll give you a case in point.
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    My brother was 64 when he killed himself. He was an extremely creative, successful man – a journalist with two Pulitzer Prizes, five books to his credit (one of which had been made into a TV mini-series), accolades in the field beyond belief.

    But, like many of us, he had been born with a tendency toward depression, in a family with lots of problems, including bipolar relatives, alcohol dependency, etc.

    My brother was not dysthymic when the depression took over his daily life: he was in major clinical depression, and several times I wondered if he didn’t need hospitalization. But, somehow, despite the fallow, deeply depressed periods, he was able to go on and work after they ended, and never attempted to kill himself, so far as I know.

    And that’s where the “purple elephant” comes in. I don’t actually know what his state of mind was most of the time. Because my brother simply would not talk about his feelings.

    When he was deeply depressed, I could hear it in his voice, but he would not, absolutely not want to talk about his depression or his feelings. Once or twice, he would admit that he just wasn’t “up to it,” or that a real-world problem was driving him into a great deal of anxiety (a partner to depression.) But most of the time, he didn’t want to see me, talk with me, or hear from me when he was depressed.

    This leaves a dilemma. How can you help your brother when he won’t let you near him when he most needs you.

    All right, he didn’t need me specifically. He needed someone to comfort him and give him guidance and information. And, I suspect, even his wife was not allowed to do that.

    Once, he was so depressed that I told him I’d take him to a hospital unless he went to a psychiatrist and got medication. He did just that, and we all breathed a little easier.

    He went on writing and being extremely successful.

    But one day, the medication didn’t work well, and then the next day, and the next, and he didn’t heed the warning signs, and since he wouldn’t want us around when he was depressed, we didn’t get a chance to influence his decision-making, and eventually, ten years ago, he killed himself.

    There are times, in other words, when there is no way to do anything but step over that elephant, no matter how much we want to talk about it; that’s sad, and infuriating, but we have to learn to accept our limitations.

  • Which is not to say that talking about the purple elephant isn’t a good idea. It is a wonderful idea, and Gray’s suggestions are all good.
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    It’s only that, in my brother's case, the enemy (deep depression) was too strong.

    Read Deborah Gray's Article: The Purple Elephant in the Room: Talking to Someone With Depression

Published On: April 19, 2007