Depression and our Sense of Powerlessness
It’s been described as the common cold of mental health problems but unlike the common cold depression doesn’t pass in a few days. The analogy, such as it is, relates to the fact that depression is incredibly common. Conservatively we can say that around 15 million Americans suffer from clinical depression and as many more have sub-clinical symptoms that might more generally be considered as low-moods.
This ‘cancer of the 21st century’ as Professor of psychiatry at John Hopkins, J Raymond DePaulo describes it, is on track to become the most debilitating disease of the century. It’s a shocking state of affairs and it’s one that plenty of people have observed wouldn’t be tolerated if the disease was physical in nature.
For most of us the politics and the arguments informing the funding of research and development into effective treatments come way down the list of our daily priorities. It’s not until depression actually hits that we begin to appreciate what the limitations are. Partly this may be down to ignorance of the nature and course of depression. It’s still a taboo subject, and despite being more openly discussed, the lives of everyday folk are not the same as celebrities and the available resources are often very different.
Then, when we come to look at treatments, we see things aren’t quite as straight forward as were perhaps imagined. A treatment tends to most effective if the exact problem and solution are known. This isn’t the case with depression. Depression is a complex issue and is really only partially understood. Back in the day, when the medical profession embraced mental health as ‘illness’, there may have been an assumption of cure – perhaps a course of medication? The reality of the situation is somewhat more blurred. My fellow blogger, John McManamy, recently posed the question ‘which antidepressant is right for you?’ It’s interesting, so I’ll leave it to you to read his response.
Many people I’ve spoken to over the years convey a sense of powerlessness over the issue. People with depression quickly come to realize that quick fixes tend not to happen and that medication may or may not be helpful. Personal relationships also tend to suffer the effects of depression. The person who loves and cares for someone who is depression often feels bewildered and shut out. As much as they want to help a part of them would love to run away. They feel guilty, anxious, frustrated, resentful, sad and often expend too much energy in attempting to manage or alleviate a situation they are actually powerless to control.
I’m conscious that in writing about powerlessness I may be giving an impression that is nothing is happening and very little can be done. This is actually far from the case, and whilst we can lobby governments to take things more seriously our day-to-day lives need to be tempered by the realization that for a depressed person to recover they must become an active participant in that process. Secondly, for the person who cares and wants to help, there are limits to what they can realistically do.