Living with Depression: An Interview with Dr. Deborah Serani
Today we have a special treat. I have an exclusive interview with Dr. Deborah Serani, clinical psychologist and author of a brand new book entitled, Living with Depression: Why Biology and Biography Matter Along the Path to Hope and Healing. Dr. Deb has been in clinical practice for over twenty years and specializes in dealing with depression and trauma. She is also someone who has gone through her own personal battle with depression. It is these through these experiences as both a clinician and patient that she is able to write so candidly about mood disorders in her book as well as her blog.
To find out more about Dr. Deborah Serani please visit her blog, Dr. Deb: Psychological Perspectives.
Welcome Dr. Deb. We are happy to have you here on MyDepressionConnection.
Q: What was the inspiration to write Living with Depression?
Dr. Deb: I was thinking about the notion of turning 50 and wanted to write something significant about my life and history for my daughter. So, that really was the inspiration that got me started. I also felt that so much stigma existed around the subject of mental illness, that disclosing my experiences would be a great way to educate and demystify mental illness. And since I had tremendous personal and professional perspectives with depression, I knew writing "Living with Depression: Why Biology and Biography Matter along the Path to Hope and Healing" would make for a compelling read.
Q: You begin your book by talking about your own battle with depression. What were the signs or symptoms that led you to seek help? What would you recommend to others as a barometer of when to ask for help?
I really didn't know that I had been living with a depressive disorder as a child because it was the only experience I knew. I was often tired, listless and sad. And you know, I thought everyone felt that way! As I got older and my depression worsened, I soon learned that what I was experiencing was not normal. Luckily, when suicidal thinking took hold, I was able to get immediate treatment. For me, the initial symptoms of the major depressive episode started with fatigue, physical pain and confusion - and then it soon deepened into a staggering despair.
Depression is a medical illness, and it's important for readers to know that each person's depressive experience may be very different from another person's. What's important to keep in mind is this: the human experience is one where we feel a wide range of emotions. We can feel happy, sad and everything in between. If an emotional state is pressing upon you, and it feels unshakable, or you cannot reduce its impact, it might be a good idea to check in with a medical or health professional. The same goes for if someone says they are worried about "your moods". Sometimes depression blankets you in an oblivious state that you can't fully recognize on your own, and it takes another person to help us see that we may need support.
Q: You talk about taking medication to treat your depression. How did you make this decision to take an antidepressant? Did you experience side effects? How did you deal with them?
Dr. Deb: My first therapeutic experience for depression was just psychotherapy. And it helped me considerably. Back at that time, in the 1980's, that was the approach. The second time I had a major depressive episode, which was almost 15 years later, research with medication was front and center. I felt confident in the research and decided to try antidepressant medication along with psychotherapy to relieve my depressive symptoms. What I discovered was that the medication helped me feel better than I had ever felt before.... and convinced me that depression was an illness of neurobiology. I did have side effects, like hand shaking, weight gain and night sweats. Like many who take medication, finding an acceptable level of side effects was a very personal decision. With help from my doctor, we were able to find a workable dose that limited certain side effects, while others continued. It's all about balance. And I've come to terms with the pros and cons of what I get from medication.
Q: It is very courageous that you share your personal experience with having depression in a very public way. How have others reacted to your story? How about your friends, family, colleagues, and patients? Was there anyone who had a negative response to your willingness to share this information about yourself?
Dr. Deb: I first wrote academic papers about my professional and personal depressive experiences about ten years ago. And to tell you the truth, it wasn't an easy coming out party. While many colleagues embraced my self-disclosure, there were others that frowned upon it. Stigma within professions seemed to be as intense as the court of public opinion at that time. In fact, I received many rejections before my academic papers found a journal to call home. Over the last decade though, science and technology have helped legitimize depression as a real illness. It has been easier to share my personal and professional experiences.
Q: Do you feel that there is still a stigma to having a mood disorder? What can we do to decrease this stigma?
Dr. Deb: Even with all the research, technology and public campaigns, mental illness still gets a bad rap. It's still very hard for a person to come out about their illness. It is easier for someone like me because I am my own boss. It may also be easier for a celebrity to disclose about their illnesses because they have star power. But it would certainly be harder if I was a teacher, a lawyer or a soldier. I caution those who live with mental illness to disclose carefully at work, home, or with friends and family. There is still more work to be done regarding stigma.
Q: Do you believe in recovery from depression? What does recovery mean for you?
Dr. Deb: Yes, recovery can happen. But statistics report that recovery can be elusive for many. The reasons for this are two-fold. First, children and adults often don't follow the recommended treatment plan. Sometimes, sessions are missed. Or medication is stopped before a response takes hold. These interruptions cause a recurrence of depressive symptoms. The second aspect involves the fact that many of the antidepressants that are out on the market are derivatives of each others. Essentially there have not been any new discoveries to address the varying kinds of depression that people experience. So if you haven't reached recovery with a medication, chances are you may not find relief with another.
Q: Do you ever identify with some of your patients who come to see you about their mood disorder? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Do you feel that your personal experience with depression has helped you to become a better mental health practitioner?
Dr. Deb: My personal experiences impart a unique perspective in my work. I'm clearly a better clinician as a result of knowing what it's like to live with a mood disorder. And yes, I do connect with many of the people I work with, but it's important for me to remember that their recovery will have a specific trajectory that will be different from mine. Overall, I think it's a good thing.
Q: What is the biggest misunderstanding about depression?
Dr. Deb: That depression happens because you're weak, or lazy, or that you're just not trying hard enough is still an inaccurate belief many hold.
Q: What is the worst thing about depression? And are there any silver linings to having depression?
Dr. Deb: The worst thing for me was that my thinking became corrosive and so full of negativity. I couldn't really trust my thoughts or feelings. It was scary that I no longer could control those thoughts. As for a silver lining, mine has been being able to learn that I can be resilient. But it's important to remember that not everyone who has depression may have found their silver lining yet. My wish for anyone who lives with a mood disorder is to find help, gain relief, learn mastery, and reach recovery. Then we can look for silver linings.
Thank you Dr. Deb. We appreciate your time and that you have shared so much of your personal experience with us.
If you have just been diagnosed with depression the following Health Central articles may help: