Having a mother with depression is hard. Having a mother with depression and a master’s degree in behavioral science and mental health is enlightening. I’ve learned a lot living with my mother but what I’ve found most shocking is the lack of seriousness that surrounds treating mental illness. My mother is educated enough on the subject to know that she needs both prescription medication and visits with a psychiatrist to best manage her depression.
However, being currently unemployed leads to long periods of time she has to go without being able to afford her medication; and doctors’ visits become some sort of laughed off luxury. Many of the medications she takes have side effects such as prolonged drowsiness, and so, yes, the depression is managed but then she’s left sleeping through most of the week, unable to be productive. As a child I felt a sense of pride when my mother would openly cry to me and I would talk her through her unexplained breakdowns.
Now, as a young adult, I am worried about the future of mental health treatments and the affordable care my mother, and thousands like her, will be able to get. Major depressive disorder is a physical ailment. Just as one would immediately see a doctor and receive appropriate treatment for a broken leg, a heart condition or a long term sickness such as diabetes or even asthma, I strongly believe the same level of seriousness is needed for the treatment of depression.
Depression itself is a term that gets tossed around more than it gets understood. It would be inhuman not to feel down, blue or upset at some point going about one’s daily life. However, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s online article on major depression, the disorder is more severe than occasional bouts of sadness. Depression is a technical disorder, meaning that it interferes with everyday life, sometimes for weeks at a time. Imagine waking up, considering the day you have ahead of you and finding no joy; or having a voice inside your head constantly telling you nothing was worth your time or energy, including your own life. These are thoughts people suffering with depression must battle on a daily basis. This is why they need medication and therapy.
According to the New York Times Health Guide article detailing the basics of the disorder titled “Major Depression,” there is no absolute known cause of depression. What is known, the article explains, is that it is a physical imbalance of chemicals within the brain inherited genetically that get triggered by certain events. Because everything we experience is in essence a series of chemical reactions, an imbalance of certain chemicals can cause us to perceive our own realities very differently. Certain chemicals are related to happiness, specifically serotonin and dopamine. People suffering from depression have a deficit of these chemicals.
Dr. R.H. Belmaker and Dr. Galila Agam, authors of the article, “Major Depressive Disorder,” written for the New England Journal of Medicine, say that depression is in fact related to normal feelings of sadness and bereavement. They say that what makes depression different and almost unbearable for those who live with it is that these feelings do not stop when the external causes of the emotions dissipate. The feelings are also disproportionate to their causes, meaning seemingly small events can have a major depressive effect.
It can get difficult sympathizing with someone suffering from depression. Personally, it takes a lot not to get frustrated with my mother when she sits in solitude, seemingly wallowing for no apparent reason. I want to tell her, “Go outside! Get fresh air! Exercise! Eat healthier! Do something that will make you happy!” But I recognize that this would be assuming healthy, active people are immune to depression and that in essence it is not within her control how she feels. Though depression is accepted as a medical condition it is hardly given the attention or respect that physical conditions receive. Just take a look at the funding.
Despite the scientific evidence detailing the conditions of major depressive disorder, funding for mental health research and services wanes on the list of state and national priorities. A report for the National Alliance on Mental Illness titled “Mental Health Cuts: A National Crisis,” explains the falling funding efforts. The introduction reads, “From 2009 to 2011, massive cuts to non-Medicaid state mental health spending totaled nearly $1.6 billion dollars. And, deeper cuts are projected in 2011 and 2012.” Soon, Medicaid support for mental health services will too be affected and, as the authors of the report state, “Medicaid is the most important source of funding of public mental health services for youth and adults, leaving people with mental illness facing the real threat of being cut off from life-saving services.”
The services that have been eliminated or downsized include some of the most essential services that aid youth and adults in avoiding crises and moving towards recovery. According to the report they include; acute (emergency) and long-term hospital treatment, crisis intervention teams and crisis stabilization programs, targeted, intensive case management services, Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) programs, supportive housing, targeted case management and clinic services for children and adolescents and access to psychiatric medications.
Looming, always, is the very real possibility that I may have or develop depression, since it is a disease that is inherited genetically. To me, what is needed just as much as financial support for services aiding depressed people with their recoveries is a changed attitude among the general public about depression in general. When we see someone who has overcome some sort of horrible disease or physical disability, we applaud them. Why do mental health disorders not receive the same respect? Just as we go to the dentist and doctor to maintain our physical health we should pay as much mind to, well…our minds. They are equally if not more so complex than our bodies. No one should have to feel ashamed for having a mental illness. Better still would be an open, educational environment that supported conversation about mental illnesses, just as we learn about various physical diseases such as cancer and HIV/Aids in health classes.
I have lived my entire live with a mom struggling with a disease I can’t see and can’t help. But by those of us around her taking her illness seriously she’s become not sad, but strong. And everyone suffering from a mental health disorder deserves the same.