Depression is an affliction of the gifted
I certainly did not plan to post this morning, but given the news yesterday about the passing of a great talent, artist, and human being, I thought I would just throw out a few thoughts.
It has been my observation that extremely intelligent people comprise a disproportionate percentage of those who suffer from clinical depression. Part of our problem in discussing this psycho-physical disorder is the use of a word that has another meaning in common parlance. A lot of the language we use to address what are science-based phenomena were developed before the science itself came into maturity, often from the 17th and 18th centuries. So, it is easy to misunderstand them.
It would not be necessary or appropriate to go on at length about the psychiatric definition of clinical depression (that is easily found all over the internet and I am sure there will be many medical professionals speaking out about it again today, in light of Williams’s passing) but I do want to remind people that they need to act on behalf of a close acquaintance, family member or loved one who shows signs of the disorder. It is even more acute if that person has been diagnosed.
People with clinical depression should not be left alone when they are suffering an exacerbation or flare of the disorder. We will find out what happened to Robin Williams, but it is my guess that he must have been alone for too long a period of time, or this could not have easily occurred in this manner. The manner of death appears to be one that would take some time to bring about (and again, I am only going on what the media has reported. Today we will likely get clarification on this).
Some people who suffer from this disorder manifest symptoms like mania (as in manic-depressive bi-polar disorders), and others by self-medicating with drugs, alcohol and even cigarettes (not that mild use of any of these indicates someone is about to take their own life, let me be clear).
It is my experience that, because this culture does not understand, nor support the admission of psychiatric conditions, those with syndromes like depression will try to mask their suffering, as if they have failed. They are often bewildered by it and the kind of initial reaction they get and care they do or do not receive, will often make the difference in how they deal with the stresses it causes, for the rest of their lives.
Treatment should be ongoing, for life. It is no different than any other physiological ‘disease’ and should be viewed and dealt with as such. There are old drugs that seem to help, like lithium. Lithium has been around for over 100 years or more and I have never heard of anyone dying from its side effects (although any time you introduce a pharmaceutical medicinal product into a living organism, there will be adverse effects). New treatments are being developed all the time. A person with this issue needs a caring and up-to-date professional to guide them through the process of identifying the management therapy that is right for them.
On a purely temporary basis, diet can help. Many times what appears to be depression can be caused by low blood sugar disorders. Simply changing the diet to a series of small, balanced, protein-enriched meals can even out mood, when this occurs.
Another thing that can help, temporarily, are herbal-based products available over the counter, like SAM-E, St. John’s Wort (be careful here, as it has been implicated in liver dysfunction) and taking a calcium/magnesium multivitamin. This is just to get past a down or ‘blue’ mood. Sometimes exercise can help, and of course getting outside in sunshine. If you are with someone who suffers from bouts that might be a sign of true depression, you can help by staying with them, talking to them, getting them a protein-rich meal (not too heavy, of course), getting them to take a walk in fresh air and even just putting a full-spectrum bulb in a lamp and seating them near it while you converse.
There is no substitute for professional help. The depressed individual often does not reach out, because affect flattens during these episodes and they truly believe there is nothing that can be done. Or, when they are on medication and feeling better, they assume they no longer need it and often stop taking it, without letting anyone know. There can be a crash of sorts when the chemical imbalance that triggers flares occurs. Those are dangerous moments.
If it were up to me, every clinically depressed person would have a buddy, similar to the system used, in many substance abuse support programs.
In any case, they shouldn’t be alone.
I will personally miss Robin Williams. I don’t need to say anything else about him, as others, even President Obama, have said it so eloquently, I wouldn’t presume to tread on that territory.
But I would like to say: not one more.
Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien — but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most — from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets. The Obama family offers our condolences to Robin’s family, his friends, and everyone who found their voice and their verse thanks to Robin Williams. — Barack Obama