Depression is personal to this physician

Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain. Two celebrity icons splashed the headlines recently as both figures committed the unthinkable act of suicide. Both left behind young daughters and significant others reeling in the background wondering what had just happened. Kate Spade was the colorful fashionista of purses and dresses. Anthony Bourdain was the connoisseur of delectable eats traveling the world. How could such successful personas mask the pain hidden within? Even Robin Williams, the funniest man on earth, couldn’t escape the depths of despair.

As a physician who treats depression regularly, I know depression is ugly, and it’s a disease of the mind. Symptoms of sadness, hopelessness, and fatigue typically accompany depression. It can be situational with a lost job, lost loved one or be more permanent and consume one’s being to the point that he or she cannot move on with life.

Depression, to me, is personal. I first met with depression way before I was trained as a fully fledged physician. I was a medical student at the time, and my brother fled grad school, unable to sleep and cope with its academic rigors and social hardships. He became lackadaisical with his studies and made trips to the ER for panic attacks. He went to psychologist after psychologist who tried to delve into our childhood and place blame on his upbringing. OK, what kind of insanity is that? Having been raised in the same environment, I, myself, never developed depression. Depression is not caused by someone. It just is.

I remember coming home for winter break and seeing my once lively and extroverted brother become a person who never brushed his hair, teeth and took to wearing terry cloth bathrobes daily. My parents, both very intuitive and also in the medical field, helped him immensely and found him a great psychiatrist who immediately medicated him with antidepressants and two months later he was ready to get his life back together.

Years passed, and everything seemed fine. Then, my brother’s wife called me crying to tell me he overdosed on sleeping pills and was being admitted to the psychiatric ward. He seemingly had the perfect life with A-class friends, a stellar job and a wife that loved him. So what happened? Again, depression just is. It’s the imbalance of neurotransmitters that causes one’s mind to be hostage. I saw my brother in the psychiatric ward when I was five months pregnant, and I remember leaving his room after visiting him and sobbing loudly like a baby. That was not him. He was sad and almost catatonic. He went to psychiatrist after psychiatrist and finally, the right medications broke him out of that spell and now he’s successful in his career and enjoying life with his family.

Yet until this day, my brother never talks about his depression or his suicide attempt. Only close immediate family members know about this. Why? It is because society stigmatizes depression and suicide. It’s not yet recognized mainstream as a disease but as a fault and weakness. Guess what? Depression and suicide attempts aren’t anybody’s fault and certainly aren’t weaknesses. Like cancer, diabetes and heart disease, depression has to be screened and treated. Recognize depression. Treat it. Then move on with life.

If you or anyone you know is suffering from depression or having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

The author is an anonymous physician.

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