Physicians are at the frontline of depression

Darkness covers the sky so that no light can enter the soul. Only a silhouette of life is possible — only a shell devoid of existence, devoid of meaningful experiences. Living is like walking in a dense forest where its canopy envelopes all who dare to enter. The falling rain is black. It covers everything like a shroud. The air is so heavy, breathing is, at times, too much to endure. Nights are too long, leaving the mind to focus on the darkness.

There are members of our society who find themselves searching for glimmers of light, searching for answers. Sadly, their queries go unheard. We recall the names of some like Robin Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Kate Spade — all troubled souls who decided the search was futile. The weight that burdened their minds was too heavy a load to endure any longer.

There are others whose names are unknown to us, but whose struggles are just as real:

  • The 50-year-old man who lost his job three years ago after having worked for his company for 20 years. He is homeless and travels from shelter to shelter and he sees no future for himself.
  • The 14-year-old teenage girl who has no friends and feels that she doesn’t fit in at school. She hears the snickering in the hallways by those who pass her. At home, her parents are unaware of the turmoil their daughter faces.
  • The 9-year-old boy who is overweight and who is continually bullied by his classmates because of his size. He has no one to play with and stands off at one end of the playground watching the others at play. The same story repeats itself, day after day. He hates school and cries himself to sleep each night.
  • The 78-year-old frail, white-haired woman who lives by herself in a deteriorating house which she had once shared with her now deceased husband. She has no family or friends to share her thoughts with and the only voice she hears is her own echoing within the walls of this shell of a home.
  • The 32-year-old physician who had entered the profession with the lofty goal of healing the sick. He deals with life-and-death situations almost on a daily basis and his patients rely on his judgment. His days begin before sunrise and extend well past sunset. He sees little of his family, except for a quick goodbye as he darts out the door. He is frustrated by the bureaucracy that has infiltrated this once venerated profession. He can’t admit his discontent to his coworkers, for that would be considered to be a sign of weakness. He feels trapped. Physician, heal thyself — the phrase keeps reverberating in his mind.

How difficult it must be to live a life when the joy of living has evaporated. We, as a society, must come to accept mental illness as a valid disease which can be treated — not one to be talked about in darkened corners. A health care system must be in place which allows individuals to seek out mental health treatment without incurring a huge financial burden. The existence of community health clinics must be in place to serve the needs of those individuals who live on the fringes of our society and who don’t normally seek out the services of medical professionals.

The primary care physician, who often serves on the frontline, should be afforded the opportunity to adequately talk with his patients who are in mental distress. In this age of advanced technology, the back and forth communication between doctor and patient — i.e., the telling of the patient’s story — has somehow been replaced by clicking off boxes on a computer screen. Instead of a list of preconceived questions, let there be a discussion between doctor and patient. Often times, there is much to be learned in even the silences that may develop in these face to face encounters. There needs to be a restoration of the human connection. Without it, health care will falter.

Teachers in our schools should be encouraged to play an active role in the mental well-being of their students. They can serve as a source of support and help to those students who are floundering emotionally, or they can make referrals to qualified medical professionals. Too many of our young people are taking their own lives as a way out of the distress they are experiencing. This must be stopped.

It is our responsibility to make the effort to bring the sunlight back to those who are living in the shadows, those who are living behind the curtain of depression.

“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not, and oftentimes, we call a man cold when he is only sad.”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Michele Luckenbaugh is a patient. 

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