Sunday, November 14, 2010

Could We All Just Stop Pretending We Know About Major Depression if We Don't?

Once a month G. or I have to go to a parents' meeting at the Catholic Church.

So this year they had a parishioner lead the first class of the year, and then asked him to do it permanently. He's a nice guy, a dad, and he tries to bring in real-life examples of his kids and family and trying to be good Christians. He reads the day's Bible passage aloud, then tells us what he thinks it means. There's not really any discussion, we just listen to this guy and his train of thought on the message for an hour, then if we're lucky there are doughnuts and coffee in the hall.

Last week (I forgot what the point of the lesson was about - I think it was "we should all pray" again), he said, "You know, sometimes people feel bad and they just start taking these antidepressants, and those mess with your emotions, when what I do, is I just go over there," pointing to the church, "and pray and look for answers there."

Aw, crap. It's the famous "if you were stronger/more faithful/less of a pansy you wouldn't need anti-depressants" argument. We've all heard it. I've gotten into arguments with family members over it. People (who usually aren't in the field) begin spouting all this stuff about how meds mess up your mind: They make you foggy, screw up your emotions, change your personality. It's all a big conspiracy by the pharmaceutical companies. By the way, why don't I hear ever hear this argument about manufacturers of pain relievers or chemotherapy drugs? It's always the companies making anti-depressants (or ADHD drugs) who are especially evil and want everyone medicated and sedated in their quest for world domination.

When I've unwillingly found myself in this argument with someone who's usually talking out of their ass, I've resorted to, "You're an engineer (or whatever), right? And I'm a psychologist. Which one of us do you think knows more about psychotropic medication, hmmm? And just so you know, I've never received as much as a Post-It notepad from any pharmaceutical company, so just don't even go there."

So that morning, I looked around at the people in the room at this parent's meeting, and wondered who who took antidepressants that morning. I know I did, and I would bet money there were at least two other people in the room who were taking them as well. I wondered if they registered what the leader had said or if it just floated past them, like so many comments that float around us all the time about depression and mental illness.

I had a young man in my office recently who told me, "No offense, but I think this psychology stuff is bullshit." Really, Dude-With-1-Semester-of-Community-College -Psychology-Under-Your-Belt? (aside: Does anyone else get told the entire field of study of their Ph.D. is bullshit? Just curious, not bitter...not bitter at all. I mean, it's not like my dissertation was on Area 51). So this guy's mother was seriously depressed and he was convinced that it was because she was just weak. He gets depressed, sometimes, sure, but he pulls himself out of it. He was getting annoyed with her and believed she just needed to "move on."

Here was a kid who thought he knew everything at 20, which I understand. So I gently educated him about depression and anti-depressants and he listened. He finally agreed that it might help more if he was supportive of his mother and stopped telling her to snap out of it. He did agree that telling her to snap out of it hadn't worked thus far. I was relieved, because that's really all I was asking of him.

So my question now is, do I say something to the leader of this parent's class, or not? I think I have to. I think I have a duty to confront the stigma. I'm not an activist, and there are very brave souls who are really working to change the stigma of seeking help for mental health reasons, but that's not where my energy has gone. But I wish I'd said something that day. Honestly, I'm so used to these views being thrown around that I didn't even really register that I could say something until I'd already left to pick up the boys.

I don't care at all what he thinks about my taking meds, because I'm sooo over caring what people think about my being on anti-depressants, but I know for a fact that there are many poor souls who have suffered for years before finally realizing they could indeed feel a whole lot better on anti-depressants. Many of these people have told me they wished they'd tried meds years earlier and then have to grieve the loss of all that time lost to depression. And those people shouldn't have to feel that here's another person, in a position of authority, although I doubt he looks at it that way, who also thinks they should have been able to do it on their own. I have no problem with this guy having that opinion in private, but if he's in front of a roomful of parents he doesn't really know, perhaps he should learn to keep it to himself. I'm guessing it didn't even occur to him. We all have to think before we speak.


Kare R. said...

Personally I would say something. I've gotten this comment about my bi-polar and social anxiety. While it has greatly improved over the years, and I don't need my meds on a regular basis anymore, thank goodness because our insurance went way up and we simply can't afford all four, I realize how much they helped me. I am a recovering self-mutilator. If it hadn't been for my meds I probably wouldn't be here any more. I realize that if I get to that point again I need to go back onto something. I also realize that it's stronger to admit you need help, than to trudge through life wishing things could be different when it can usually be easier to tend to things. I wholeheartedly believe in what you and G. do. Do I enjoy needing four medications to function? No. Do I realize that something is simply wrong with the balance in my brain to necessitates said medications? Yes.

Valerie said...

I think you should say something. I would have a problem with the whole Parents Meeting program. If anything, it should be a discussion of the reading, "Breaking Open the Word" to use the terminology, not one parent expounding on his intrepretation of it. An interactive format would be vastly more beneficial to everyone. I haven't seen this format before. He also shouldn't be commenting on other peoples' psychological state, although I suppose he could say that the church gives HIM strength and comfort. I actually don't trust psychiatrists (not psychologists, you guys are the saving grace for the field of mental health) and think psychoactive medication definitely has its place, but is overprescribed (hence the need for good therapists). But I still don't think the speaker/parent should make that statement to a general audience where there is no room for discussion. Perhaps you could suggest a reformatting of the meeting, and use this example as one of the reasons.

Sinead said...

I think you should talk to him, both as someone who is actually in that profession and as a member of the parents' group and (I assume) the church. Though he might have meant well, that's not the position of the Church...praying is great and important, but it's not a replacement for meds (a good companion to meds, yes, but not a replacement). If there's a need for meds, then those meds should be taken. It's irresponsible for someone who appears to be in a leadership position (self-chosen or not) to suggest otherwise, both because it's not good thinking and it's not the position of the Church. /rant ;)

ps--I miss ya, Colleen, but I'm glad that I can keep up with what's up with you through Facebook! :)

Valerie said...

Sinead said it more eloquently than I did! I just realized my google account has my daughter's name on it because I opened it for her to start a blog. This is actually Karen from facebook!

Anonymous said...

I agree with both Valerie & Sinead. I think it's totally appropriate to take him aside, explain your issue with what he said and ask him to consider others' potential interpretations of his commentary PRIOR to putting it out there. He may get it, he may not. There are those who are just blissfully ignorant (the Tom Cruise/Brook Shields debacle comes to mind) and no amount of counsel will get them to stop. But if he's at all self-aware, maybe it will get him to think about what he says BEFORE.

I also agree that an interactive group where members share their interpretations of the scripture passage would be much more engaging, but not sure the CC would embrace that. I'm sure it depends on how progressive that particular parish is. My experience has been that the discussion is nearly always "one-way" - i.e. "them" telling "you" what to do, say, feel, believe, fear, etc. I know that people attend church for guidance, but sometimes it's good to mix it up a bit and get some discussion going too. I'd be interested in what the outcome of this is.

LemonySarah said...

What Sinead said. Also, I sure look forward to the day that people accept imperfect brain function the same way they accept other physical/chemical imperfections. It would be so great if/when people view depression and other brain issues the way they view diabetes, for instance.

Lunasea said...

Oh, my rant on the parents' group is coming. Last year they did try to make it more interactive. I think they're just stuck with a neophyte teacher this year.

Marianne said...

Music theorist over here who gets dismissed for having a fluff PhD where she got to just listen to a bunch of music...

ChloƩ said...

I totally agree, and I too think you should talk to him if you feel like he could listen. If he can't, I'm not sure it's worth losing your time and energy trying to talk to him.

And as you said, I'm sure everyone would have jumped out of their seat if he had said the same thing about chemotherapy, and they would have been right, as right as you are when you react to those theories about anti depressants.

Valerie said...

I think there's hope for reformatting the meeting. In my experiences with the Catholic Church, I've never seen it done this way. My mom's meetings in the Bay Area, and mine out here in the (conservative) midwest, have all been sharing/discussion. Only in a lecture setting with a priest or guest speaker has it been mostly one way communication. But it takes some skill to moderate and works best in small groups.'re probably well trained in that!!! LOL But I guess I don't know the intent of the parent meeting, so I'll wait for your rant!

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