Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Undoing Depression by Richard O'Connor

Depression causes brain damage, claims Richard O'Connor, author of Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn't Teach You and Medication Can't Give You. Studies have shown that not only the brain produce less “happy” chemicals, but that it looses the ability to detect the presence of the “happy” chemicals. I'm paraphrasing significantly, but that's the bad news.

The good news is that many of the habits comprise the depressive's behaviors are learned through repetition and can be unlearned. Most of it revolves around paying attention to emotions and thoughts in order to gain control over them instead of being controlled by them. This is difficult for most depressives because those emotions and thoughts have been blocked or ignored. It is a defense mechanism for the depressive who is not ready to deal with them, but too often it goes on for a significant amount of time. Even when ignored or blocked, the emotions can still cause mood swings. Then the depressive says the mood “came out of the blue,” though he or she was just not aware of what the trigger was.

O'Connor argues that medication and therapy are still effective treatment options, but they have limitations. Studies on either have only proven that medication or therapy reduces the number of symptoms that together made a Major Depression Disorder (MDD) diagnosis over a three month period. There have not been any studies on the long term effectiveness of medication, but most people diagnosed with MDD stay on medication for “maintenance.”

A diagnosis of MDD is compared to that of heart disease. Once you have it, you have to change your lifestyle to reduce the risk of a recurrence. Most heart patients will get instructions on what needs to be adjusted in order to continue life after heart disease. People diagnosed with depression are not given that type of information. It just doesn't exist. O'Connor lays out some exercises that are meant to better equip the depressive for dealing with emotions and thoughts, and by extension, stress. A quarter of the American population is suffering from MDD at any given time, but still a stigma exists against the disorder. It is perceived as a character defect rather than a disease. Like heart disease, it is something you have to live with every day. Some days are more of a struggle than others. It has been most difficult to explain how daily life is affected to people who have not experienced it. That has been where I feel the stigma the most. And, for those in the opposite position, saying “Just Be Happy” is not encouraging.

After reading this book, I wrote a short story, “She's Always Right,” roughly themed on depression. I have gotten it to a point where I can submit it to an upcoming competition. I want to thank my readers and editors for their help and advice: JD, Beth, Brittany, JT, and Amanda. It wouldn't be in its current form without you.