By Definition

We all want so badly to be right. We just know that what we’re thinking must be superior to the opposing point of view, and we believe if we just yell loud enough that we can convince them of the error of the their ways. It is just so obvious that our answer is the correct one.

I had never heard of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) International before today. According to the organization’s website, CCHR International is “a non-profit, non-political, non-religious mental health watchdog. Its mission is to eradicate abuses committed under the guise of mental health and enact patient and consumer protections.” Sounds noble enough. CCHR International is also committed to “working alongside many medical professionals including doctors, scientists, nurses, and those few psychiatrists who have taken a stance against the biological/drug model of ‘disease’ that is continually promoted by the psychiatric/ pharmaceutical industry as a way to sell drugs.” Perhaps a little strongly worded, but, again, a fairly noble endeavor.

I found out about CCHR International through a video posted on a friend’s Facebook page today. In the video, a series of teens and children are seen wearing tee shirts with the name of various mental disorders (bipolar disorder, personality disorder, social anxiety disorder, etc., etc.) on the front of them. Those stickers are removed as the video progresses to reveal words such as “leader,” “inventor,” “artist,” and “revolutionary.” The video concludes with the words “Stop psychiatric labeling of kids” being flashed across the screen.

In general, I approve of the message the group is sending. Plenty of children who have been labelled with behavioral disorders were acting merely as, well, children would act. And certainly many behaviorisms which could be perceived as negative can actually work in a person’s favor. Many times, efforts to eradicate those behaviors serve more to strip the child of their natural personality and may even leave them more confused about who they are and what their gifts are.

There is a part of me, though, that believes this is not the entire picture. Sure, some kids (and even adults) can push through the haze of a mental illness or behavioral disorder to discover an even greater resolve and a dedicated lifestyle of concentration and effort. Abraham Lincoln, for example, was reported to have major bouts of depression, but was also one of the greatest presidents in the history of the United States. Some kids, though, cannot climb these mountains on their own. Whether it be counseling or medicine or a different style of learning, they need a hand to get to the top.

I think back to some of my more difficult years in school. Could I have benefited from some extra help? It’s difficult to say now, but I don’t believe it would have hurt. I remember a time in the first (or maybe second grade) when I would inexplicably burst into tears every day in the cafeteria. To this day, I still don’t know what was going on there, other than remembering feeling really scared. Perhaps I could have used some counseling. Times were very different back then, though. “Depression” was a not a word I grew up familiar with.

Accompanying the video on the CCHR International Facebook page was the following statement: “Childhood is not a mental disorder.” That is very true. Severe depression is a mental disorder, though, and it can scar children well into their adult years. Medicine people versus non-medicine people just doesn’t cut it. Each child has to be evaluated on an individual basis, and then what is best for them has to be decided. In our effort to declare a winner in the argument, let’s not forget that each person is an individual and that blanket statements will keep the conflict going on forever.

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Snow Banks & Airplanes

In many areas of the United States, a foot of snow on the ground does not a crisis make. In Kentucky, however, it puts everyone into full-on freak-out mode. Not that long ago, many of us in the western part of the Bluegrass State were shoveling off our driveways and trying to figure out how we were going to get to work (or anywhere) the next day. Once we all made it out of our driveways, we were greeted by some roadways that had been plowed, some that had been sort of plowed, and some that it appeared no one had touched at all.

On the plowed roadways, there were heavy-duty mounds of snow piled up along the shoulders. I’m not sure if they could have actually done any damage to a vehicle if it had struck one of them, but they looked solid enough to possibly cause some harm to not only the vehicle but also the driver behind the wheel.

And, on a particularly down day for me, I had the brief, fleeting desire to drive straight into one of them.

I didn’t, of course. Almost as soon as the thought entered my mind, I recognized it as being insane. I didn’t really want to cause harm to myself or my vehicle that day, but my mood was so low that for a brief second I considered doing something pretty stupid.

Suicidal ideation is an extremely difficult realm to decipher. Many people who have fleeting suicidal thoughts never act on them at all, while the appearance of them in some people can be a red flag for problems to come in the future. It also is not necessarily a byproduct of mental illness. Suicidal thoughts can be brought on by sudden life changes or economic hardship or any number of external factors, so automatically linking them to major depressive disorder or dysthymia or bipolar disorder or any other disruption in the brain can be a mistake.

lubitzI would not say I have reached the point of obsession with the story of Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot who intentionally crashed a Germanwings plane into a mountain, killing everyone on board, but I have definitely become very interested in it. Despite the fact that no suicide note has been found and that Dusseldorf prosecutor Christoph Kumpa has said all data and documents pertaining to Lubitz’s mental state  “don’t show any hint of being suicidical [sic] or being aggressive towards other people,” media reports still seem determined to link this horrible act specifically to mental illness.

In a Yahoo! News story from today, it was revealed that Lubitz had been treated by a psychotherapist for several years because of previous suicidal tendencies. That information supplied the headline for the story, but Kumpa’s earlier quote and the words of a fellow Germanwings pilot who said, “The impression that I got was that he was a normal guy,” were buried deeper in the story. It’s almost as if in order for people to wrap their minds around this terrible tragedy, they must find some mental disorder to pin it on. To think a normal mind would do something this horrific does not seem to compute.

There also seems to be an undercurrent of blame running throughout these reports. As is always the case in times of senseless tragedy, we look for someone to blame. Now, Lubitz is certainly to blame for this particular act, but since he went down with the plane, that only leaves Germanwings to direct accusations at. Should Lubitz have been grounded? Well, no one exactly knows at this point. Should I be banned from driving a car, though, because I had that thought about the snow bank? I don’t think so. Until the extent of Lubitz’s thoughts become clear, can anyone really fault Germanwings for letting him into the cockpit of a plane? He did have a pilot in there with him, after all.

As with suicidal ideation, it is nearly impossible to look at a situation such as this and make a definitive conclusion until every piece of information is uncovered. That could take months or even years, and we want it to all happen in the span of a few days. There is no way I could defend what Lubitz did that day. I’m not even saying he was a decent guy. I don’t know anything about him. I just believe that immediately going after mental illness as a cause for his actions could not only be incorrect, but could also create more of a stigma for those who suffer from it. Not all of us are going to fly planes into mountainsides … or crash cars into piles of snow.

Major Minor

“I got depressed just reading about that.”

These were the words of someone I recently directed to a link on the internet concerning persistent depressive disorder (or dysthymia or dysthymic disorder). I was attempting to give them some insight into the type of depression I have been diagnosed with. Most people I run into don’t even know there are different types of depression, so I try to point out the differences when I can. I guess I do this in the hopes I won’t seem so weird to everyone around me.

Persistent depressive disorder is commonly listed as a minor or low-grade depression. Its effects can last much john-cougar-468x351longer than a severe depressive episode, but they are generally regarded as not being as severe. This description reminds of an old episode of VH1’s Behind the Music featuring John Mellencamp, in which the notoriously crotchety roots rocker recalled being told he had suffered a “mild” heart attack in 1994. I can’t remember his exact quote, but it was something along the lines of “Let’s see you suffer a heart attack, then tell me how ‘mild’ it is.”

Yes, persistent depressive disorder is not exactly bipolar disorder. It’s not postpartum. It’s not PTSD. By comparison, it may be “mild” when compared to these other types of depression. But, man, oh man, can it make life suck. Persistent depressive disorder is described as a depressive mood which lasts at least two years. It is accompanied by low self-esteem, poor concentration, irritability, and plummeting energy. Oh, and did I mention this all lasts for at least two years? It’s no wonder people with persistent depressive disorder are at risk for severe depressive episodes. The thing just wears … you … down.

So, ironically, in my attempt to show how my depression wasn’t as severe as it could be, I managed to convey to the person I mentioned earlier how it actually is pretty bad after all. It just doesn’t hit all at once. It’s more like Chinese water torture, dripping, dripping, dripping. I’ve been through some counseling and, as I mentioned in my previous post, I’m still working to get my medication adjusted. I still have bottom-out days, though. As one of my counselors once told me about controlling my mood, “You have to be as persistent as the disorder.”

psych centralI’m not writing this to garner any sympathy for myself (Okay, well, maybe I am. A little.), but rather to point out that with depression nothing is minor. Nothing should be written off or ignored as “not that bad.” Take it from me, things can snowball very quickly if not dealt with in a timely manner. I’d encourage anyone curious about persistent depressive disorder to read this article at Psych Central’s website. Just try not to get too depressed while you’re reading it.

The Poison Pill?

pillThis is an antidepressant. It is a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, also known as an SNRI. I take one of these pills every day. Its purpose is to help alleviate the biological symptoms of my depression.

I’m not so sure it’s doing its job properly anymore.

Depending on who you ask, antidepressants are either a godsend or a placebo. In either case, they seem to at least do something for people who suffer from the symptoms of depression. For some, the effects are positive. For others, not so much. Even those that seem to benefit from taking them usually have to go through a trial period before they find the right one.

I was prescribed this particular antidepressant I am currently taking once before. The results were not good. I had not undergone any type of evaluation before visiting my general physician with my concerns that I was possibly depressed, and he did not refer me anywhere to have one performed. He prescribed me a much higher dose of this particular antidepressant than I am currently taking, and I had no reference point to measure its effects by once I began using it.

Even though I was wiser the second time around (I had an assessment done and started on a much lower dosage), the ill effects of that first experience still linger in my mind. Basically, my emotions sort of flat-lined. I wasn’t as depressed, but I wasn’t quite as happy as I could have been either. My anxiety decreased, but it nearly decreased too much, to the point where I wasn’t particularly concerned about anything. I made some dumb, out-of-character decisions. I think about all this every day before I swallow this pill.

One week from today, I will be visiting with my current physician to review this medication. I have several mixed feelings about this. I am hopeful in that I may be able to find something that works better for me. I am sad that I may be facing yet another change in medications. I have a sense of dread, stemming from that bad experience I had with my doctor all those years ago. I am afraid, wondering if I will ever find a medication that works for me or if such a thing even exists.

I am wondering if anyone reading this has had any similar experiences figuring out their medication for depression. Granted, I was diagnosed with dysthymia (or chronic depression), so my case would be slightly different than someone diagnosed with something such as bipolar disorder. I’d love to see your comments on this.