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  • Dr. Steve Lower

Depression is not a character flaw

If even Eagles lineman Shawn Andrews can own up publicly to suffering from major depressive illness, perhaps the rest of us can give up the idea that depression is just a cover for the faint-hearted to hide their character failures. Depressive illness is not just a matter of showing a little more backbone or shaking off the blues.

Of course occasional and transient sadness can touch anyone’s life. But if you feel endlessly burdened and unable to enjoy activities that used to be pleasurable; if you can’t sleep or eat (or eat or sleep too much); if you have unremitting headaches and suffer from a debilitating lack of energy, if you turn to a chemical substance for self medication, if those symptoms and others like them do not disappear on their own in a short time you know you have an illness which cannot be cured by wishful thinking or verbal legerdemain.

And yet it is for his courage in recognizing out loud that he felt “lost,” “alone,” and “on the edge” that Shawn Andrews earned wide admiration. The implication is clearly that we laud his willingness to reveal a shameful flaw, not his courage to battle a painful and potentially fatal disorder. Had he revealed he had cancer or heart disease he would have been carried around the field on his teammates’ shoulders as a sign of support and good wishes. Why should a disease of the brain bring fear of shame to the sufferer when an equally serious problem located in another part of the human body would earn him unanimous social support?

Want to add a caption to this image? Click the Settings icon. t complex question lies in the fact that the workings of the brain have always been mysterious and a fertile field for esoteric theories from the varied fields of philosophy, religion, ethics, physiology, psychology, psychiatric medicine and more. Only recently has modern technology allowed us to observe the mysterious organ live. We are now confronted with the task of erasing obsolete beliefs from the collective conscience. The process may take generations.

Meanwhile those of us who suffer or are close to one who suffers from depressive illness (or other brain disorder) must put aside folk beliefs and be proactive in looking for up-to-date information. The fact is that many forms of mood disorders respond well to treatment. Seriously designed studies consistently show that people who stick with treatment professionally prescribed for them enjoy full recovery in approximately seven out of ten cases.

The choice between pharmacological and psychological treatment and a combination of the two according to different schedules has to be made for each individual case. Medical treatment is provided only by psychiatrists while psychological treatment is provided by either psychiatrists or non-medical psychotherapists such as psychologists and social workers. Most cases respond best to closely coordinated use of both professional approaches.

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