The Illness of Depression

by Anise Flowers

Last night I read my son a book called Mr. Happy.  Mr. Happy lives in Happyland and smiles all the time.  He meets Mr. Miserable, who is always frowning, and brings him to Happyland.  Gradually Mr. Miserable changes his frown into a smile.  And by the end of the book, Mr. Miserable is laughing uncontrollably.  I like this book because I believe that life is supposed to be joyful.  And I think children should know that they can move into better feeling states when feeling down.  However, I also believe that there is a serious illness called Clinical Depression. 

Most of us feel blue from time to time.  And that is when a visit to Happyland could lift your spirits.  But Clinical Depression is a very specific illness.  Most people with clinical depression have lifelong bouts with the illness.  Often people feel depressed in response to a life event like a divorce, the lost of a loved one, lose of a job etc.  This sadness in response to a life event is called an “Adjustment Disorder” according to the diagnostic manual used by psychologists (DSM-V).  If somes takes an anti-depressant while recovering from one of these life events, most likely it was an Adjustment Disorder rather than Depression.  For those with the chronic illness of Depression, sometimes medication and/or therapy is helpful.  And for some people, all treatment for depression is unsuccessful.  In some cases, Clinical Depression is a terminal illness -- in the same way that Cancer is sometimes treatable and sometimes terminal.

My mother had an aggressive, rare form of uterine cancer.  Despite the best medical care available and a super positive attitude, she did not survive.  No one blamed her afterward for leaving us.  No one called her selfish.  Generally when a clinically depressed person ends their life, they are viewed are extremely selfish.  And most people do not realize the extent of the suffering their loved one is enduring.   

Near the end of my marriage, my husband told me he has been suicidal every day for four years.  He was on anti-depressant medication, in weekly therapy, and had very supportive friends and family.  Yet the darkness and wish to die still engulfed him for years.  Most of the time, he kept these innermost feelings hidden.  In a similar fashion to the brilliant comedy of Robin Williams, Scott generally appeared happy and seemed to be the life of a party.  His extreme depression was swirling underneath of surface of that façade.  Unfortunately, Scott’s depression became terminal.  And while I was heartbroken when he died, I never blamed him or judged him for the choice that he made.  I knew that he was extremely afraid of death.  And living must have become completely unbearable for him to make that choice.

Sometimes when a depressed person commits suicide, the person’s spouse, parents, or family members are blamed for driving the person to commit this horrible act.  This laying of blame is also ridiculous.  Society would never blame the family members when a person dies of cancer.  I know a woman whose boyfriend died and his family publicly and privately claimed that the suicide was her fault.  In reality, there was nothing that she did to cause the terrible loss.  This young man was also in therapy and on medication.  As an extreme brand of mental illness, sometimes depression is terminal in spite of the treatment.

I believe that when my mom died of cancer, she became whole, healthy and joyful again.  And I believe that when a depressed person ends their life, they become happy and ecstatic once again.  Loss is always sad.  And every case is different.  My wish is for everyone is to find a way to live in Happyland.  And I also wish for the world to understand mental illness is just as serious as physical illness.  In neither case should we waste time blaming our loved ones.