During my recent annual physical, the nurse was nearly finished typing in the answers to the doctor’s questions when she hit me with one I didn’t expect. “Are you depressed?” she asked. I laughed. “Who isn’t these days?” I told her. When I realized she wanted a serious response, I asked what would happen if I said, yes. “Well,” she said, “I pass the information on to the doctor and she would discuss it with you.” I sighed. “No, I’m not depressed. I’m fine.” She smiled. “The doctor will be right in,” she said, closing the door behind her.
I didn’t bring it up with the doctor, but, truth be told, like so many people these days, I am depressed. My initial response to the nurse’s question might have been flip, but, in fact, I was serious. Why would I, or anyone, for that matter, be depressed? Let me count the ways.
We are still dealing with a pandemic and, possibly this fall, a tougher than normal flu season. My vaccine card is filled up, even though we no longer need to show proof to get into a restaurant or play.
Inflation shows no signs of slowing. Gas prices are decreasing, but prices for other goods and services continue to rise.
Our planet is melting down and many politicians still refuse to recognize that fact. Fires in the west, flooding in the south, powerful hurricanes (the season is just starting), are proof, but science deniers refuse to acknowledge the fact and act.
Our country continues to be divided and our former president, threatened with lawsuits and criminal investigations, continues to hold rallies and rile up his supporters. He now has embraced Qanon, giving credibility to the conspiracy lies the group promotes. If he’s indicted – something that seems more likely every day – he and one of his cronies, South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham – warn that Trump’s supporters will not stand for it. Will we see a repeat of January 6, or something much worse?
The war in Ukraine shows no signs of being resolved and Russian President Putin, backed into a corner, is threatening the possible use of nuclear weapons.
I could go on, but you get the point.
As a senior, growing old also adds to my angst. Dealing with health issues, and watching relatives and good friends become ill and, in some cases, pass away, is painful.
But depression these days is not limited to any one age group. Recently the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a prestigious group made up of 16 volunteer members who are nationally recognized experts in prevention evidence-based medicine, and primary care, recommended that adults under 65 years should be screening for anxiety and depression. While they did not recommend screening for suicide, they did point out that suicide is a leading cause of death among adults.
Many of the pitches that land in my inbox offer interviews with physicians, psychologists, life coaches and others to talk about how to deal with what is being seen as a mental health crisis. I have passed on these ideas because – forgive me for being cynical – I know what these well-intentioned experts will say. You know, too. Call a friend. Take a walk. Read a good book. Meditate. Avoid the news. These are band-aids, and like most band-aids, they may work for a while, but soon wear out and need to be replaced.
Recently, two good friends told me they are taking low doses of anti-depressants which, they say, have helped them. And, of course, brain chemistry may impact our mental health and medication can not only help but may be necessary for some people to cope.
When I was seven years-old, the woman who lived across the street from us came for a visit. Playing in the other room, I heard part of their conversation which included the word “depressed.” When she left, I asked my mother what it meant. Was she sick? “No,” my mother said. “She’s sad.” I told her I was sad sometimes, too. Did that mean I was depressed. My mother tried to explain the difference. When a person is sad, it often means something has happened to make them feel sad, she said, like losing a pet. When someone’s depressed, she added, there may not be a specific reason for feeling that way. The person might be unhappy and not really know why.
It was a simple explanation, but something that has stayed with me. When I’m sad, I can identify why I’m sad, usually, because I’ve had bad news from a relative or friend. Often I can do something to help, even if it means reaching out with a phone call or card. Being depressed is very different. If being sad is like being hit with a wave, being depressed is like being caught in a tsunami. With a wave, I can swim to the surface. With a tsunami, I’m being pulled down and feel like I’m drowning. That’s what so many of us are experiencing now – battling forces that seem so overwhelming we feel a loss of control.
So what to do? I’m not an expert, but here are some of my thoughts.
When you are feeling down or “blue,” try to identify the source of those feelings. If something specific has happened that has triggered a feeling of sadness that you can address – it may be simple like having a disagreement with a friend or missing a pet that has died – then meet that head on. Call the friend and try to talk through what happened. Missing a pet? Visit someone who has one or volunteer to foster a dog or cat.
For problems that cannot be easily resolved – you’re not going to bring about a truce for the war in Ukraine – find a way to help in a small way. If you’re watching the flooding in Puerto Rico, make a donation of cash or much needed items. Worried about covid or the flu? Get vaccinated to protect yourself. You also will not heal our divided country on your own, but you may be able to reach out to someone who is on the other side to talk through some differences. (Only do this if it won’t trigger a meltdown on your part.) And, of course, make sure you are registered to vote in the upcoming midterms.
And, the next time you go in for a physical, don’t be afraid to tell the doctor that yes, you’re depressed. Admitting that you need help may very well bring you the help you need.
Top photo: Bigstock