On depression and pork barrel thieves

'My name is Margarita Holmes and I suffer from the mental disorder called clinical depression.'

Hi, everybody. My name is Margarita Holmes and I suffer from the mental disorder called clinical depression.

Based on the statistics, this is what I could look forward to. Having had my first clinical depression in my twenties, I was 50% more likely to get depressed a second time and I did. Furthermore, having been depressed twice, I was 75% more likely to become clinically depressed again; and once again I did.  And, saddest news of all, if I had been depressed three times, it was practically guaranteed that I would become depressed again…and again…and yet again. As has been the case.

Of course, statistics are, well, (just) statistics, and I don’t favor Mark Twain’s “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.”

I prefer British mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead’s: “Statistics is like a girl in a bikini: What it reveals is interesting, but what it conceals is vital.”

Part of what the statistics on depression conceal is that depression is one of the easiest mental disorders to treat, which is just as well because other statistics also state that not only is depression one of the most common mental problems around (Anxiety being the only one with a much higher prevalence), it is also, when sufficiently severe (as opposed to moderate or slight), the one where you can lose hope of getting better. Ever. (READ: Living with social anxiety disorder)

Then one has no energy, usually not getting put of bed, and wanting to die. Sometimes, one can feel this literally, and think of, attempt or alas, actually commit suicide. 

However, if your depression is not so severe and you can try to make yourself better, here are some things you can do on your own, without needing anyone else’s approval. In other words, excuses like “I couldn’t find a good therapist,” or “I can’t afford the medicine” won’t wash.


1. Exercise

In Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman (2008) the proof that exercise is truly our best defense against depression is unequivocally presented. Filled with amazing case studies (such as the revolutionary fitness program in Naperville, Illinois, that has made the local school district of 19,000 kids first in the world of science test scores), Spark is the first book to comprehensively explore the connection between exercise and the brain.

If you need further proof than that provided by Dr Ratey, then allow me to quote Gerard Sanacora, MD, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University and Director of the Yale Depression Research Program, who says “Exercise appears to be an antidepressant in its own right and may act like an antidote to stress.”

2. Get enough rest

Sleep helps regulate moods and is necessary for both mental and physical health. In fact, insomniacs are almost 10 times more likely to have depression than their well-rested counterparts, according to a 2005 study in the journal Sleep.

Some psychiatrists go as far as to say “Sleep is a cornerstone of health, like food…..Regulating sleep can really help prevent depression and relapse.” (READ: Sleep loss can make you fat)

3. Avoid alcohol and drugs

Numerous case studies (perhaps even among your own relatives and friends) provide anecdotal evidence of the contribution of alcohol and drugs to mood management. Alcohol is a depressant (bad) , and many street drugs deplete serotonin and dopamine (also bad), as both are important mood neurotransmitters.

4. Don’t take on too much

Say no if you feel you can’t do it well, are tempted to say yes only because you are being pressured to do so, or if you feel (even if for no apparent reason) that you don’t want to do what you are being asked to. Dr Nancy Irwin, PsyD, author of You-Turn: Changing Direction in Midlife (2008) says, “Thwart stress by creating balance and knowing your limits…If you are prone to depression, this is your responsibility—just like brushing your teeth or obeying the speed limits.”

Dr Irwin continues: “Feeling overwhelmed creates stress, and stress is a risk factor for depression. What’s more, stressful experiences can make the symptoms of anxiety and depression additionally severe.”

5. Manage Stress

Chronic stress can actually cause physical changes in the brain, which can affect moods and emotions.

In fact, a number of studies have led researchers to suspect that stress produces changes in the brain similar to those caused by depression.

“Stress might have a large effect on some of the brain regions that control emotion and memory,” says Dr. Sanacora. “If it is chronic and uncontrollable, stress might actually cause physical damage to the brain.”

So one way to manage stress is to develop stress-busting strategies, such as exercise, yoga, pilates, meditation, acupuncture, hypnosis, talk therapy, or turning to friends and family for support.

Depression not only affects you physically but also in many other ways. The latest literature provides lots of scientific evidence, the bibliographic details of which I should have at my fingertips, having read them so often but alas, I don’t, so allow me to provide some anecdotal evidence with me as the anecdotal case study, ok?

Depression can affect you psychologically. When I was depressed, nothing made me happy, even things that used to before, like getting a raise or getting a standing ovation from an appreciative audience.

Depression can affect you cognitively too. When I was depressed, I couldn’t concentrate and sometimes had to read things five times to understand half of what when not depressed I could grasp completely after reading it once. I also found it overwhelming to make decisions, even if it had to do with minor things like what should I write about for the next day’s column. 

Depression can also affect you socially. When I was depressed I didn’t want to leave my room, much less the house. I didn’t want to meet my friends, or even return their phone calls, because I was sure they would notice the absence of my –ahem—usual wit and charm. Even the most extroverted person seems to morph into a hermit in a cave when depressed.

That is why it is so important to try and get the help you need when depressed.

There are many different kinds of depression. One category has to do with the major source of one’s depression. If your depression has external sources, your depression is exogamous in origin. 

Alas, because my depression is endogenous, it is not usually the product of, though it can be triggered by, external causes. Instead, my depression sometimes seems to well up from within, no matter how smoothly my life is on the outside. Endogenous depressions are believed to be those triggered by a chemical imbalance. And because my brain is such that it is reacts strongly to such chemical imbalances, I have what is called a “biogenetic vulnerability” to depression.

This is the kind of depression that runs in families and is probably genetically passed down from parent (or grandparent, great grandparent, etc). Because the cause of endogenous depression seems predominantly biological, psychotropic medication helps keep it at bay. Because depression often seems like a fate worse than death, I now go for therapy when needed, take my medication faithfully, and make lifestyle choices that help prevent a recurrence.

These are no guarantees, mind you; but at least, should I ever get depressed once more, I will not blame myself relentlessly and unceasingly for it (another symptom of depression).

Indeed, depression is not a disorder I would wish on anyone. Well, maybe I should change that to “anyone BUT politicians like Enrile, Estrada, and Revilla. My rationale is that if their alleged theft is true, then through this act of plunder they have reduced people to lives of quiet desperation because of their realities – no sanitation, no roads and infrastructures, expensive electricity, no clean water.

If, as the paperwork suggests, the alleged thieving trio above really did steal from us – the Filipino people to whom they’d promised to provide a better life – then, what they stole were funds that could otherwise have gone into:

1. Education – letting people know that, even if you are so depressed there is no light at the end of a deep, dark tunnel and you can feel you have no escape from, nevertheless depression is in fact one of THE easiest mental disorders to cure

2. Training – for social workers, nurses, doctors in family medicine, and parents, who are probably closer to people clinically depressed

3. Treatment – for those who need it, specifically cognitive behavioral therapy (one of the short term psychotherapies proven to be most effective), psychoanalysis, and medication

If it’s okay with you, let me stop now lest, despite all my efforts, my biogenetic vulnerability PLUS the feeling these supposed thieves may yet get off scot free will make me depressed once more, ok? – Rappler.com

Image from Shutterstock.

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