Understanding Clinical Depression and Bi-polar Disorder
The first in a series by our own Nan Dickie
It’s mid-winter. The days are still short. Children don’t want to get up. “Mom, it’s dark out! Let me sleep.” Before we get home from work, the sun has set. This makes some people sad, and gives others SAD (seasonal affective disorder). For those folks who have a predisposition to recurring depression (called clinical depression), or episodes of mania and depression (called bi-polar disorder), winter is a common time for those conditions to take hold.
Clinical depression and bi-polar disorder are not well understood by many – possibly most – of us. Yet each of us knows at least one person who lives with one of these disorders, which are, in fact, illnesses. That one person you know may be you.
In an effort to broaden our understanding of these illnesses, I am going to write a series of articles in this newspaper – one article each week – which will offer not only understanding, but will lead us all to more compassion for those who experience these mental challenges.
First I will outline how to access mental health services in Salmon Arm. What avenues for service are open to us? How do we decide what services to seek?
I will then move on to the face of depression – what do clinical depression and bi-polar disorder look like? Can you tell that someone is depressed or is experiencing mania? How does clinical depression differ from “regular” depression?
Next, learn what the experience is like for one experiencing an episode of his or her disorder. What are the symptoms? Does everyone experience the same symptoms?
Armed with this new understanding, you will probably be able to assess whether you, or someone you care for, is experiencing clinical depression or mania. How can you find others to share your experience with? Fortunately for us, there is a depression support group in Salmon Arm for people with these two disorders and/or anxiety. Learn about these meetings. What does participation in this group offer you? Why would you go? The motto of the group is “We’d rather share with strangers who understand than with family or friends who don’t,” and we know this to be true. Those strangers quickly become special friends.
If you are not a person who experiences depression or mania, how do you respond to someone you care for when they say to you, “I am severely depressed.” What should you say and not say? What should you do and not do?
Then there is the topic of medication. How are these disorders treated medically? Why do so many people who have bi-polar disorder choose, at some point, to take a vacation from their medication? How can we encourage compliance?
Next we will look at the language we use when talking about clinical depression and bi-polar disorder. The words we use sometimes misrepresent the situation. Find out why we should not use words like “enemy” or “infliction” to describe these disorders.
Finally, with our new-found knowledge and understanding, we will look at the ongoing issue of stigma. How can we look at these disorders anew? How does our change in attitude affect those individuals who experience clinical depression and/or mania?
What gives me the right to write on all of the above? I am not a medical professional, nor am I a therapist. However, I am an expert in living with clinical depression for more years than I care to mention – but I will: fifty years. Since I was in my mid-teens, I have experienced debilitating episodes of clinical depression every five or six years for a year at a time.
I started writing about living with my illness in the mid nineties, and my book, “A Map for the Journey: Living Meaningfully with Recurring Depression” was published in 2001. It is available at the public library, in local book stores and online. I continue to write on this topic. As well, I have been the facilitator of the local depression support group since it started three and a half years ago. Garry Hall was co-facilitator with me for the first two years. For information on where and when we meet, please consult the “Support Group Meetings and Hotlines” list in this newspaper. Get in touch with me if you would like more information.
Take a journey with me over the next eight weeks as we open our eyes to new learning, as we uncover misconceptions, as we learn what we can do to support people who live with these difficult challenges, and what to do if we, ourselves, happen to be one of those people.
Next week: Accessing mental health services in Salmon Arm.