So, in one of life's little ironies, I was about to join a conference call on mental health and resources for families suffering from depression, when I got a call from my own therapist, checking to make sure I was doing all right.
Yes, I see a therapist. I have seen him since a few months after having my hysterectomy, when I had what I have learned to refer to since as a "Major Depressive Episode," and what my husband and family probably thought of at the time as a nervous breakdown.
We don't talk about things like that very much, do we? Depression and Moms, I mean. One of my personal heroes, who I met over a year ago at my first BlogHer conference in Chicago, Katherine Stone, quit her high-profile job at Coca-Cola to blog about her own terrifying ordeal with postpartum depression (PPD) and I admire her so much for doing that; for being open and forthright about a subject most of us would prefer to pretend doesn't exist.
Maybe it is, as has so often been said, the stigma behind mental illness. People don't think of depression in quite the same way as they do diabetes or high blood pressure, though it is just as much of a disease.
I think, too, though, that Moms feel like we shouldn't complain about our own problems. We are supposed to take care of our families, not the other way around.
In a recent online survey, more than half of all the Moms who responded worried about their family's mental health issues and that they weren't doing enough to help support those family members. 70 percent of Moms surveyed said they spent so much time taking care of everyone else that they didn't even have time to worry about their own mental health.
And 9 out 10 Moms, a whopping 90%, felt that society as a whole wasn't doing near enough to deal with mental health issues, many of which are not even covered by insurance today.
So I was looking forward to my conference call (which yes, I did join, a little late) with Julie Totten from Families for Depression Awareness, and Dr. Myrna Weismann, discussing these issues more in depth.
Both Julie and Dr. Weismann are Moms, and both are working to help families dealing with depression.
For Julie, it is a mission born from her own tragic past: nearly 18 years ago she lost a brother, Mark, to suicide. Though she tried to get him help, she didn't know herself what she should be doing to help him. That's why she is one of the founder of the non-profit www.familyaware.org, which offers free online tools like a parents/teen guide about depression, online moderated support groups and a family awareness tool for discerning if a family member is in need of your intervention.
One of the most important messages Julie wanted to get across is that sometimes you have to act as an advocate for your depressed family member, who may not be in a position mentally to deal with the medical community and all the red tape. You can keep putting the pressure on, asking questions, demanding answers and continuing to push to get that family member the help he/she needs.
Dr. Weismann has focused her areas of study on the treatment of depression and its strong genetic component. According to Dr. Weismann, issues for the children of parents who have been diagnosed with depression begin early, with problems often surfacing as anxiety disorders in young children. Puberty can trigger the change to depression in adoloscents, who sometimes turn to substance abuse if not treated, especially boys. These issues then continue right on into adult life.
But the cycle can be stopped through effective treatment, which sometimes means therapy, sometimes drugs--and sometimes a highly effective combination of both.
What Dr. Weismann is trying to determine is, first of all, if stress is known to be a major factor in depression, wouldn't a child knowing that his parent is depressed be incredibly stressful? Couldn't that serve as a trigger for their own problems with depression? And it seems that this is the case. Get parents effective treatment, and kids' own symptoms go into repression as well.
So, in an obvious next step towards treating and preventing this cycle of depression, Dr. Weismann is conducting surveys of people who are suffering from depression to track the family dynamic. You can join in her survey by calling: 877 407 9529 or visiting www.depressiongenetics.org
If you are in the NY area, there a specific treatment study going on involving well-known anti-depressant medications, no placebos, which both treats people for their own depression and studies their children for signs of ongoing or imminent depression. This study is free of charge, and you can find out more by calling: 212 543-5734.
Neither familyaware.org or Dr. Weismann's programs are selling anything or trying to make a profit, they are all about helping families get through the cycle of depression.
As Dr. Weismann puts it: suffering from a mental health illness when you are a parent is like the video on an airplane when you are instructed to put on your own oxygen mask first before helping your child put on his. You can't take care of anyone if you are suffering in silence. Only a parent who is emotionally healthy herself is in a position to make sure her family is emotionally healthy as well.