Posted by fxckfeelings on September 15, 2011Share This Post
As diseases go, mental illness is a doozy to treat; some mentally ill people are too humiliated to ask for help, and others are too crazy to ask. If you want to help them (or yourself), keep in mind that it’s the illness, stupid, which distorts the attitude towards treatment. Use the same logic and moral values for mental health treatment decisions that you would use for other illnesses; there’s nothing humiliating about getting sick, no matter what a sick brain decides.
I have been wrestling with depression for years now and my maternal side of the family has a history of depression and suicide. I don’t feel that I can do this on my own anymore and need help. I don’t want to just take a medical cocktail of antidepressants. My question to you is how do I go about finding a therapist and/or doctor that will be most helpful to me.
The first step for getting treatment for your depression seems simple– don’t get depressed about treatment for depression. After all, depression’s just another form of pain unless it twists your thoughts into thinking that not getting rid of it is a kind of failure that marks a meaningless life.
As long as you realize depression is a persistent ailment, just like persistent back pain or diabetes, you’ll have an easy time making treatment decisions because you won’t regard using treatment as evidence of weakness.
The fact that your family has had depression and suicides doesn’t indicate weakness or failure on the part of anything but your genes. Suicide is terrible, but it often happens to good people who’ve lived meaningful lives and been good friends in spite of lots of depression, which doesn’t make them failures—it makes them heroes.
If depression causes you a lot of pain or makes a noticeable difference at home or work, the very least you should do is get help in fighting the negative thinking. While using therapy to find the cause of your depression and get rid of it is usually useless when the depression is long-lasting and familial, using many therapies to protect yourself from feelings of weakness and failure is often a necessity.
A therapist is like a thesis adviser for an academic; you have a topic you want to explore, and you’re looking for someone who both understands that topic and supports your approach. If you start treatment with someone and it doesn’t gel, chalk it up to bad chemistry, not your own failures, and continue your search.
Whether a therapy helps you to keep a positive perspective is easy for you to evaluate; you can tell whether a particular therapist is a good coach or has good ideas, or when you’ve got little more to learn from someone and need a fresh point of view.
Yes, a sustaining therapeutic relationship helps, but not if you come to feel it’s necessary for fighting negative beliefs. Sometime that special therapist won’t be there, or your insurance will change and you won’t be able to afford to see him/her, and then you won’t have the tools to manage your depression on your own. Your goal in talking to a nice, warm therapist is to pick up positive ideas, practice using them, and report back on how you’ve done. Don’t cling to the warmth or the need for their approval.
Make sure you try behavioral treatments, including exercise, which at the very least can distract you from depressed thinking (but don’t punish yourself if your depression makes you too tired or listless to exercise regularly). If, as often happens, the non-medical treatments can only help so much, it’s time to consider medical options. Usually, medical options have a higher risk, but they should be considered if and only if you think the alternative is worse.
If you use a sound risk management methodology to make your decision, respect yourself. Never call antidepressant treatment a “medical cocktail” unless you would say the same about chemotherapy for cancer or pills for high blood pressure.
In addition to having a greater (although not terribly high) risk, antidepressants are a pain because they take weeks to work and often (30% of the time) don’t. So after becoming a risk-manager in order to make the decision to use or not use them, embrace your inner scientist and prepare to conduct an experiment—on yourself. It’s hard, risky work, but if you feel it’s necessary, it’s worth taking on.
In the end, do everything you think is reasonable and required. Use the low risk treatments first, the higher risk treatments when needed, and be prepared for mixed results at a slow pace (that in no way reflect on you or your effort). Needing help or medication doesn’t make you weak; it makes you sick, but strong enough to do something about it.
“If I found a medication that relieved my depressive pain, it would be hard not to feel that I’ve taken an illegitimate shortcut. I know from experience, however, that there’s nothing illegitimate about treatment that reduces depressive pain as long as it doesn’t create risks that are worse than the pain itself and that the only illegitimate way to treat depression is to regard it as a weakness.”
I’d like your advice in helping my sister, who is starting to act crazy again, but she won’t accept anyone’s help. She was in the hospital several years ago for hearing voices telling her she was a friend of the Virgin Mary. Now she’s starting to talk fast again and calling the company that I think she was fired from, saying she believes they’ve sent her on a special project and she needs to report back. She sometimes sounds ludicrous, and I can’t help laughing, but I’m afraid where this will end. How can I get her help?
It’s tough to respect an illness that makes people act silly and ridiculous, and tougher still to believe you can’t get through to someone who seems, in many ways, to be in control of herself and able to care about you in the way she usually does. If only mental illness came with a rash or flu that made it easier to recognize and accept.
You’re right, however. Your sister’s illness is serious, it could get her into big trouble, and, in spite of her apparent lucidity, it can be very, very hard to help her. Especially if she’s too sick to know she needs help in the first place.
As hard as it is to be depressed (see above) and to respect yourself when you have depressive symptoms, depressed people usually know they’re sick and are ready to accept help, even if it feels humiliating. With mania, however, people often can’t see themselves as being ill. If respect were measured in nothing but feelings, you could say they respect themselves too much.
If you push your sister too hard, you may provoke a fight, which does no one any good. Manic people are often irritable and ready to fight or flee (often on motorcycles, cars and airplanes, and in the middle of night, and often while underdressed). Don’t let your concern for her become an impassioned plea that triggers her great (naked) escape.
Persuade her, if you can, with calm reason, emphasizing the positive. You think she’ll feel better and calmer if she sees a doctor, and you’ll be happy to drive her to an emergency room and wait with her while she gets an evaluation. Don’t argue about what’s wrong with her, just express confidence in your belief that there’s good help available and that you can lead her there, if she’ll let you.
If persuasion fails, be aware that your ability to intervene depends entirely on her demonstrating dangerous behavior. The moment she says or does something that shows, in an obvious way, that she could hurt herself, put herself into danger, or hurt someone else, you have acquired the critical information that allows police to take her to an emergency room and emergency room clinicians to commit her. At that point, the hope is she becomes lucid enough to want treatment herself.
Until that day comes, it takes great patience and restraint to live with a manic person. Respect yourself for your kindness and tolerance, be patient, and remember, no matter how unreasonable or naked she becomes, you’re doing the right thing.
“It’s agonizing to watch my sister act crazy and feel like I’m doing nothing, but I’m really doing a great deal by waiting, caring for her, trying to steer her towards help, preparing to intervene if she gets worse, and tolerating the helplessness.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname