Beyond Blue

While we’re on the topic, here’s a great piece on the “Top Ten Unusual Ways to Give.”

Speaking of charity, here is a story from my old blog, in case you missed it:

Ghandi once wrote that “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” The “happy doctors,” scholars who study the science of optimism rather than mental illness, say that charitable works win you greater self-esteem, and altruism can even increase your immune system.

They make it sound like if you worked for a homeless shelter you wouldn’t need meds. Which is what I thought for two months last fall.

After medication combination #17 didn’t work, I sought a holistic psychiatrist. Our plan was to wean me off my meds (even though I was still suicidal), and pump up my meditation, yoga, vitamins, and service work. Speaking from experience (he had endured a two-year depression that almost cost him his job and his marriage), this doctor claimed that his time at the soup kitchen on Saturday mornings is what ultimately pulled him out of the hole.

I signed up to tutor college students in writing. I contributed to food and clothing drives at church. And I lugged David and Katherine around to visit some elderly people in our neighborhood. But it wasn’t enough. I still wanted to die.

One evening Eric walked through the door from work to find me sobbing (no big surprise there), and holding the faucet for balance as my shaking hands tried to load the dishwasher.

“I need to volunteer for the homeless,” I said. “That will help. My problem is that I’m too self-absorbed. If I see people without shoes, I’ll stop shaking.”

“Bull,” he said. “Absorbing the world’s problems isn’t going to cure you. This isn’t about doing more good in the world. This is about an illness for which you need medication.”

“Service work pulled Dr. F out of his depression.”

“He doesn’t have the same chemistry as you.”

I finally gave in, not because I thought serving soup wasn’t beneficial, but because if I was still trembling, I couldn’t hold a ladle. Which is a good lesson for all depressives. Losing yourself in service is a way to find yourself. But make sure you have the balance to hold that ladle, or you won’t be of much help to anyone.

New moms are at risk for developing serious mental illness–not only the postpartum depression commonly understood, thanks to the advocacy of Brooke Shields and her memoir “Down Came the Rain,” but also schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Last month, Danish researchers published their study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which was the largest ever to look at postpartum depression, and the first to consider schizophrenia and other kinds of mental illness as different faces of serious postpartum depression.

The Danish study collected civic and health records from over a million first-time parents over a span of three decades, and found that the first three months after women have their first baby is riskiest, especially the first few weeks. During the first 10 to 19 days, new mothers were seven times more likely to be hospitalized with some form of mental illness than women with older infants. Compared to women with no children, new mothers were four times more likely to be hospitalized with mental problems.

New dads aren’t as susceptible (go figure). Researchers suggest that could be because of a woman’s hormones and all the changes taking place after birth, or that a woman carries more of the parenting burden (you think?).

Reporter Lindsey Tanner summarizes the study in her Associated Press article, “Study: Moms at Risk for Mental Problems.

Depression affects women almost twice as often as men, with about one in four women suffering from it in her lifetime. While depression may strike at any time, studies show that women are particularly vulnerable during their childbearing years. Two important books just published offer a better understanding of and glimpse into the terrifying despair of postpartum depression and depression in general among women.

In “A Deeper Shade of Blue: A Woman’s Guide to Recognizing and Treating Depression in Her Childbearing Years,” Dr. Ruta Nonacs, M.D., Ph.D., a senior member of the Center for Women’s Mental Health at Massachusetts General Hospital and mother of two children herself, confronts the seldom talked-about issues of pregnancy-related depression and the many complicated issues in a woman’s life during the span of her childbearing years–education, career, marriage, childbearing, and child rearing–and discusses the ways in which depression often takes hold during potentially stressful times.

In “Why I Jumped: My True Story of Postpartum Depression, Dramatic Rescue, and Return to Hope,” Tina Zahn tells the harrowing tale of her attempted suicide–jumping off a bridge 200 feet over the Fox River in Green Bay, Wisconsin–that was intercepted by Wisconsin State Police Officer Les Boldt, who in a miracle of timing and determination, snagged her wrist as she started the plunge.

In her book, Zahn offers readers a glimpse into the despair and devastation of depression but also speaks out with a message of hope. She writes about the causes of her depression, the debilitation, the maze of treatments, and shares what she has learned about medical, mental and spiritual healing. I especially liked this passage:

“For many years I tried to fix myself. When I had a problem, I took care of it. With anything and everything, I tried to do life on my own. Then came a day when all my efforts left me exhausted, broken, despondent, and empty. I looked out the window that day and asked God, ‘What next?’

When we reach the end of ourselves, God is there. Healing doesn’t come in a day or an hour or a session. It doesn’t come with one pill or one bottle of pills, with one doctor or one treatment. And it doesn’t always come easily for those of us with decades of pain buried deep beneath the surface. But healing can come. You can’t give up….

Depression is a liar. It will tell you whatever it can to keep you embroiled in the darkness.

But there is joy in the light.

There is hope in the future.”