I had a very interesting discussion with a parent yesterday morning. She had come in with her son with some graduation concerns. After going over his grades and current grad status I reassured her that he was on track and would indeed be graduating, I sent her son back to class and mom and I remained in my office chatting about motivation and the infamous ‘senioritis’ that seems to strike many 12th graders this time of year. The next thing you know we’re talking the mental health of students and she’s telling me about an amazing article she had just read about depression. It really sounded interesting so I wrote down the name of the article and told her I’d be sure to take a look at it.
Later that evening I went online and checked out the article. It was a one page discussion on depression from an old issue of Psychology Today titled “Is Depression Contagious?” The article focused on how the family dynamic is affected by depression and what can be done to help prevent it. It was, as advertised, very interesting.
Did you know that depression is highly contagious and can be socially transmitted in much the same way as the common cold or flu? I certainly didn’t. Now, you can’t actually catch it as easily as the common cold or flu, but it is spread socially through the social conditions we face each and every day. Our daily, social interactions powerfully affect the way we think and feel. Troubled relationships with our significant other, family, friends, or business and work associates can cause moodiness and depression.
Recent research, using the latest in scanning technology, has proven that our brains actually undergo detectable changes with negative life experiences. The brain can actually change as much through social circumstances as with medication. Clearly, the way we treat one another, what we say and do to one another, can cause hurt in our lives which result in depression and an enduring way of thinking, feeling, and relating to others. In time our depression becomes theirs.
But just as people can be a source of unhappiness and depression, they can also be a source of elation, happiness and comfort, feelings that can also be contagious. Like medication, these positive vibes can offer a way out of our pain. We are wired to be in positive, meaningful relationships with others in order to feel good. Unfortunately as we face more and more challenges in our relationships keeping that positive, feel good attitude becomes much harder.
In the family if one member is depressed, the depression will commonly spread from one family member to another. The entire family can suffer from depression and not even realize it, depression that can drown the entire family in a sea of negativity and resentment. Family members begins to isolate themselves from one another and the family breaks into individual units rather than one cohesive group. Laughter and family chatter are replaced by silence. The family unit has become infected.
The remainder of the article offers suggestions on how to avoid the pitfalls of family depression. Rather than try to summarize them I’ve included the web address if you’re interested in finding out how to prevent depression from taking over your family.
There have been times in my life that I felt the pangs of depression. Looking back I now realize that when my mother died in 1991 and when I was unfulfilled with my career in the early 80’s, I suffered from depression, but I never sought help, I should have. Instead I just sort of muddled my way through, making life miserable for myself and those around me until things eventually got better. Time is short enough already without wasting day, weeks and even months lost to the gloom of depression. I wish I had gotten the help I needed.
It wasn’t until my wife battled breast cancer in 2005 that I finally went for help. I remember feeling so helpless, during that time, there was nothing I could do to help my wife except to pray for her and be by her side. I was feeling so sad that I couldn’t think straight. On a couple of occasions my wife told me to see my doctor because I was getting ‘scatterbrained’ but I didn’t. It wasn’t until one day at work when a former student stopped by to visit that I decided to take my wife’s advice. I remember my student came by and was sitting in my office waiting for the bell so we could visit during lunch. While we waited I dealt with a few students about some minor scheduling issues but nothing major.
The lunch bell finally rang and I had my back to my former student as I finished up some paperwork when she said, “Mr. S can I ask you something?” I told her she sure could. “Well I was just wondering if something was wrong or if something’s bothering you.?” Without turning around I asked her why she would think that and she said, “Well can I be perfectly honest with you?” I said “sure, please do.” “I was wondering because, well, you seem to be acting a little scatterbrained!”
I remember smiling to myself and turning around to face her. I went on to tell her about my wife’s cancer, her treatment and her upcoming surgery. I also told her that my wife had said I was behaving ‘scatterbrained’ just a few days before. I just hadn’t realized until then that the way I was feeling was really affecting my daily life. I made a doctor’s appointment that very day. When I went in to see her a few days later I explained the situation and described my symptoms the edginess, the tension and tightening of my jaw, my being scatterbrained and my inability to sleep very well. After a ton of questions she said she believed I might be a bit depressed but that my real problem was anxiety. She gave me something to take the edge off and within a matter of weeks I felt much better. I could cope again!
Depression is a highly destructive mood disorder and one of the most common condition affecting our daily lives. We all experience periods of extreme sadness and minor depression, but sever depression is persistent and disrupts our lives. Severe depression doesn’t simply go away on its own. You need help. If you recognize that you are suffering from depression seek help immediately. If you know someone suffering from depression assist them in seeking help. Believe me it will be worth the effort.
Just a Thought…