(Editor’s note: This story is the second part of a multi-part series “Mind Wars,” examining the struggles of the mental illness, depression, that began with Issue #7 and concludes in Issue #12. Several staff members took it upon themselves to interview, take photographs and conduct research. The results of their combined efforts follow.)
Depression is more common than what people may think.
According to Jim Archer, assistant professor of psychology at South Plains College, almost one out of 10 people suffer from depression.
“You have probably seen the movie ‘Inside Out,’” said Archer. “They profiled all of our basic emotions, and sadness is one of those. So, sadness is something every healthy person should experience. Depression is when that sadness becomes extended and is to the point that that person is suffering in one or more of the major areas in functioning life.”
According to Archer, depression has become a “buzzword,” or a word that is becoming overused. He said when dealing with teenagers, it has become that any time they are having a bad day they automatically say, “I’m depressed.” He explained that with all of the different changes that adolescents go through, they are probably going to have more sad days than the general population.
“There is definitely such a thing as depression,” said Archer, “but there is also a normal sadness, and adolescents face it more than anybody else because of their changing self-concept and other changes they go through.”
According to Archer, when a person is depressed, he or she is suffering from Major Depressive Disorder, or Clinical Depression. This is an intense sadness that lasts at least two weeks. For someone who is depressed, it may be difficult for him or her to accomplish tasks such as getting out of bed and getting dressed. He said that it impacts us in the way that we view ourselves.
“We often view ourselves in a negative way,” according to Archer. “Because of that, we often withdraw from other people.”
Archer said that because people view themselves in this way, whenever someone wants to give a person suffering from depression attention or wants to take care of them, his or her response is to draw back and isolate himself or herself. He or she may do this because he or she feels they are unworthy of another person’s attention. He said someone suffering from depression is almost more comfortable being by himself or herself than with other people, according to Archer.
Archer added that depression can impact the way a person thinks. He said when a person goes about a normal day, he or she will have rational and irrational thoughts, but are capable of figuring out which are rational and what is irrational.
“A depressed person’s prefrontal cortex is actually slowed down,” explains Archer. “So, with depression, (a person’s) whole system, brain and everything, is slowed down a little bit. They can’t do the type of rational thinking and critical thinking that someone who is not depressed can do.”
According to Archer, depression can also impact a person’s eating and sleeping habits. He said people will either sleep way too much or not sleep much at all. He said he or she also will eat all the time or hardly at all.
“So, we see that it has a different impact on different people,” said Archer, “but it is generally in the areas of sleeping, eating, motivation and self-concept.”
Archer also talked about how the seasons can have an impact on depression. Winter is a season of high depression rates. People are not getting enough sunlight during this time, and a person’s brain cannot produce the chemicals one needs to regulate mood. He also said that because of this, places such as Seattle and other cold or cloudy areas with less sunlight have a higher rate of depression.
Depression can also have an impact on the people around the person suffering from the disorder. According to Archer, people all live in a system with each other. When we live in a system with people suffering from depression, it impacts everyone involved in that system.
“We have these things in our brain called motor neurons, and if somebody is telling me a sad story then I’ll feel sad too,” Archer said. “If somebody is telling me a really happy story, I might feel happy as well. Kids are really sensitive to it.”
According to Archer, depression is highly genetic. If a person has a parent who suffers from depression, he or she is 40 percent more susceptible to it. He also brought up that people who have depression that goes untreated are more likely to have it again in the future. If it keeps going untreated, with the way that our brain works, it will become habitual.
“If we can treat it and get some insight in that, then maybe we can avoid the habit of going into depression,” said Archer.
Archer explains that there was a thought that went on for a long time that if a person was depressed he or she would work his or her way out of it on their own.
“I’m sure that people do (work their way out of it),” Archer said. “Most people would benefit from some type of treatment.”
According to Archer, about 10 years ago, people were susceptible to the idea that a person should not use medication for depression. The reasons for that idea, according to Archer, were that a person “prays harder because of a faith system,” or maybe a person is “just weak” and a person has to pull himself or herself back up by the bootstraps. He said that sometimes people do require medication to do a “reset” on his or her brain.
“The medication is like doing a soft reset on your IPhone,” Archer said. “It lifts some of the fog you’re in and you’re able to think rationally.”
According to Archer, after a person has come out of the fog, he or she will begin to benefit from counseling. He said that for himself, as a counselor, it is very difficult to help a client make changes to his or her life when he or she is not thinking rationally.
“One of the things I try to do when I speak to a group is I try to remove the stigma of medication as this terrible thing,” said Archer.
He said that antidepressants are not addictive. Some people can take them for a while and then be OK. Others may have to take them for the rest of their lives, but they need to do so if that is what is prescribed.
Archer said he thinks more needs to be done to make people more aware of depression. He said he believes that when a person is depressed, he or she is more likely to commit suicide. There are people who commit suicide and do not have depression, but it should be made more aware, according to Archer.