• David Flowers

Getting help with depression


Do you need help with your depression?

In this post I want to speak to the issue of getting the help you need if you suffer from depression and/or anxiety. As most people know, I received a B.S. in Clinical/Community Psychology in 1992, and an M.A. in Counseling in 1997. I have known what depression and anxiety are for more than 20 years. For the past 14 years, I have known the diagnostic code for depression. All of this knowledge and experience, and I still went on  medication just three months ago. Why?

Because no two cases are alike. For example, here are the diagnostic criteria for so-called Major Depressive Disorder. If you struggle with depression, you might read this and think, “I feel depressed a lot, and some of these fit me, but some of them don’t.” So you may decide you are just a person who is consistently less bubbly than other people, it’s the way you roll, and let it go at that. But there’s also Dysthymic Disorder. Dysthymic Disorder is like Major Depressive Disorder, Jr. Symptoms aren’t as severe, but it lasts longer. Perhaps you read that one and still thought, “Doesn’t exactly fit me.” Again, that’s because no two cases are alike. The diagnostic manual is literally a textbook, and there are almost no textbook cases. That’s why you need a doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor to help you determine what is going on.

Call the doctor if…

Are you generally miserable? Do you struggle to be positive? Would you describe yourself as unhappy and constantly or frequently lacking in peace? Do you struggle to understand why you do and say the things you do, constantly pledging to yourself to behave better but then find yourself right back where you started? Do you live with anger that seems to well up at times that make no sense? Are your reactions to normal life events often out of proportion to the events themselves? If you are female, do you often think to yourself, “It’s probably just hormonal”? If you said yes to any of these, why not talk to a doctor?  What do you have to lose?

Make the Call

In my case, my knowledge of depression and anxiety kept me from seeking the treatment I needed. I didn’t fit the criteria perfectly, so I figured I was beyond medical help, and just focused on getting counseling (counselors can never treat themselves — I was a fool to have tried). Counseling has its place and it is important not to overlook it, but many people with depression and dysthymia are going to need medication, at least for a period of time. The hardest thing is making the appointment. And if you suspect you have depression OR anxiety, you need to pick up the phone twice. Call a therapist, and call a doctor. Go in and tell both of them what you are experiencing, and allow them to guide you. If your doctor recommends medication but your counselor does not, you may wish to give the counseling-only approach a shot. (I tried it for three years and it did help, but all the counseling in the world would not have fixed my problem.  Clearly it was a chemical thing.) If your counselor recommends medication but your doctor is hesitant to prescribe it, find out why. It’s better to be conservative and cautious with meds than to hand them out to everybody who comes in saying they’ve had a bad day. Respect your doctor for holding out on you and investigating other causes first.

“But I don’t want to be labeled”

Good. Then don’t be. When my doctor gave me medication for my depression and anxiety, I didn’t ask what the formal diagnosis was. Don’t know, don’t care. Whether it’s dsythmia or depression is irrelevant. What’s relevant is that my life has changed since getting treatment. Don’t make excuses for avoiding treatment by saying you don’t want to be labeled. The label isn’t for you anyway. It’s only a) for the doctor to give to the insurance company so they will pay him something for treating you; and b) so professionals can communicate efficiently with each other. Whatever diagnosis your doctor gives you, you won’t fit the textbook description exactly anyway. You’re a human being, not a set of criteria, so don’t get caught up in that mess. Leave it to doctors and counselors to argue about diagnosis. As for you, take your pills, get your counseling, and decide what you’re going to do with your new energy, new motivation, new spirit, new enthusiasm, new peace, new joy — in short, your new life. That’s what is out there for you if you are willing to get help.

Tomorrow I will post specifically about getting help with anxiety.

Question: What’s keeping you from picking up the phone and getting help right now? Would you accept that excuse from those you love if they were the ones suffering?

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