No Magic Pill

November 12th, 2007

Treating depression is no simple task

By Melissa Fassetta

I can’t get a job in my condition. I’m sick. I’m on medication,” AJ Soprano says to his sister, wallowing in front of the television. A few scenes later, he tries the same wallowing tone in front of his father, who has been in and out of therapy for years and takes Prozac daily – and who also has no sympathy. Tony Soprano yanks him out from under the bedcovers and throws a suitcase at his face, yelling at him to pack. AJ has no retort.

Although fictional and especially dramatic, this example — from the HBO drama The Sopranos — demonstrates a common viewpoint in the 21st century. Depression is seen as a disease with a cause and a medicine; if it doesn’t work, it must be untreatable. However, defining depression in such clear-cut terms is not only incorrect, it can be counterproductive. The idea that there is either a quick fix or no solution at all can give people unrealistic expectations when they first look into treatment and can lead some to abandon treatment when results aren’t immediate.

Studies have continually shown that the most effective way to treat depression is a combination of therapy and antidepressants. Though it sounds like a simple enough course of action, the patient needs to have a good relationship with their doctor for therapy to be effective and to feel comfortable enough to share everything, to give the best picture of their lives that they can. Often this does not happen on the first try.

“My [first] therapist was a joke,” says Jenny Weinbloom, a sophomore at NYU and one of the many who have had to doctor shop before finding a therapist who actually listened to her.

Psychology is not an exact science, and each doctor has their own particular approach in understanding their patient’s needs. When a new patient walks into the office there is no telling how that doctor’s approach to treatment will work for them. And in a patient’s darkest moments, if one kind of treatment isn’t helping, he often doesn’t have the mindset or ambition to look for a second opinion. At this point many people who’ve had a bad experience walk away from therapy forever, often because starting with a new therapist means telling your entire life story again.

“You find yourself sort of listing everything that’s gone wrong in your life, that’s led you to this point, and it’s disheartening,” Weinbloom says about her first experiences with a psychologist. This is when many find it simpler to give up than to start over again.
The purpose of therapy is to help a person dig into their own psyche, to find the root of a problem as well as the solution. However this takes an investment of time and energy, and the results are not immediate. Giving up and convincing oneself the problem will never be better can seem much easier It can be tempting to accept the problem as irresolvable, adapting to the disorder and making it part of one’s identity.

“I sort of welcomed my various diagnoses (depression and then bipolar disorder) because I had sort of glamorized sickness in my mind, I was excited to be a part of something bigger than myself,” Weinbloom says. “To be able to excuse poor behavior by blaming it on sickness was easy.”

Easy is the key word. Like in our television example, AJ latches on to the notion of being sick as an end, rather than an obstacle to overcome — and he isn’t the only one. Year by year more people choose not to fight. According to the World Health Organization, by the year 2020 depression will be the world’s second most debilitating disease, as defined by the years of productive life that are lost because of it. This means that two preventable diseases, heart disease being the first, will be the biggest drain on our generation. Beating depression is much harder than a Zoloft commercial would have us think; the easiest course seems to be the most popular, and it’s killing us.

Throwing away treatment and choosing to ignore depression may be the easiest choice at first, but it becomes a larger burden to carry as the feelings remain over a long period of time. At an event during October’s National Depression Awareness month, author and Ithaca College graduate Brent Runyon talked of his experiences in dealing with depression after surviving his suicide attempt as a young teen.

“I thought that if I wasn’t actually going to kill myself, that meant depression wasn’t a problem,” Brent told the audience while talking about his own experiences on the therapist’s couch. “I thought depression was just a minor nuisance to be ignored, or fought through, or ridden like a wave. It actually never occurred to me that I could feel any other way. The slow misery of depression is in some ways much worse than the explosion of suicide.”

No matter how the media portrays it, no matter how difficult it is to find the right person to talk to, the matter will always come down to our individual decisions. When it involves hard and draining work, when it’s easier to give up and be miserable, are we strong enough to reach down inside, find and maintain our happiness? We have to be. There’s no Capo there to throw a suitcase at our face.

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Melissa Fassetta is a sophomore English major who wants to be a capo. Email her at mfasset1[at]ithaca.edu.

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