Depression is treatable

Written by on August 31, 2011 in Baltimore Voices - No comments

All of Baltimore was shocked to hear that Mike Flanagan, the former Baltimore Orioles pitcher, Cy Young Award winner, coach and executive, had died. He was only 59.

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But it was a stunner to learn that Flanagan, who was a marvelously funny and gentle man, had killed himself—some reports said he was in despair over finances, others that he was despondent over the condition of the team.

Mike Flanagan was loved and respected by his teammates and by Orioles fans everywhere. His suicide was the topic of conversation all over Baltimore, and all over national sports networks. His death is a huge loss to his city and to his sport. We will all miss his wry and witty commentary on Orioles games. Flanagan could be laugh-out-loud funny during the bleakest games, distracting us from the sorry happenings on the field with a story about the Orioles of long ago.

And Flanagan, this witty, articulate and successful man, shot himself.

What happened? What drove him to this terrible pass?

It seems a good time to talk about depression, which is an insidious and wasting disease of the soul—and like any disease of the body, it can be treated. It’s too late for Flanagan, but maybe not for others.

Dan Buccino is an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the clinical supervisor of the Adult Outpatient Community Psychiatry program at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. He talked to The Guide about depression, its effects, and treatments.

Guide: What is depression? What is the difference between depression and a sadness that comes from something that happens to you—like a death of a loved one or losing a job?

Buccino: Depression is a low mood that is sustained and deep and is beyond anything that can be explained away due to stress. Everyone feels bad when a parent dies or they lose a job, but when that feeling lasts for a long while and affects one’s ability to sleep, eat, concentrate, work, or relate to family, then it may be more serious.

Guide: Are there some general signs of depression? The word gets bandied around a lot. What should people look for?

Buccino: When people are really depressed, they generally have a hard time sleeping and eating and feeling interested in anything. They often have a hard time working and relating to family or friends.

Guide: What should someone do if he thinks he’s depressed, not simply sad because of circumstances? Are there steps to take before seeking treatment?

Buccino: Seeking help is a sign of strength. If someone thinks they are really depressed, they could check with their family doctor or seek specialized mental health care. Depression is not a sign of character weakness but rather a medical condition that is often easily treated by medications and/or talk therapy.

Guide: How can someone tell if the counseling or treatment will be effective?

Buccino: In general, one should look for fully licensed mental health care providers who have experience diagnosing and treating depression. Often, staff at hospital clinics and academic medical centers are the most likely to have seen a wide variety of patients with depression.

One’s initial engagement with treatment is often a very good predictor of the likelihood that treatment will be helpful. One’s alliance with one’s therapist is also another very good predictor of how likely treatment is to be successful.

Having a clear sense of what “better” will look like will also help guide treatment. Therefore, it may be helpful to think about what you will be doing MORE of when you are less depressed, rather than worrying about how you will know if you are less depressed. Defining treatment outcomes in terms of the presence of things rather than the absence of things will make it clearer if you are going in the right direction.

Guide: Obviously depression does not usually lead to suicide. Are there signs people can look for? What should someone do if he’s fearful about a loved one’s mental condition?

Buccino: It’s important to remember that suicide is usually a very rare event even in those who are most at risk. Though suicide is harder to predict than the weather, it’s better to be safe than sorry. If people are expressing any sort of ideas, intentions, or plans to kill themselves it is wise to intervene.

If people have had an abiding sense of hopelessness, helplessness, that they’d be better off dead, or that life is not worth living, it may be useful to get a professional consultation.

In an emergency, loved ones can always call the police or the Baltimore City Crisis Response team (410-433-5175) to help get depressed individuals to safety for an evaluation.

Guide: Are there telephone numbers to call? Helpful websites? There are plenty of websites on depression available, but are there some with particularly good information?

In an emergency, always call 911. Police and paramedics are trained first responders.

Baltimore Crisis Response, Inc. (410-433-5175) is a very useful resource for city residents. Baltimore County residents can contact the Baltimore County Crisis Response System (BCCRS) at 410-931-2214 if rapid mental health care is needed.

For outpatient treatment for adults and children, the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center Community Psychiatry Program is available at 410-550-0104.

A terrific source of information is the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance:

by Jacqueline Watts

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