Do people with depression need better social skills?

By Christine Stapleton

I don’t like talking on the phone. For awhile, I disabled the voicemail on my phone to avoid having to return phone calls. People would say to me, “Hey, I tried to call you but I couldn’t leave a message,” or “Do you know your voicemail doesn’t work?” or “You should set up your voicemail,” to which I would simply respond, “I know,” – a response that seemed to baffle them. phoneI don’t know why I dislike talking on the phone or how the whole thing started. I wonder if maybe it doesn’t have to do with not being the girl that was not included in the high-school phone call daisy-hain about who was “going with” whom or whose parents would be out of town for the weekend. Or, maybe it’s because I like to see a person when I speak with them so I can read their body language. I interrupt a lot when I speak with someone on the phone. I don’t mean to but I just can’t tell when they have verbally completed a thought. And I don’t know when the conversation is over. It’s very awkward for me and I devote so much time to thinking about what I’m saying and whether I’m doing the conversation “right” that I often don’t hear what the person said. My dislike of talking on the phone is so extreme that my phone hardly ever rings, which is fine by me. You should see all the minutes I’ve stacked up on my phone bill. I don’t mind talking on the phone for my work but my aversion to personal phone calls has been the topic of more than a few sessions with my therapist. Obviously, the outcome of my phone hate has resulted in what my therapist calls “isolating.” I don’t think of it as isolating. I think of it as being left alone and not being forced to interact with someone when I don’t want to. Is that so wrong? Apparently, it is. Isolating is not good for people with depression – to which I say, “neither is the anxiety created by talking to someone I don’t wan to speak with or being so conscious of my awkwardness that I’m left feeling like a loser. At the core of this mess is one fact: I have no social skills when it comes to talking on the phone. So, when I  saw this headline, “Social Skills Training Needed for People with Depression,” I jumped on the story. That’s exactly my problem. “There is significant evidence to show that people with major depressive disorders experience social situations coloured by their often negatively biased mood states, and they can interpret social signals quite differently to other people” says senior author Professor Bernhard Baune, Head of Psychiatry at the University of Adelaide. “The difficulties with social interaction may, at least in part, be due to an altered ability to adequately interpret emotional stimuli and mental states of oneself and of others. This seems to persist even when the person’s depression is in remission.” Halle-freakin’-lujah! Professor Baune says social skills are critical for people to have good “functional” outcomes – such as in the workplace, in social groups, and for successful relationships. “This is an important dimension in depression that often gets overlooked,” he says. Overlooked? How about ignored? I’ve never heard of anyone attempting to study or treat the social skills of people with depression. When your brain is hard wired to go to the negative – always – it is, indeed, difficult to have relationships, friendships or telephone conversations. I don’t know what this kind of therapy would look like or if it’s covered by my insurance. Probably not. But consider the impact on people’s ability to work and to function within a team, or to have a long-lasting and healthy relationship, which is extremely important for people’s well-being. These aspects of life, if they are not working well for people, can further contribute to and deepen depression. “We believe that treatment for these issues should go beyond the normal psychological therapy and pharmacological treatments currently being offered to patients,” he says. I hope his idea of treatment is not being forced to have endless conversations on the phone – you know, like they make people afraid of flying actually…fly. Actually, I just realized that some folks are going to read this and try to call me. Luckily, my voicemail is set up. Leave me a message.  



How much of my holiday depression is my fault?

By Christine Stapleton

Somewhere, probably over some freakin’ rainbow, is the Christmas of my dreams. You know the one with little kids making snow angels in the front yard, a new Lexus in the driveway with a ginormous bow on it and gingerbread houses that don’t collapse.

However, I live in south Florida so the snow angel thing is out. I would rather have a Prius than a Lexus and unless you make a gingerbread house with gorilla glue, it’s going to collapse. Get over it.shutterstock_91076213

Problem is, I can’t get over it. Actually, the problem is the sentence before this one. I think “I can’t get over it,” when in fact, I don’t allow myself to “get over it.” Every year it’s the same thing: I invite a mythical family, with mythical snow in the front yard and mythical gingerbread houses into my head.

I sit on my pity pot and watch them have their mythical Christmas. I get jealous, mad, jealous, sad, jealous, angry, jealous, depressed. I do this to myself. I allow this brain chemistry to happen because I allow myself to have stupid, unrealistic expectations.

And what are expectations?

Continue reading… »



For holiday orphans, depression is real

By Christine Stapleton

I have made it 55 years without cooking a turkey. I used to be ashamed of that fact. How could a one-time wife and mother get this far in life without ever having made a turkey?

It’s a sad story with a happy ending. I don’t have much family and the family I have don’t invite me to holiday dinners. They’re either too far away, or they don’t know me because we haven’t kept in contact over the decades or they don’t invite me to their dinner table. shutterstock_164694644

When I was married we managed to get invited to my in-laws for holiday meals. My ex-husband is in the restaurant business so he was usually working. When we divorced, it was just my daughter and me. A few times I made a turkey breast and we got dressed up, took out the good china and some candles and had a nice little holiday meal – just the two of us and the dog.

We are holiday orphans. No cousins, aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents, siblings. Just me, my daughter and the dog. When my daughter was much younger and still a believer (in Santa) we had fun – baking cookies, decorating the tree and building a runway in the yard with blue and red lights for Santa to land.

For a few years I had other orphans to my house on Christmas Eve. Fun, but a lot of work and money for a single mom with a full-time job. Then my daughter grew up and spent holidays with friends who have real families. Of course the two of us still eat dinner together on Christmas Eve but we no longer build the runway in the front yard or bake cookies together.

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Why the military can’t get suicide prevention right

By Christine Stapleton

Last Friday, the Inspector General of the Department of Defense released a report called the Suicide Event Report Data Quality Assessment. I had no idea what the assessment was about but I am devoted to suicide prevention and intrigued by data so I gave the 100-page report a read.

When an active service member commits suicide or attempts suicide, a Suicide Event Report is compiled. The report is an investigation of the suicide and circumstances leading up to it. It is a sort of psychological autopsy that is supposed to provide military leaders with reliable information on suicide risk factors that will assist in designing effective suicide prevention efforts.

The IG decided to investigate how Suicide Event Reports are compiled after finding a high number of  “don’t know/data unavailable” responses to questions in the 2011 Annual Report – the most recent year available.  Here are the questions that received the most “don’t know/data unavailable” reponses:

Table2

You would think that these are among the most important questions in determining why someone committed suicide. So, why couldn’t the folks assigned to complete these reports answer these questions?

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Can depression help your career?

By Christine Stapleton

A good headline, like a lot of good things in life, will suck you in. This one got me: “How business leaders can use fatigue and depression to their advantage.”

Do tell, I thought, because I’ve been in the working world for more than 30 years and I’ve yet to meet a boss, supervisor or leader who has used fatigue and depression to their advantage. On the planet where I live, depression and fatigue are weaknesses.shutterstock_168524867

Come to think of it, I have never encountered a boss supervisor or leader who ever had to take time off from work because depression or fatigue. That’s only something us worker bees do. So, I had to read this article by Andrew Cave, published on the Forbes web site on Wednesday.

Continue reading… »



How I find serenity while staring depression in the eye

By Christine Stapleton

Sometimes, it is the juxtaposition of the acutely mundane and profoundly sad that makes “it” all the more painful. The folding of the laundry, inserting the key into the ignition or even eating seems so ridiculous when it is stacked against immense sadness and grief.

It is going from one absolute extreme to another at the speed of light that takes the wind out of you, mentally and physically. Frankly, I don’t know to get rid of this. I only know what it feels like, that dream-like state of this-can’t-be-happening and the-car-needs-gas.

shutterstock_141965581You look around and realize that your physical world has not changed – the paint on the walls is still the same color – but everything looks and feels different. How can that be?

When I look back at my life and my depression, I realize that I had lived in that state for about two years before I fell into my last – and worst – major depression. It was the 16-months of illness between my parents’ deaths and the aftermath that did me in. It was living in that confusing  juxtaposition every single day that took me down.

I know that juxtaposition will be a part of my life any time I am confronted with profound delayed grief or a sudden traumatic loss. I know – from countless hours of therapy and self-help books – that acceptance is the key to my mental health in these times.

I pray for acceptance because I know that if I can accept a situation, I can handle it. I can even be helpful to others. I also know that acceptance can be fleeting. This morning I may think I have accepted a situation but this afternoon I may find myself fighting it. That’s okay as long as I recognize it and pray and meditate on acceptance: “God, please help me to accept this, please, please, please, please, please.”

Then I say the Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

It’s that wisdom that will get me through and keep me from the edge of that black hole.

Wisdom definition image available from Shutterstock.

 

 

 

 

 



I have depression and alcoholism. So what?

By Christine Stapleton

I find people generally have three reactions when I tell them I am a recovered alcoholic with Bipolar II. They either tell me that they or a loved one has struggled with a mental illness, begin talking about the weather or look at me like I just told them I have a stripper pole in my bedroom – which I don’t.

I can pretty much tell how they feel about mental illness by their reaction. When someone responds with their own experience, I listen. It’s such a comfort to have someone else willing to share their own experience. As for the weather response, I chime in with my own thoughts about the weather.

The last thing I want to do is make someone uncomfortable discussing mental illness. I figure I’ve planted a little seed in their mind that it’s okay to talk about mental illness. It’s their responsibility to let it grow – or die.

CurlyThe stripper-pole response? Well, that’s a little trickier. I take into consideration the context in which the topic arose during our conversation and the person’s attitude before I made my revelation.

If they were being a smart-ass about someone else’s mental illness or treatment, I throw it right back at them. I’ve always been what my father called a weisenheimer, (think Curly in the Three Stooges.)

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How the Media Covers Suicide: Day 2

By Christine Stapleton

Covering Suicide and Mental Illness is a three-day seminar for journalists sponsored by The Poynter Institute, The McCormick Specialized Reporting Institute and the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Here are my thoughts on issues covered during today’s session. #suicidereporting

Today we learned some really wonderful techniques on how to cover suicide. Unfortunately, they aren’t very practical.

For example, it was suggested that we not use the word “suicide” in a headline. Really? Not only does it become impossibly difficult to write a headline about a suicide and not use the word “suicide,” in these days of SEO-driven journalism, you must put the word “suicide” in the headline or your editor will.shutterstock_56105848

Headlines are no longer about the sexiest verb we can find. Headlines are about SEO and using words that Google Trend tells us will attract readers. Suicide is one of those words.

We were also given suggestions on how to speak with family members at the scene. First of all, if you go to a suicide scene and there are any family members present, the cops aren’t going to let you speak with them until they have ruled the death a suicide and not a homicide. This means you won’t have a prayer of getting an interview with a family member until the cops have finished their interviews.

I’ve been doing this for 30+ years and the chances of  family members wanting to speak with you after what they have been through – the suicide itself and then an interview with the cops – are slim to none. With homicides, you can often get a family member to talk and even give you a photo of the victim. But suicide – no way.

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How the media covers suicide: Day 1

By Christine Stapleton

shutterstock_145597057Covering Suicide and Mental Illness is a three-day seminar for journalists sponsored by The Poynter Institute, The McCormick Specialized Reporting Institute and the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Here are my thoughts on issues covered during today’s session. #suicidereporting
What the DSM is to mental health, the AP Stylebook is to journalism. The Stylebook is our Bible. It not only tells us where and when to put our commas, it provides journalists with a uniform set of rules for grammar, principals and practices.

The Associated Press first published the Stylebook in 1953 and updates it every year. On March 7, 2013 – three months after the Sandy Hook school shooting – the AP added an entry on mental illness to the Stylebook. Below is an excerpt from the guidelines, the new industry standard:

mental illness Do not describe an individual as mentally ill unless it is clearly pertinent to a story and the diagnosis is properly sourced.

When used, identify the source for the diagnosis. Seek firsthand knowledge; ask how the source knows. Don’t rely on hearsay or speculate on a diagnosis. Specify the time frame for the diagnosis and ask about treatment. A person’s condition can change over time, so a diagnosis of mental illness might not apply anymore. Avoid anonymous sources. On-the-record sources can be family members, mental health professionals, medical authorities, law enforcement officials and court records. Be sure they have accurate information to make the diagnosis. Provide examples of symptoms.

Mental illness is a general condition. Specific disorders are types of mental illness and should be used whenever possible: He was diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to court documents. She was diagnosed with anorexia, according to her parents. He was treated for depression.

Do not use derogatory terms, such as insane, crazy/crazed, nuts or deranged, unless they are part of a quotation that is essential to the story.

Do not assume that mental illness is a factor in a violent crime, and verify statements to that effect. A past history of mental illness is not necessarily a reliable indicator. Studies have shown that the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, and experts say most people who are violent do not suffer from mental illness.

Avoid unsubstantiated statements by witnesses or first responders attributing violence to mental illness. A first responder often is quoted as saying, without direct knowledge, that a crime was committed by a person with a “history of mental illness.” Such comments should always be attributed to someone who has knowledge of the person’s history and can authoritatively speak to its relevance to the incident.

Avoid descriptions that connote pity, such as afflicted with, suffers from or victim of. Rather, he has obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Continue reading… »



How the media covers suicide and mental health

By Christine Stapleton

shutterstock_120558922I am on a plane, flying to Washington, DC. For the next three days I will be immersed in suicide – specifically, how the media covers suicide and mental health.

The seminar is being sponsored by The Poynter Institute, the McCormick Specialized Reporting Institute and the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. As a journalist, this is a topic that is especially dear to me: I know people who have killed themselves, I’ve attempted twice and in the newsroom, suicide is a touchy editorial issue.

I sit near the police scanner. Every day there are numerous suicide calls. They are automated. A Siri-esque woman with a choppy monotone announces the call: “Rescue 2, attempted suicide, 1234 Main Street.”

We only write about suicides if the suicide is a public spectacle – someone jumping off an overpass and closing the interstate, causing a massive traffic jam – or if there is a suicide cluster – a group of teens kill themselves by allowing a train to run over them or the victim was famous, such as Robin Williams.

There are countless suicides and attempted suicides that you never hear about. Are they news? Should they be news? We write about teenagers who kill themselves in drunken driving accidents but we don’t write about a teenager who kills herself.

Why? Are we contributing to the stigma that plagues mental illness by not doing so? I believe, unwittingly we are. Allegedly we do this to protect grieving loved ones. More often you hear, “it just isn’t news.”

But is it?

As a journalist, this is a unique opportunity for me. With deadlines constantly over our head, we rarely get a chance to sit down, think, breathe and exchange ideas about how the media covers suicide and mental health. These decisions are usually made with haste and are forgotten by the next news cycle.

I will be tweeting and blogging for the next few days and would love to get your take on this issue. Our hashtag is #suicidereporting

Woman on phone image available from Shutterstock.



 
Hoping for a Happy Ending
Check out Christine's book!
Hope for a Happy Ending: A Journalist's
Story of Depression, Bipolar and Alcoholism
Christine Stapleton

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Recent Comments
  • Michelle: Wow! I thought I was the only person in the world like this! And I associated it with being a trauma/abuse...
  • Rampant reader: Hi Christine, Another holiday orphan here. My parents are from other countries. They met and married...
  • David: Thank you for your compassion. People so flippantly try to claim that you can think your way out of depression...
  • Christine Stapleton: Great idea!
  • tinkmcd: I hear your pain, Christine. I’ve been a holiday orphan myself since 1989, when my mother died...
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