Ever had one of those moments where you realize you are not as enlightened as you thought you were?
I had one Sunday morning, reading a front page story in The New York Times, Need Therapy? A good man is hard to find. Seems the number of male therapists is dwindling. Only 10 percent of the members of the American Counseling Association are men, down from 30 percent in 1982. “Some college psychology programs cannot even attract male applicants, much less students,” according to the article.
“The result, many therapists argue, is that the profession is at risk of losing its appeal for a large group of sufferers – most of them men – who would like to receive therapy but prefer to start with a male therapist.”
The bitchy little feminist in me says, “na-na-na-na-boo-boo. Now you know what it’s like for us to go to male gynecologists!” But in this battle, that kind of thinking is fatal. Of the four people I have known who committed suicide in the last five years, all were men.
One of my girlfriends called last night and left a message. I played it this morning. Her boyfriend killed himself. He was such a great guy. Probably one of the kindest, gentlest men I had ever known and equally manly – a commercial fisherman.
He was only in his 40s but his rheumatoid arthritis had gotten really bad over the last few years. He had an ankle replacement and picked up one of those horrible infections in the hospital that nearly killed him.
He was in constant pain. Unrelenting pain – non-stop fuel for depression. He didn’t bring it up unless you asked but you would see it in his face and the tightness of the muscles in his back and shoulders. He couldn’t work. He couldn’t do any of the activities he loved to do. My girlfriend, a saint, became the sole provider. It was hard on her. It was hard on him. Throughout it all there was the physical pain. He hated taking the pain medication but without it, the pain was too much.
I won’t go into the details but he was thoughtful to the end, leaving a note and doing “it” far from their home.
I am a newspaper reporter and I have been committing journalism for about 30 years. After covering everything from parades to executions, I now specialize in computer-assisted reporting – CAR. Sounds boring but when you consider that just about everything is now stored in a spreadsheet or database, it’s how journalism is – or should be – done these days.
So, I acquire data, usually from government agencies, crunch numbers, look for trends and anomalies and then investigate what I have found. Sounds pretty straight forward. Numbers don’t lie, right?
Wrong. Numbers can be twisted and taken out of context just like quotes and headlines. Here is an example I see over and over when it comes to reporting on the use of antidepressants and other mental health drugs.
I went to a pot luck dinner on Saturday night at my gym. We all brought a dish from a nutritional program called the Paleo Diet. I had heard about the Paleo Diet but didn’t really know much about it. We listened to a short presentation and I concluded that it basically consists of eating only foods that were available to cave men: meat, veggies, fruits and nuts. No bread. No dairy. No cappuccino. No beer or wine. However, Tequila is okay. (Hard to imagine cave men sitting around a camp fire doing shots).
What does any of this have to do with depression? Lots. The discussion turned to insulin, cortisol, blood-sugar levels and the glycemic index. I will skip the science by the goal is to keep your blood sugar levels stable. Rapid spikes and drops in blood sugar levels CAN AFFECT YOUR BEHAVIOR. When I get really hungry, my blood sugar gets too low and I get tired and irritable (aka “bitchy”) When I eat a lot of carbs and sugar, it gets too high and I get kind of intense (aka Charlie Sheenish).
I try to eat low glycemic foods – grapefruit, strawberries, raw carrots - to stabilize my blood sugar which will help control my moods and behavior. Simply put, if I am careful about what I put in my mouth, I’m less likely to regret what comes out of my mouth.
All my mom and I wanted was to see each other happy. I’m not sure either of us got what we wanted.
As a kid, I remember my mom being sad, anxious, worried or tired. There was no question that she loved us kids to death. We were her world and she scrimped and saved and did without so we would have a better life than she had growing up in a family with five kids and an alcoholic father who kicked her out of the house when she decided to go to college because “women didn’t need a college eduction.”
She graduated, became a teacher and then went on to earn her master’s degree. But she wasn’t happy. I tried to make her happy with good grades, lot of blue ribbons and medals in swimming and working – babysitting, cleaning locker rooms and life-guarding. Still she seemed so stressed out, overworked and worried.
She missed most of my swim meets but when she did come she sat the in the stands, grading her students’ papers. She canned applesauce, cherries, pickles, tomatoes and made jellies and jams. She made our clothes when we were little, darned socks and ironed all of my father’s shirts. She shoveled snow, planted a garden every spring and mixed powered milk with regular milk to save money. She was not happy.
I ran into a woman at the grocery store on Sunday who has depression, among some other disorders. I have not seen her in quite awhile and she did not look well. In the months since we had last spoken she still had not been able to find the money or get a scholarship to a treatment center. She lives with her cats and is supported by her family. She does not believe she can get better without going to a treatment center.
What she and others need to understand is that most of us will never go to a treatment center. Only a very small, primarily elite fraction of people with mental illnesses can afford treatment. While I credit shows like Intervention, Celebrity Rehab and Hoarders for educating the public about the immense difficulties of recovery, I fear they have created the belief that going to a treatment center is the only way to get well.