Statistics and depression don’t have to define you.

Statistics and depression don’t have to define you. If statistics defined us, none of us would ever accomplish anything.

According to WebMD approximately nineteen million people in the United States experience depression on any given day.

Depression is the most helpless and hopeless sort of feeling. You feel like you are in such a deep hole you will never get out. Depression is a mind-wasting, life-sucking, joy-stealing illness and no one who’s suffered through an episode even wants to suffer through one again.

walking in the woods without a flashlight

It not only impacts the victims themselves, but it also impacts everyone around them. It seems to poison the very air we breathe and envelops our family and friends as well. If you’ve ever been around a depressed person you know exactly what I mean; it’s like it’s an airborne virus . (I wrote this years ago and here we are in a Pandemic.)

Depression is devastating and is vastly different than just feeling down for a few days. To equate feeling down for a few days to real depression is to insult those who’ve lived the difference. We banter the word about to describe everything from having a bad day to clinical depression. 

Some depressive episodes are transient and situational; as the situation resolves so does the depression. But others hang on even when everything in our lives is basically good.  Some are seasonal due to diminished sunlight, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Some have no explanation for their occurrence but all have triggers.

The television commercials for anti-depressants suggest that if we’re feeling discouraged, anxious, sad….. and a host of other unpleasant feelings, we might need to take their particular anti-depressants. After all who wants to feel bad when they can feel good? 

But to suggest that discouragement, sadness, anxiousness, etc . are always only symptoms of depression is like saying a headache is always a symptom of a brain tumor. We all have days, maybe even a number of them, when we experience all these emotions because of a little thing called “life”, but we’re not clinically depressed enough to require medication.

We’ve become a nation that labels and medicalizes every physical experience. Sometimes feeling sad is a good thing because it grabs our attention and alerts us that something is amiss. This nation has bought into the hype that we’re never supposed to feel bad. We’ve also bought into thinking we are entitled to great jobs with great benefits, big houses, new cars, fancy cell phones, and extended cable TV. (I’m talking to myself here as well.)

We feel we are entitled to good health even though we do nothing to keep ourselves healthy. And when we get to the point where we feel bad because we don’t have enough of what we feel we are entitled to, we feel bad and take a pill for it. As far as I know there is no “Happiness Entitlement Program.”

It is important to note though that when our low mood continues for at least two weeks and our daily functioning is impaired and there’s no explanation or cause, then depression should be considered. Untreated depression compromises physical health as well as emotional and mental health. Untreated depression is a factor for heart attacks, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Alzheimer’s, and of course, suicide. It’s not just our mind that’s at risk; it’s our body too.

Because depression can be caused by various medical conditions, the first step should always be a complete physical examination to rule out such things as low thyroid levels. If your symptoms are severe and you have thoughts of suicide you need to seek professional help immediately. If you know of a qualified minister, call him or her. If not, call your nearest hotline or mental health clinic. Don’t let pride get in the way when your life is at risk.

Statistics Are Not Destiny. Statistics Are not YOUR Destiny.

I don’t know where I first read those words but I’ve used them a lot on this blog. While research supports the fact that some people are predisposed to depression, just like a tendency to gain weight, it doesn’t automatically mean you will succumb to it or if you do that you can’t beat it. If it were that predictable and inevitable, let’s just throw up our hands and quit.

But that’s absolutely not the case and I and countless others can testify to that. Let me be clear about my history.  I don’t think I was depressed; I was treated for depression for many years.  I have the journals to prove it. 

So where does that prediction of continuing depression come from? A famous study of twins in 1992 showed 67% concordance rate of depression in twins reared apart and 76% concordance rate in twins reared together. This study is commonly used to support the fact that depression has a strong genetic link because even among twins raised apart there is a strong correlation. This study is the basis for the indication of  a genetic factor in some families.

This is certainly a high correlation but it’s not a death sentence. The flip side of these percentages is true as well. If 67% of twins reared apart suffered depression, then 33% didn’t. If 76% of twins reared together suffered depression, then it’s also true that 24% didn’t.  My own genetic history shows a strong genetic strain but here I am beating the odds.  If we took a statistical analysis of all the things that could happen to us, I’ll bet we wouldn’t walk out our front doors.  

I used to evaluate statistics for government grants and I know that numbers can be construed to say whatever benefits a certain interest group. I’m not suggesting that in the case of the twin studies but just to point out that numbers don’t always give the whole story. In this case, genetics simply means there is a greater chance you could suffer depression if one or more of your family members has had the illness. Forewarned is forearmed but I repeat, “Statistics are not destiny”. 

Hope for depression

There isn’t a day that goes by where we don’t read about someone overcoming tremendous odds to fulfill their dreams. They are the stories that inspire us and tell us if they can do it, so can we. So why don’t we?

Most of the time we think those heroes have some sort of special gift that has empowered them and so we’re off the hook because we obviously have no special gift or strength. Neither do I.

Another example. My husband’s family struggles with obesity-but not him. Hmmm. Wouldn’t the statistics say that he should have a problem, too?  So why doesn’t he? There’s an easy explanation.

He realized years ago that even though he’s genetically wired to be on the heavy side, he determined he’s not going to fall victim to obesity. He watches what he eats (the man is amazingly disciplined) and exercises regularly wherever he is. How he manages to work it all in is beyond me but he does. He refuses to be another link in the chain.

We should be aware of our risks. There’s nothing wrong with that. It keeps us on our toes. But don’t ever think you can’t beat the odds, because you can.

I hope you have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend.

God bless and stay safe.

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