I have hypothyroidism- have had it since I was a teenager. I take 125 microgram of Synthroid daily. I get my thyroid function tested every 6 months and the hormone levels have been quite stable for several years. This was easy for me to share and I am sure you read this information without much emotion.
I have depression. I was diagnosed 1 year ago. I take 100 milligram of Zoloft daily. I see my therapist once a week and I am doing great. Unfortunately, this is much harder for me to share and I am pretty sure you feel a tad uncomfortable right now.
I spend a lot of time in my role as a pediatrician, dispelling myths related to mental illness. Here are some of them:
- Mental illnesses are a result of “weakness” of personality
- Mental illnesses are very rare. I am extremely unlikely to be affected by any mental illness
- People with mental illness are just seeking attention
- One does not need treatment for depression. ” Just cheer up”
- People with mental illness cannot be functioning members of society
Most mental illnesses are caused by a combination of genetic problems, chemical imbalances in the body (eg hormones or neurotransmitters) and environmental or social stresses. This is not very different from the pathology behind several common ( and socially acceptable) diseases like Diabetes, Thyroid disorders, Asthma etc. Mental illnesses are very common– In 2014, there were an estimated 43.6 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States with any mental illness diagnosed within the past year. This number represented 18.1% of all U.S. adults. Compare that with Diabetes– an estimated 29.1 million people in the US have Diabetes- ALL people, not just adults. We would never dream of advising a friend or family member with Diabetes to “Shake it off”, would we? Nor would we expect them to give up on school, work or fulfilling their societal role. A mental illness is a medical problem exactly like any other medical problem. Period.
I feel strongly about these issues. I detest the fact that there is unnecessary stigma attached to a diagnosis of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or any other psychiatric condition. Therefore, I will talk about my experience beating depression without the fear of being judged or misunderstood.
It is important to be screened for symptoms of depression regularly. That’s because depression is common and the symptoms may creep up on you slowly but steadily before you realize you are getting sick. That is what happened to me. Despite being aware of the symptoms, I was not checking in on myself and by the time I got diagnosed and started treatment, depression had affected my sleep, my sense of worth, my levels of energy and my ability to enjoy my loved ones. Days seemed foggy and nights were full of despair. Those were the darkest times of my life.
Thankfully, with the unquestioning support of my family (they are the best!), the correct medication and psychotherapy, the fog lifted and it was light again. Today that light shines as bright as ever. I wish to share this light with the whole world so that others may avoid falling into the dark pit that is severe depression.
The theory of mind assumes the ability of human beings to acknowledge and predict intentions, thoughts, desires and behavioral reactions to oneself and to others. It is regarded as an essential prerequisite for successful human social interaction (Adolphs, 2003) through an awareness that others have a mind with mental states that may differ from one’s own.
In simple words, we all have the innate ability to be aware. To be truly conscious of our own and others’ state of mind. Think about the last time you noted how aware you were of your thoughts and actions, and how many times have you been able to acknowledge in the heat of the moment that others are sometimes incapable of agreeing with you because they have a mental life completely different from your own?
Lives are lost in the pursuit of knowledge of the self, when we are all born with the blueprint to ourselves and others’~yet, we are lost. Perhaps running around in circles, missing the locus within.
Today, on the cusp of change, as we delve into another year full of excitement, unpredictability and the inevitable pursuit of happiness…let’s acknowledge “the self”- ours and that of others and resolve to be aware.
Let us make this pledge: