Sunday, January 04, 2009

Of Depression, Statistics and Labels

According to the website of the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is the leading cause of disability among Americans between the ages of 15 and 44. Further statistics show that 6.7 % of the U.S. population (14.8 million adults) are affected by Major Depression in any particular calendar year. And at least in the U.S., more women are diagnosed with depression than men, with the median age of onset being 32 for both genders.

When reading these numbers, please bear in mind that this reflects only the statistics vis-a-vis Major Depression, and does not include significant data concerning Dysthymic Disorder and Bipolar Disorder, as well as the myriad anxiety and personality disorders, phobias, PTSD, and other mental illnesses.

Extrapolating the data to include all mental disorders, the numbers of astounding. It is estimated that 26.2 % of all Americans 18 and older (more than 57 million adults) suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder, however only 6-7 % have a serious mental illness.

Here on Digital Doorway, I have disclosed a number of times that I have lived with Major Depression for many years, dating back at least to adolescence, but most likely into early childhood. Having suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in late 2001 following the murder (by police) of a close friend, my struggles with my mood disorder have been even more challenging. With chronic pain also on board, my life has certainly become significantly challenging in my 40's, the aches and pains of middle age supplanted by the daily punishment of pain that is (so far) untreatable, often occurring in concert with stultifying depression.

We are all statistics in one way or another. We can all be catalogued, categorized, compartmentalized, boxed, packaged, and graphed. Be it our gender, race, income level, tax bracket, profession, educational level, marital status, gender identity, or any other label-ready identifier, we can all be lumped into a veritable mosh-pit of humanity and stirred into the statistical melting pot.

So, yes, I do indeed identify as being a person who lives with chronic pain and depression. At times, I actually identify as being a person living with a mental illness, and I have occasionally played with actually saying that I am mentally ill. These labels that we give ourselves or allow others to give us have power, and I am often admittedly ambivalent about them. It's always easy to say that someone else is mentally ill, or that someone else has this or that disorder. But when we look at our ourselves, placing that very same stamp on our own forehead can be another issue altogether.

Many public figures have come out of the mental illness closet to talk publicly about their lives. Legislators, actors, musicians, writers---they cut through the stigma by normalizing depression and mental illness, serving as beacons to those who fear betrayal, judgment and real discrimination.

As a person with multiple chronic illnesses and disabilities, I am seeing more and more clearly that I need to be increasingly outspoken about my own experiences, to use my writing and communication skills to help to normalize this very universal experience. I hope that my writing about my own life can serve even one person in making sense of their own struggles. Whether I am ever aware of that effect is beside the point. As a blogger and writer, I am indeed a public figure, and I want to use this soap box for more than my own aggrandizement.

If you are one of those people who suffer in silence, know that your suffering---while apparently solitary---is shared by many, and I encourage you to reach out in any way that feels comfortable to you, breaking the isolation that can feel so crushingly impervious. If there are indeed so many of us, then we are certainly not alone, and it's up to us to be more than a statistic on a graph. We are individuals with lives of importance and meaning, and no diagnosis or label can take that away.

(c) 2009 NurseKeith
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