2011.03.02 Kimberly Curey: Seek help when troubled by depression

Written by David Green.

“Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them...Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself...soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”

– Remus Lupin to Harry Potter (“Prisoner of Azkaban”)

For those that follow the Harry Potter phenomenon and J.K. Rowling, they know that the Dementors are her manifestation of the symptoms of depression. J.K. Rowling not only had depression, but felt suicidal during that time and she had this to say in the London Sunday Times in March 2008: “What’s to be ashamed of? I went through a really tough time, and I am quite proud that I got out of that.”

Undeniably, shame is one of the chief enemies when wrestling with thoughts of suicide or self-harming behavior. Why? Because it lessens the likelihood that persons experiencing the symptoms of depression will seek treatment.

The symptoms of depression do not differ, however, they may manifest or exhibit differently from person to person depending on the age, sex and stressors in a person’s life.

The symptoms needed to make an accurate diagnosis of depression are: a loss of interest in daily life; a loss of interest in activities that the person once enjoyed; unexplained or unintentional changes in appetite or weight; changes in sleeping habits and patterns; feelings of hopelesssness, helplessness or guilt; problems concentrating; recurrent thoughts of suicide; and unexplained fatigue.

In teenagers, the symptoms may be expressed as extreme irritability, hostility, muscle aches and pains, and in some cases self-harming behaviors. Teenagers may also begin experimenting with alcohol and drugs as a way to reduce the stress in their lives.

Deliberate self-harm is an expression of extreme distress. McAndrew and Warne state that deliberate self-harm behaviors are commonly associated with “self-poisoning (by drug and alcohol misuse), misuse of food, and self-mutilation.”

Self-mutilation behaviors include cutting, burning, scratching at the skin, banging or hitting body parts, interfering with wound healing, hair pulling, and ingestion of toxic substances or objects.

There is a debate about whether or not deliberate self-harm is equivalent to suicidal thinking and most researchers and clinicians believe that this is not the case. What is similar about them is that they are both forms of self-destruction.

White, Leggett and Beech report that in a 1992 study by Stanley, that a “self-harm spectrum” be used to determine what is suicidal behavior and what is not. He suggests that by taking into account the aggressiveness of the behavior, the degree or severity of the injury, and the capacity to resist the impulse to self-injure, that the distinction will be clearer than it is currently. He cautions that since intent is an extremely gray area that any terminology applied must be done with caution.

Suicide accounts for just over one percent of deaths in the United States, with the largest impact being on young people, for whom it is the third leading cause of death. About four to five percent report having made a suicide attempt and 13 percent have seriously thought about suicide. The most common reasons are depression or bipolar disorder which were left untreated.

For people who are feeing suicidal, the first step is to call someone. J.K. Rowling contacted her family physician. For those who are beyond this—someone who is actively suicidal—the appropriate step is to take that person to the local emergency room where trained professionals can be consulted and decisions can be made regarding the seriousness and necessary treatment of the individual in need.

– Kimberly A. Curey

Licensed social worker

Fayette, Ohio

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