Could Depression Be A Healthy Response to a Dysfunctional World?

More and more people are taking anti-depressants these days and more and more doctors are treating us for serious mental disorder.  I’m beginning to wonder if all these people really have a brain disease or is depression and other “mental illnesses,” really a healthy response to living in a dysfunctional world.

We know people become depressed following a divorce or the death of a loved one. When we suffer a loss, we may become sad. We may cry or mope around with little energy. The things that once gave us joy seem uninteresting. We may sleep too much or not be able to sleep at all. We overeat or may have no appetite for food.

Most of us don’t take medications to deal with this kind of depression. We recognize it as a healthy reaction to a traumatic life experience. We don’t try to make the feelings go away. We let ourselves grieve and eventually we come back and regain the joy we once had. We may have to learn new skills or develop new relationships after the loss of a loved one, but we don’t see ourselves as sick or mentally ill.

I remember when I was in medical school many years ago. I had just graduated from college at U.C. Santa Barbara and had gotten a four year, full-tuition fellowship at U.C. San Francisco Medical School. I was excited to be embarking on a career in medicine where I could help people. But during the time I was in medical school I became increasingly anxious and depressed. I wasn’t prepared for the long hours, lack of sleep, demanding, often bullying, staff.

I thought there must be something the matter with me that I couldn’t handle the demands of what was reported to be one of the best medical schools in the world. I eventually dropped out and for years I felt like a failure for not being able to do what it takes to become a doctor. It never occurred to me at the time that become anxious and depressed might have been a healthy response to a dysfunctional learning environment of medical school.

I never realized how pervasive the problem was or how it impacted the lives of the medical profession and all those who see a doctor for help until I learned about the work of Dr. Pamela Wible. In her powerfully moving book, Physician Suicide Letters, Dr. Wible, herself a family physician, exposes the pervasive and largely hidden medical culture of bullying, hazing, and abuse that is a regular part of medical school training throughout the U.S. and around the world.

The result is that more and more medical professionals are breaking down under the weight of a dysfunctional system. “Each year more than one million Americans lose their doctors to suicide,” says Dr. Wible, “and nobody ever tells the patients the truth. Nobody talks about our doctors jumping from hospital rooftops, overdosing in call rooms, hanging themselves in hospital chapels. It’s medicine’s dirty secret—and it’s covered up by our hospitals, clinics, and medical schools.”

Dr. Wible begins her book with these words: [Read more…]

The 6 Numbers That Will Change Your Life

We all have numbers that are important to us. Our anniversary date, the number of friends and family we will invite to our daughter’s wedding, maybe even the number of calories per day we’re going to try and maintain through our next (and this time it’s going to work) diet. But there are six numbers that I believe will be even more important for you to know if you’re going to survive long enough to enjoy a golden anniversary, your daughter’s wedding, or the new bathing suit you plan to wear at the beach once you take off those extra pounds. Are you ready?

            Number, #1: The number of people in the world today.

            Number, #2: The median age of the population.

            Number, #3: The number of people living in towns and cities.

            Number, #4: The number of people getting their energy from renewable resources.

            Number, #5: The number of people who will lose their jobs.

            Number, #6: The number of people who are depressed and losing hope.

Let’s take a look at these numbers and what they mean in our lives.

#1: According to a report by the BBC Future, based on United Nations and CIA figures, the present world population (2017) is 7.5 billion. Difficult to get our head around a number that big. But we feel it in our lives every day when we compare the past to the present.

I remember being ten-years-old and enjoying the orchard groves that went on forever which I could see from my window at our home in the Los Angeles suburb of Sherman Oaks in the San Fernando Valley. The air was clean and it felt like there was plenty of space. According to the World Population Survey there were 2.6 billion people in 1953 (if you want to see the population at various times in your life, check it out here.

So, we’ve added 4.9 billion more people to this finite planet we call Earth since I roamed free as a ten-year-old. And like me, they all want to eat, have a job, and most would like to get around in a multi-horse-powered automobile rather than ride a donkey. There’s only so much space, so many resources, so much soil, water, and clean air and we don’t seem to be doing a very good job taking care of what we have.

You don’t have to look too far in the past to notice the change. In the last year, we added 80 million more people. That’s like adding all the people presently living in Germany. Do you feel the pressure? I feel my stress levels going up, just writing about it.

Plus, people have a tendency to move away from home when their local living conditions don’t allow them to support their families. More than 65.3 million people are currently refugees or are displaced in their own countries according to the United Nations – the highest figure since records began before the Second World War. If these people all lived in a country it would be 21st biggest country in the world with a population larger than the UK. [Read more…]

Male-Type Depression: The Second Hidden Cause of Mid-Life Marriage Meltdown

I have a particular interest in preventing mid-life marriage meltdown, a problem that is becoming I increasingly prevalent today. My first marriage came to an end when I was 33 years old. We had two children and had thought our marriage would last forever.  I healed the wounds of love and loss and eventually fell in love again. My second marriage lasted less than three years.

As a psychotherapist and marriage and family counselor, I felt guilty and ashamed that I was counseling others on what should work to insure a happy marriage and joyful life, but I couldn’t seem to make it work in my own life. Before trying again, I vowed to learn the secrets of real, lasting love. I read everything I could find from the experts. I went into therapy myself to learn how my past wounds from childhood created a faulty love map and caused so many of us to lose our way.

I’m happy to say I found what I was looking for. I met and married Carlin and she and I have been joyfully married now for 37 years. But we are the exceptions. Not only do 50% of first marriages end in divorce, but 66% of second marriages don’t make it, and 73% of third marriages fail.

I’m offering two free webinars on the 3 Hidden Causes of Mid-Life Marriage Meltdown on Thursday, April 20, 2017 at 5:30 PM Pacific time. I’ll cover the same information on April 27th at 5:30 pm in order to accommodate different time zones. Please sign up for the one that works best for you.

Thursday, April 20th at 5:30 pm PT: Register here.
Thursday, April 27th at 9:00 am PT: Register here.

Mid-life can be the best time to be married. We are not so caught up with children and work. It’s a time we can really enjoy each other and be true partners as we age. “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be.” These words by the poet Robert Browning capture what a lot of us long for as we move into mid-life and beyond. However, as a marriage and family counselor I see too many relationships fall apart, just when the couple could be enjoying their lives the most. I see too many people that want to start again, but they are afraid of what they might face. [Read more…]

Being Bipolar: Living and Loving in a World of Fire and Ice

Being bipolarMost people don’t know I’m bipolar. After years of loving kindness shown to me by my wife, therapy with a caring and skilling therapist, and medications to help keep me in balance, my illness is in remission. Even if you had known me when I was the most out-of-control and crazy you probably wouldn’t have been aware that anything was wrong. No one likes to be seen as “mentally ill.” Even with our more enlightened understanding of mental illness, there is still significant stigma attached to mental illness as opposed to physical illness. We talk more easily about heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. It isn’t so easy to talk about depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety.

Let me take you back to March, 1998, the year I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. If you had seen me in my community in Willits, you would have observed a 55-year-old man who seemed to be living the perfect life. Carlin and I had been happily married for 18 years. Our children were grown and we were living in our dream home in the country. I had a successful psychotherapy practice and my fourth book, Male Menopause, was well on its way to becoming an international best-seller. I was involved in a men’s group and was active in our community. I was joyful and exuberant most of the time and got more work done than most people. I could talk up a storm and if there was any complaint about me, it was that at times I was a bit over the top emotionally, with new ideas for striking it rich and changing the world coming one on top of the other.

But Carlin lived with a more painful reality. In a letter she wrote to my doctor she said, “Jed has rapid mood changes. He’s angry, accusing, argumentative and blaming one moment. The next he’s buying me flowers, cards, and love notes. He’s smiling and enthusiastic. He’s inconsistent in many areas of his life. He’s very picky about some things and sloppy about others. He will spend time arranging scotch tape, scissors, etc. on the top of a shelf, marking each one’s place carefully with a piece of tape so he can return it to it’s designated place. At the same time he can have papers around him ankle deep on the floor or piled on top of counters. It has become tiring arguing with him. Nothing seems to get resolved. He seems to thrive on the intensity of the argument.”   [Read more…]

Depression, Springsteen, and Me: On Moods and Madness

depression-picI recently read an article, “Why Bruce Springsteen’s Depression Revelation Matters” and it reminded me how important it is for well-known people to talk about their own mental illness and mental health. In Springsteen’s recently released book, Born to Run, the rock legend talks about his long history of depression and how he has dealt with it in his life.

Even in our more enlightened times, mental illness carries a stigma that can undermine our well-being and can disqualify us from being elected to office, as Senator Thomas Eagleton found when he had to resign as George McGovern’s vice presidential running mate. It can also undermine our ability to make a living.

The first time I sought help to deal with my depression I was in graduate school training to be a mental health professional. I was afraid that someone might see me going to the student health center and suspect the reason I was going. I went early in the morning, hoping I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to see me professionally if they knew I suffered from depression.

Once I got my degree and began working in the field I continued to have problems with depression as well as bipolar disorder, but I was convinced I could handle them myself. I’m sure some of the reason I went into the field was the hope that I could learn enough about mental illness that I could keep from ever having to deal with it in my own life. I know this makes about as much sense as becoming a medical doctor to ensure that I would never suffer from the flu or ever get cancer or heart disease.

But mental illness carries a different meaning than physical illness, although we now know that they really can’t be separated. Mind and body are infinitely inter-related. The article on Springsteen cites a study that shows “for years the media has reinforced negative stereotypes of people with mental illness, often depicting them as ‘inadequate, unlikable, dangerous’ and absent a ‘social identity, single or of unknown marital status, frequently without identifiable employment … confused, aggressive and unpredictable.’” [Read more…]

Independence Day and The Birth of Civ 2

dawning of civ2Last 4th of July Carlin and I decided to get out of town and watch the parade in Mendocino. I brought a book to read while we waited for the parade to begin–Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for the Future of the Earth by Alan Weisman. Weisman also wrote the widely acclaimed The World Without Us.

In his review of Countdown in the New York Times, Nathaniel Rich begins with these unsettling words:  “If we wanted to bring about the extinction of the human race as quickly as possible, how might we proceed? We could begin by destroying the planet’s atmosphere, making it incapable of supporting human life. We could invent bombs capable of obliterating the entire planet, and place them in the hands of those desperate enough to detonate them. We could bioengineer our main food sources — rice, wheat and corn — in such a way that a single disease could bring about catastrophic famine. But the most effective measure, counterintuitive as it may be, would be to increase our numbers. Population is what economists call a multiplier. The more people, the greater the likelihood of ecological collapse, nuclear war, plague.”

How can we keep from being overwhelmed with fear and anxiety facing these kinds of realities? Do we simply “eat, drink, and be merry” and deny that anything bad can happen?  Do we sink into depression and despair or check out with Alzheimer’s? If we believe humanity still has a “last, best hope,” what can we do to make a difference?

I’ve been wrestling with these questions since 1995 when I sat in a sweat lodge at the 4th Annual Men’s Leaders’ Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. During the third round I had a vision of how the “Ship of Civilization” was sinking. Fortunately, I also saw that many people survived in lifeboats and created a world where humans lived in balance with nature. The human species woke up from our destructive dream of domination and once again claimed our place in the community of life. [Read more…]

Don’t Get Buried Alive by Negativity: How to Stay Positive in a Dangerous World

how to stay positive in a dangerous worldErin Kelly, the Social Justice Editor of the Good Men Project, is concerned about the increasing negativity we all are experiencing in our lives and in our world. “Work, home and family can be stressful,” she says. “It can be so stressful that we feel like we’re swimming in a sea of negativity with no lifejacket. At night, we come home to read about the latest criminal, drug deal, terrorist attack or social injustice in our newspapers. We often turn on the nightly news, just to be flooded with more negativity. It’s almost as if negativity lurks at every turn–like it’s waiting to poison our minds and seep into our souls.”

As a psychotherapist, specializing in gender medicine and men’s health, I work with men and women whose lives are impacted by the stresses of negativity. We all want to be safe and we are on alert for dangers, but sometimes the fear of what might happen is worse than the actual events of our lives. I help people understand how negativity impacts our lives and what we can do to keep negativity from killing us. Here are some important things I’ve learned over the years that might be helpful. [Read more…]

Fathers, Anxiety, and Depression: Can Father’s Day Begin a Day of Healing for Fathers and Sons?

3551019373_135ae07155_zI grew up with a depressed father and became a depressed son. My father took an overdose of sleeping pills when I was five years old, following years feeling anxious and depressed because he couldn’t make a living as a writer and actor. He didn’t die, but I lost his presence growing up. I grew up worried that what happened to him would happen to me. It took me many years to address my own depression and many more before I reached out for help. For too many men, we suffer in silence, feeling that somehow we should handle our problems ourselves.

Father’s day is a mixed blessing for me. I feel great joy to be alive and to have children and grandchildren I love. I also feel a great loss that my father left so early in my life and I never really got to know him. I also feel down because Mother’s Day always seems like such a big deal in the world, but Father’s Day seems like a minor event. Everyone reaches out to Mom, but Dad’s often are an afterthought, or we feel the ambivalence of a father who wasn’t totally present.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), close to 1 in 10 American men suffers from depression or anxiety, but fewer than half get treatment, a new survey reveals. The nationwide poll of more than 21,000 men also found that among younger males, blacks and Hispanics are less likely than whites to report mental health symptoms. And when they do acknowledge psychiatric troubles, they are less likely to seek professional help than whites, according to the CDC.

“We suspect that there are several social and cultural pressures that lead black and Hispanic men to be less likely than white men to seek mental health treatments,” said report lead author Stephen Blumberg, an associate director for science with the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

“These pressures, which include ideas about masculinity and the stigma of mental illness, may be more pronounced for men of color,” he said. “And these same forces may lead men of color to be more likely to deny or hide feelings of anxiety or depression.” If this is true, Blumberg added, “then the (racial) disparities we observed could be even greater.” [Read more…]

Uncovering Happiness: Part 2

Uncovering Happiness PicElisha Goldstein is cofounder of The Center for Mindful Living in Los Angeles. He is author of several books including Uncovering Happiness, The Now Effect, Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler and co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn. His website is http://elishagoldstein.com/

I’ve known Elisha for many years and find his work very helpful and practical in assisting all of us to better deal with depression, anxiety, and stress which plagues so many of us these days. You can read my first interview with Elisha here.

Jed:  What is “the depression loop” and why is it important for us to understand it?

Elisha:  Depression is an aversive experience, the brain registers it as a trauma. That means once we’ve had it, the brain will do what it can to try and stay away from it. This trauma includes thoughts, emotions, sensations and behaviors that get conditioned together. After a depressive trauma the brain raises its antenna and any sign that it’s coming on again – a slew of negative thoughts, irritability, heaviness in the body or poor sleeping – is time to raise the alarm. This happens in the same way as getting bit by a dog where the next time we see a dog, it doesn’t even matter if it’s a small Chihuahua, we’ll flinch.

The depression loop is this conditioned reaction. All we need is one of these cues to get sucked back into the loop. Recurrent depression is the brain flinching to any cue that breathes of the past trauma of a previous episode of depression. It’s not personal, even though it feels so personal.

Getting depressed is not our faults at all.

Jed: There are a lot of people taking antidepressant medications these days. I took them for awhile myself. What are the most important things people should know about these kinds of medications and how they are used?

Elisha:  I mention in Uncovering Happiness that medications can at times be a lifesaver to many. I’ve seen them raise someone up just enough out of the stuckness to be able to engage in the support to work through their natural anti-depressants. However, they’re also run by sales companies who have sales forces that are rewarded heavily for selling more and more medications. I used to work in sales, so I know a bit about this.

They can play at bit too much on our “quick fix” cultural desires. Overall, I believe anti-depressants are often over-prescribed and also too quickly prescribed for many people and then can also come with an onslaught of side effects that can lead to more medications. [Read more…]

Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self Compassion

elisha-goldsteinElisha Goldstein is cofounder of The Center for Mindful Living in Los Angeles. He is author of several books including Uncovering Happiness, The Now Effect, Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler and co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn. His website is http://elishagoldstein.com/

I’ve known and worked with Elisha for many years. He is an expert in helping people heal from depression and find joy in our lives. So many of us are suffering from depression, anxiety, and stress these days, I wanted to interview Elisha and share his ideas with you.

Jed: I believe that all those who work in the field of healing have some key personal experiences that underlie their interests and passion for the work. Could you share some of those experiences in your own life.

Elisha: Like many in the field I entered into this work out of my desire to understand my own personal suffering and find healing. In Uncovering Happiness I talk directly about my deepest and darkest hour in life when I was in San Francisco working in the corporate world. I was working hard and playing far harder, partying in a highly abusive way with drugs and alcohol.

One night I found myself staring into the eyes of a man who was barely a shadow of himself, wasted away and I saw this was me. I woke up for a moment and set the intention to change. I went away on a retreat and discovered that life was short and being present to it allowed me to be grateful for the good and learn how to be graceful during the more difficult moments.

That started my journey into learning about the natural anti-depressants that we have within each of us, two primary ones being mindfulness and compassion. [Read more…]