Why Deny Depression?

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on July 12, 2017 # Health

How devastating is it to admit that we have depression, and what might be the repercussions if we actually sought treatment for it? That has always seemed to require a balancing act, but it now appears, at least to me, that it should be accepted as the natural state of being and probably something that would reoccur many times throughout the average lifespan--if we dared to admit it.

Beginning in childhood, there are many disappointments in life that might trigger what passes as depression. Causes might be something as minor as receiving a Christmas gift that is perceived as less desirable than one received by a sibling, flunking a test or failing to be selected as a player on a favorite sports team.

We are often the beneficiaries of plenty of free advice about what to do when depressing events happen. In my generation, many of us were told to: "keep your chin up;" "forget about it, get on with your life;" "don't be a baby" or, my favorite, "who cares?" I am pretty sure that there was no scientific basis for what our parents told us if we acted depressed but I distinctly remember that once in awhile there might have been a belt or an open hand involved.

Adolescence and adulthood become virtual minefields for anyone trying to avoid depressive situations. Those first few times falling in and out of love can find infatuation turning into heartbreak in an instant; that is really just preparation for what happens later in life as marriages with our soulmates fail and divorces wreak havoc on families.

As we venture out into the world of employment following whatever additional educational opportunities occurred after graduating from high school, there are constant "ups and downs" related to the employment search. Finding a job is only part of the puzzle as there are multiple opportunities to be depressed if facing unpleasant or unexpected circumstances at work, such as a missed promotion or being fired at an inopportune time--actually, I don't think there is ever an opportune time for that to happen.

Even if there is a valid reason for feeling depressed, there is a fear of causing real problems if we should seek professional treatment for that condition. Something placed in our medical records reflecting such treatment might be seen as a reason to be disqualified from receiving a security clearance or obtaining a firearm years later.

It can even be a problem for candidates seeking to become elected officials, and be the reason that they are not elected or reelected after revealing treatment for depression or other mental illnesses . Despite that, a Duke University study that was cited in the journal Psychology Today concluded that half of our first 37 presidents had some type of mental illness and about 24% of them suffered from depression. However, it is unclear to me whether the public was aware of those conditions prior to the time they were elected.

We face numerous other situations in life that can cause depression, including the deaths of close friends or loved ones. There is one causal factor that affects about 20% of the general population, and that is the presence of a disability due to heredity, injury or disease. The loss of the ability to perform a major life function, or being perceived as being someone who is disabled, can have lifelong repercussions. Unlike some of the circumstances listed earlier, this is one that is often visible and not easy to conceal.

Having a significant disability, especially if paralysis is involved, can mean everything from reduced lifetime earning capacity, being restricted to living in poverty due to astronomical medical expenses, or even a perceived inability to attract a partner to share our love. Despite that, we often remain stoic and pretend that we are unaffected while refusing to admit we might be depressed.

Long before the advent of computerized records, I realized that everything placed into a medical record becomes a permanent map of our life histories.

There is one thing I can do for myself from now on though; whenever someone asks me if I am feeling down or depressed, I can stop answering "No, I feel great." The right answer should be "Yes, of course. Who wouldn't be under these circumstances?"

I feel better already.

© 2017 Michael Collins

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.