By: Yvonne Castañeda, LICSW
My mom is not an expert on any one thing, but she certainly knows a whole bunch about a variety of topics: how to get a red wine stain out of a blouse without bleach, how to ward off nightmares, how to get rid of the hiccups. As a child, she was my ultimate problem solver, my give it to me and I will fix it person, and most importantly, my personal Flu Detective. No sooner had I coughed a few times would she begin to panic, her anxiety through the roof until she was able to determine that I had not contracted influenza. This she did by watching me closely over a few days, her eyebrows creased in worry as she waited for signs of a fever, a phlegmy cough, sore throat, muscle aches, chills, a runny nose and in my case, a weird craving for pizza. After a few days, when I did not have any combination of these symptoms, she would breathe a sigh of relief and put the gigantic jar of Vicks Vapor Rub back into the medicine cabinet, it being the Latino cure for everything from the flu to a broken leg.
My mom is the reason I know how to recognize the signs of the flu, or to question any symptoms beyond the common cold. Maladies like the flu are easy to spot, because the symptoms normally take me down long before I reach for over the counter medication or make an appointment with my PCP. However, when it comes to mental health illnesses, they are not as simple to identify because many of the symptoms are not very obvious nor easy to identify. One such illness, depression, is a good example of a mental health illness that is too often undetected and untreated.
Depression knows no racism, no discrimination; it cares little for the size of your bank account and even less about your level of education. It is much like a kidnapper who creeps into your life and takes advantage of those moments in which you find yourself distracted by any number of things: financial worries, loss of employment, relationship issues, family conflicts, workplace stress, abrupt changes in the home environment. Depression does not grab a hold of you when you are feeling empowered or confident or strong; rather, it strikes when you are at your most vulnerable, and if you’re not aware of what’s happening, you might miss all the opportunities to escape.
Depression does not necessarily manifest as a toothache or knee pain; rather, the symptoms impact your mind, body and spirit in ways that you might assume are temporary. You may toss and turn all night, lost in a vortex of negative thoughts, or feel as though you can’t seem to sleep enough, the many hours you spend in bed or on the couch chalked up to regular fatigue. Your healthy appetite may vanish, or you may find yourself overeating, resulting in either significant weight loss or weight gain. You may stop wanting to do all the things you used to love, like spending time with friends or playing with your children. The people in your life who’ve always made you laugh may now annoy you, their comments or behavior grinding on your nerves, making you irritable and cranky. You may struggle to concentrate or focus on simple tasks; you may cry excessively and isolate yourself from the world, your sad mood and feelings of guilt and worthlessness so overwhelming that you eventually lose all hope that things will change, and begin to consider taking your own life. These symptoms combined may impact work, school, your relationships with friends and family, and even your physical health.
You’ve probably experienced some of these symptoms at one point or another because you are human, and life sometimes gets hard and uncomfortable, but becoming a Depression Detective will enable you to recognize the difference between a few days of irritability and an episode of depression. If you notice that you’ve had at least five of these symptoms for most of the day and every day over a period of two weeks, please notify your primary care provider at NEW Health. Depression is an illness much like diabetes or influenza; there’s no overnight fix, no ‘snapping out of it’. Our team of behavioral health clinicians will work with you to determine the best course of treatment, one that is tailored to meet your individual circumstances and preferences. After all, if ever you were kidnapped in real life, wouldn’t you jump at an opportunity to escape?
Mental Health Resources
NEW Behavioral Health Team:
North End: 617-643-8080
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255