Professional basketball player, Chamique Holdsclaw, experienced depression after her grandma suddenly died. Chamique had always looked to her grandmother for love and guidance. She says Grandma June was her “rock.”
For months after Grandma June’s death. Chamique refused to play basketball, and stayed in her apartment. When teammates called, she wouldn’t answer the phone.
Depression is an illness characterized by mental, emotional, and physical symptoms. Sometimes it’s triggered by a life event. Other times, it seems to come out of the blue. Either way, depression affects the way you think, feel and behave. At worst, it can lead to suicide. That’s why treatment is essential. But first, you need to be able to recognize its signs.
Before depression, Chamique had hard days, like anyone else. She handled them by going to movies or for walks. This was different. “My body just collapsed,” she says. “It just became too much.”
“People generally sink gradually into depression,” says Dr. Jefferson Prince, Instructor in Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School. “Their thinking slows down. Their memory doesn’t work as well. They have a hard time concentrating, and lose motivation. They stop enjoying things that used to give them pleasure.”
A friend convinced Chamique to see a psychiatrist. As part of her treatment plan, the doctor prescribed antidepressant medication.
Through daily therapy sessions with the psychiatrist, Chamique learned that part of getting well meant refocusing her thoughts and opening up to friends.
After a year of sessions with her psychiatrist, Chamique was well enough to stop taking medication. She did so under the care of her doctor.
Now she’s healthy again. But she knows that depression can come back. “When I feel like I’m getting stressed, I shift my attention and energy into a different direction,” she says.
The symptoms Chamique and other adults experience often differ from symptoms of depression in children.
“Adults often describe feeling sadness or even numb,” says Dr. Prince. “Children and adolescents can have a difficult time expressing their feelings. When they don’t feel understood, they can become angry and irritable.”
When Mike was in 1st grade, he was considered the class bully, and he struggled with his schoolwork. He picked fights as a way of getting out his anger. Mike’s parents Ronnie and Chris had no idea he was hiding such powerful emotions.
“He’d cry and say, ‘I just can’t do this anymore,’ ” says Ronnie. “I thought he was referring to his schoolwork. So we’d try to give him extra help.”
As he began high school, his depression was getting worse. He couldn’t concentrate. Eventually, he could barely get to school.
He finally confided in his school counselor that he had thoughts of suicide. The counselor called his parents, and Mike was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
There he met daily with a therapist. He was given antidepressant medication. Mike learned healthy ways to let off steam so his emotions didn’t build up. He was relieved to be in the hospital.
Mike’s parents and sister went to therapy sometimes too. They learned to communicate more effectively as a family.
“I’m so glad that I did ask for help,” Mike says, “because my life is so much better and, you know, I’m happy.”
Mike says the combination of talk therapy and antidepressant medication saved his life.
But sometimes, therapy alone has a dramatic effect.
By age 13, Angie, who lived with her older sister Cynthia, was deeply depressed. She constantly picked fights.
“There was nobody I could share my feelings with,” Angie says.
When Cynthia realized that Angie was in such despair, she took her to a psychologist. He suggested weekly therapy sessions to help Angie get well. If that didn’t work, they would consider medication and hospitalization.
After months of individual, family, and group therapy, Angie is more self-assured. “I have a better way of going through problems and resolving them,” she says. “I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the future.”
Sometimes people don’t ask for help when they feel depressed because they are ashamed. But Chamique, Mike, and Angie agree that depression needs to be discussed openly. Asking for help is a sign of strength.
Hear more from Chamique, Mike, and Angie in Depression: True Stories and Words Can Work: When Talking About Depression/i>.
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