Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Outlaws And Monkeys

When I was about twelve, I became very interested in my "family tree." I asked my Mom and Dad for information about my ancestors, but they really weren't a lot of help. One day, my Dad said to me, "Stormy, I really don't think you want to do too much research on our family tree. If you go back far enough, you will find my relatives hanging from the tree by their necks and your mother's folks hanging by their tails."

Still, I never lost my interest. Knowing more about your family becomes especially important if you have a chronic depressive illness. Most of the scientific community believes that heredity is an important factor in diagnosing and understanding chronic depression. This is especially true in regards to Bipolar Disorder.

When discussing, with a doctor, the likelihood that you or someone you know has a mood disorder, I would advise that you research your family (parents, siblings, grandparents, etc.) and learn all that you can about the incidence of mental illness among your relatives. This will not be an easy task. In all probability, your family members will not be eager to disclose any problems that they or others might have with mental issues. In fact, they might become angry, resentful and defensive.

Fortunately, that was not the case in my family. I found that the more forthcoming I was about my own struggles, the more open they were about theirs. I think that there is some comfort in discovering that someone else has the same issues. After initiating the conversation, I found that many of my relatives suffered from some form of mental illness, ranging from chronic depression to schizophrenia to bipolar disorder. This was true on both sides of my family. In fact, it would have been a miracle if I had NOT had a mood disorder.

The older generation tended to describe depression as having a "nerve problem," or experiencing a "nervous breakdown." My own elderly mother had been hospitalized, but didn't realize that she had been treated for depression until I discussed it with her. Even I have had doctors who prescribed antidepressants without explaining what I was being treated for. The issue of stigma affects physicians as well as their patients, sometimes influencing the amount of information given to their patients.

I wish I had known about my family history before I married. Knowing what I know now, I would be reluctant to bring any children into the world who might possibly have as a big of a problem with depression as I have had. This is not to say that I don't love children, or that I'm not glad to be a father. I am, but I am concerned about my sons and my grandchildren and any mental health issues that they might have in the future.

I would hate for any of my descendants to claim that they were "ancestrally challenged."


Neva said...

Do you think society is getting better at accepting mental illness? It seems for awhile it was trendy in Hollywood to say they had a mental health diagnosis. I know there are some that are still considered the "big ones" by some. I just wondered what you thought. Thanks for enlightening all of us.
Peace and prayers

Stormy Joe Ward said...

Neva, I'm unsure about the rest of society, but I've been pleasantly impressed by the response I've received in the Christian community. I've heard horror stories from people from other religious groups, but my brethren in the churches of Christ have been compassionate, kind and interested.

One very encouraging sign from society is that you constantly see public service announcements and advertisments regarding depression in the media. I believe that CBS has a link to information on depression.

The more exposure we receive, the better understanding we can expect from the general public. My belief is that stigma is rapidly declining. Of course, there are "knotheads" everywhere you look, so don't be surprised if you encounter one.