I recently joined a dear friend for long-overdue lunch at a charming outdoor terrace. As part of our catch-up, she said that, looking for a way to cope with a depression that reappeared last winter after a 10-year absence, she was taking medication, and that it provided significant and nearly immediate relief.
I'm grateful for this drug that lifts her so that she can see the sky, rather than the bottom of a trench. My sister could not overcome her depression, which began after the birth of her first child, at 23. After years of treatment, at 40, she took her life. This was before these drugs were available. I miss her to this day, thirty years later.
Anti-depressants have varying levels of efficacy and are not the sole answer. My friend is in therapy, takes care of her health, exercises and eats consciously. If you met her, a vital, beautiful woman, connected to her friends, family and community, you would not know of her struggle.
She's not my only friend affected. Ten to twenty-five per cent of women will experience at least one major depression in their lifetime.
And as we age, some of us who have rarely had even a week-long case of the blues may encounter this formidable opponent. The World Health Organization predicts that depression will be the second most common cause of disability by 2010.
What can we do? I'm interested in absolutely everything that works. Early treatment can shorten the intensity and duration, according to The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAM-H), who offer an online tutorial.
The lifting of a depression may happen quite suddenly; for others, the shift is gradual.
Sometimes one event precipitates a turning point. A teacher told me that she was in a depression that lasted several years. One day she walked in a park, desperate, wondering if she should live, when she heard faint voices from a distance. She wandered closer to the sound, and discovered a playground hidden by a hedge.
She skirted the hedge, sat on a bench, and became engrossed in watching children playing: their piping voices, their joy and vitality, their beauty. She felt the depression lift as if a cape were removed from her shoulders.
Another woman called such moments "numinous experiences" and asserts that they were as healing as any pharmaceutical. In a deep depression after her husband's death, she chanted with monks, sang in a choir, volunteered in a day care, and taught sailing to teens.
Who knows what it takes? May the moments that heal find each of us as we need them.