Depression Hits Close to Home
By Audra Moran
My name is Audra Moran, and I am a founding board member of Cure Alliance for Mental Illness. I spent the early part of my career working in mental illness—first as a rehabilitation counselor and later in research funding, at the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, where I was Vice President for Development and Scientific Affairs.
All of which is to say that I am no stranger to psychiatric brain disorders. So when my father, at age 60, experienced his first episode of major depression, I should have been prepared, but instead felt immobilized. What should or could I do to help, especially from so far away? I was in New York, he was home in central Florida.
My first attempt to help didn’t go so well—a clinician I located in his area began my father on a course of antipsychotics, though his depression did not have psychotic features and he wasn’t treatment resistant. When he actually seemed to worsen on the medication, I finally reached out to one of the leading depression researchers in the country.
By the time we found another doctor, my father had lost over 20 lbs., was unable to go to work (never having had any significant time off in his life), and couldn’t pay attention well enough to read a book or watch television. Unable to sleep, he could only lie on the couch, alone in his thoughts. So he was ready to try anything.
His first visit went well, he very much liked the doctor, and he understood the timeframe in which he could expect to feel better, if the prescribed antidepressants worked. In combination with the immediate effects of an anti-anxiety medication, the next few weeks became bearable while he waited to see if the medication would help. After a few tweaks and adjustments, it did indeed work, and now 5 years later, he remains relatively symptom-free. He has minor periods where the medication needs to be adjusted, but he has learned to anticipate when he might need to do this, and how to do it safely.
I’m grateful that I had the resources to help him find what he needed to get better, but worry that most don’t have these advantages, and will find it harder to identify specific, expert help while self-assessing their progress. Access to care is important, but equally important is access to someone who can help determine if the care is working, and if not, provide support and help to move on to something else.
It is also the case that we need medications that do not take weeks to work, especially for illnesses like depression, where there is high risk for suicide in the first phase before medications take effect. There is some promising new research on fast-acting anti-depressants, and we need more of this kind of progress.
Our story has a pretty good outcome, but I am always aware of how little we really know about depression and other mental illnesses. I am also aware that for many people, the existing treatments don’t work as well as they have for my father. I helped to start Cure Alliance because I believe we need to put more resources into learning about these brain disorders. We need better access to treatments and services, but we also need better treatments, and for that, we need more research.