all of the otherwise vital forces that make us human, leaving instead a bleak, despairing, desperate, and deadened state. . . Life is bloodless, pulseless, and yet present enough to allow a suffocating horror and pain. All bearings are lost; all things are dark and drained of feeling. The slippage into futility is first gradual, then utter. Thought, which is as pervasively affected by depression as mood, is morbid, confused, and stuporous. It is also vacillating, ruminative, indecisive, and self-castigating. The body is bone-weary; there is no will; nothing is that is not an effort, and nothing at all seems worth it. Sleep is fragmented, elusive, or all-consuming. Like an unstable, gas, an irritable exhaustion seeps into every crevice of thought and action.”
― Kay Redfield Jamison
photo by JD Hancock (creative commons) In family therapy there’s the notion of the identified patient. A wife brings in a husband, parents a difficult child. But in our training as therapists we are taught to be skeptical of this set-up. Who else might be contributing to the problem?
The message we communicate to our kids… : “Everybody else matters more than you.” Children, she declares, “are tired of being the ‘call waiting’ in their parents’ lives.”
And from Catherine Steiner-Adair’s book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age:
One girl among the 1,000 children she interviewed in preparing her book said, “I feel like I’m just boring. I’m boring my dad because he will take any text, any call, any time, even on the ski lift.” A 4-year-old called her father’s smartphone a “stupid phone.”
Often we identify kids as having a problem with their devices. But let’s be real. We are all addicted to our screens. A spate of recent articles take on this issue. First, a July 6 article by Jane Brody in the New York Times, Screen Addiction Is Taking its Toll on Children fired off. Then a follow-up piece the next week: How to Cut Children’s Screen Time. Some of the assertions regarding large amounts of screen time:
- it hinders normal development
- older children spend over 11 hours per day on media
- screen time offers distraction, detracting from the ability to self-soothe
- viewing violent games creates an “immunity” to violence, in some cases a taste for violence
- negative impact on health, behavior, school performance
- sedentary nature and advertising promote poor diet and unhealthy weight gain
- decrease in family conversation
- teens send an average of 34 texts after going to bed
- pain in fingers and wrists, narrowing of blood vessels in eyes
The anecdotal evidence that excessive screen time is problematic is everywhere. Any kind of intervention regarding children’s screen use that doesn’t include the behavior of parents is misguided and laughable at best, not to mention frustrating and fruitless. At Psychology Today, child psychiatrist Victoria Dunckley added her two cents in an article titled Wired Parent, Wired Child. Dunckley has just published (July 14)book on the topic Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time.
So what are some suggestions for reducing screen time? First, Brody:
- Kids learn by example and modeling. Model responsible media use.
- Keep devices out of bedrooms
- Observe device-free moments during the day — pickup after school, mealtimes, the hour at home after school
- Show kids they are worth your undivided attention
- Provide alternative activities — but don’t fall into the trap of becoming their cruise director
Next, Dunckley identifies factors that help “facilitate screen management”.
- Education regarding the harmful physiological effects of screen-time.
- Realizing that interactive screen-time (video games, iPad, etc) is more problematic than passive (TV).
- Appreciating the quality of life improvements related to screen restriction.
If you’re interested in reading more on this topic, here a few more titles: Dwight Garner wrote a review of three books on the topic, Resisting the Siren Call of The Screen: 3 Books Offer Ways to Cut the Cord, If Only Briefly . It’s a helpful overview, though from 2013. The 3 books are listed here, as well as others mentioned in this post:
photo by carl jones (creative commons)
Thoughtful, and above all, not misguided piece at PsychCentral by Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. The nine points are taken from Deborah Serani’s Living With Depression, a book I haven’t read, but is generally quite favorably reviewed.
Here’s number one:
1. Be there.
According to Serani, the best thing you can do for someone with depression is to be there. “When I was struggling with my own depression, the most healing moments came when someone I loved simply sat with me while I cried, or wordlessly held my hand, or spoke warmly to me with statements like ‘You’re so important to me.’ ‘Tell me what I can do to help you.’ ‘We’re going to find a way to help you to feel better.’”
“…trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back. A fundamental component of the plan is missing and it isn’t going to work.”
― Allie Brosh – Hyperbole and a Half
“This story [“The Depressed Person”] was the most painful thing I ever wrote. It’s about narcissism, which is a part of depression. The character has traits of myself. I really lost friends while writing on that story, I became ugly and unhappy and just yelled at people. The cruel thing with depression is that it’s such a self-centered illness – Dostoevsky shows that pretty good in his “Notes from Underground”. The depression is painful, you’re sapped/consumed by yourself; the worse the depression, the more you just think about yourself and the stranger and repellent you appear to others.”
― David Foster Wallace
Following up on yesterday’s post, here’s a piece at io9 (we come from the future). Take a look and see which ones appeal. The styles of art vary quite a bit. I’ve noted a couple that I can vouch for. The comics are:
- Psychiatric Tales by Daryl Cunningham. (recommended). A psychiatric ward from the perspective of a nurse assistant. “…combines science, history, and anecdotes to demystify and destigmatize mental illness, and Cunningham’s stark artwork can be deeply affecting.”
- Adventures in Depression and Depression Part 2 by Allie Brosh (recommended). Sets the standard for depression narratives. Sad, but also very funny.
- Marbles: Mania, Michelangelo and Me by Ellen Forney (recommended). Insightful first-person account of the frustrations of being bipolar.
- depression comix by Clay. “…a sometimes gut-wrenching, sometimes tender, often relatable series of comics about the daily struggles of life with depression.” (I don’t know this one, but it looks very promising)
- I Do Not Have an Eating Disorder by Khale McHurst. Chronicle of disordered eating.
- better, drawn (various artists). Wide range of mental health topics in a variety of styles.
- Look Straight Ahead by Elaine M. Will. Narrative fiction about a mental breakdown.
- I’m Crazy by Adam Bourret. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Available only on Facebook?
- Invisible Injury: Beyond PTSD by Jeff Severns Guntzel and Andy Warner. Addresses the sense of “moral injury” veterans often feel when asked to do something that goes against what they consider to be right and wrong.
- The Next Day by Jason Gilmore, Paul Peterson, and John Porcellino. Interviews with survivors of suicide attempts.
You may well have seen stacks of Allie Brosh’s book, “Hyperbole and a Half” in bookstores. What you might not have known is that it contains a harrowingly accurate first-person account of major depression. I wrote it on my old blog here: “Understanding Depression, Visual Edition.”
It is literally one of the best (if not the best) first-person accounts of what it is like to be depressed, including the frustration of others’ well meaning reaction. Much, if not all, of the comic is also available on her blog.
Here are the links:
Adventures in Depression
Depression, Part 2 (this came two years later)
Sonja Lyuborminsky drew my attention to this in The How of Happiness. Here is the link to the inventory.
Can happiness be measured? The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire attempts to do just that. Developed by Michael Argyle and Peter Hills of Oxford Brookes University, and originally published in 2002 in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences, it’s one several measures of “subjective wellbeing” (aka happiness) constructed by scientific research psychologists.
You might try the assessment several times over some extended period: take the questionnaire now, and return at a later date to take it again, comparing scores (perhaps after trying some exercises to increase happiness). There are just 29 questions, so it won’t take long.