Koloa man’s goal is to bring depression out of hiding place

Compared to some of the graphic images seen on television, the words in the book “The Gift of Depression” seem almost mundane.

So why did the executive committee of the national association of school nurses find the stories too graphic for consideration for use in public schools?

A lot of it has to do with a continuing negative stigma about mood disorders, depression, and people suffering from them, said Koloa resident John Brown, who self-published the book and hopes to distribute it to every home on Kaua’i before the end of this year.

Depression affects an estimated one in every five Americans, or 60 million people, yet only 20 million come in for treatment, Brown said.

It is the stigma, that you’ll be certified as “crazy,” be socially ostracized, lose your job and family, or otherwise be classified as damaged goods if you admit to being depressed and seek treatment for that depression.

Untreated, depression is a silent epidemic in the elderly population, and the second-highest reason for suicides among the younger generation, national and international statistics concur, he said.

Where young people are concerned, a U.S. government study showed that three million American children had suicidal thoughts, many of those attempted suicide, and that most had received no treatment for their undiagnosed depression or other mood disorder, Brown continued.

For those Americans ages 14 to 24, untreated depression is the second-leading cause of suicide.

Among the young and old, those who aren’t being treated professionally are self-medicating, with alcohol, drugs, sex, or other unhealthy activities, he said.

Untreated depression is likely a huge problem on Kaua’i, with pressures on adults to work two jobs in order to support their families, he said.

If adults are so busy working two jobs that they have no time to have any fun, what does that do to family life? he asked.

Large employers understand that untreated depression is a huge problem on the island, something that impacts entire families, he continued.

In 1990, economists speculated depression in the workplace cost the U.S. economy $43.7 billion, including $31.3 billion in indirect costs.

By 1994, the estimated cost of untreated and mistreated mental illness and addictive disorders was $79 billion, according to a study by Dr. Dorothy P. Rice of the University of California at San Francisco, and Leonard S. Miller of the University of California.

In August of last year, Rice’s ongoing studies showed the total yearly cost for mental illness and addictive disorders in both the private and public sectors reached $205 billion in the United States.

Less than half of the amount, or around $92 billion, was from direct treatment costs, while $113 billion was due to lost productivity and absenteeism ($105 billion) and crime and welfare costs ($8 billion).

And the impacts aren’t felt just in the office. Effects on the home front are dire, also.

“A person who lives with a depressed person usually becomes depressed.

“People don’t understand how a loved one goes from being fun to be around to being scary to be around,” Brown said. “It’s a physical illness. You don’t have a choice in it.”

Twice as many women suffer from depression as men, making it the leading health problem for women, according to the National Institute for Mental Health.

Depression is treated successfully in 80 percent to 90 percent of those who seek treatment, compared to 45 percent to 50 percent of those suffering from heart disease, he said.

Brown this year started The Fun Foundation, a nonprofit corporation with missions to educate the public about mental illness in hopes it will move more people to seek treatment; and to encourage medical insurance companies to offer coverage that will fund time off for people diagnosed with depression and other mood disorders, so they can stay home long enough to allow prescription medications to work.

“We want fun to return to their lives again, because it’s the only thing that keeps you going,” Brown said of the name of his nonprofit corporation.

Further, he seeks to turn depression from something that seems a liability to an asset once treated.

“Why does that have to be a liability?” He proposes to turn that liability into an asset, and let people know that they all have something to offer.

The alternative for a person suffering with undiagnosed depression is that the person loses self-esteem, becomes isolated, and oftentimes suicidal.

Those lost to suicide are generally of above-average intelligence, and super productive when they’re productive, Brown said.

“All we’re trying to do is say this: This is what it (depression) is, this is how it can be treated,” he said.

It took Brown around two years to put the book together, and he envisions it as a continuing series, “because there are lots of stories to tell.”

The list of famous people who have experienced depression or mood disorders over their lifetimes includes Princess Di, James Taylor, Marlon Brando, Drew Carey, Monica Seles, Larry King, Michael Crichton, Mike Wallace, Ted Turner, Ralph Nader, Ray Charles, Natalie Cole, Elton John, Billy Joel, Winston Churchill, Barbara Bush and Tipper Gore.

Brown had a pharmaceutical company lined up to fund distribution of the books to school nurses nationwide, but the nurses’ group executive committee voted the idea down, saying the stories from 20 people suffering from depression, including Brown, are too graphic.

Attorneys, members of the number-one depressed occupation, Brown said, refused to sign off on the book, and book publishers wanted softer stories.

Through his research, Brown has learned that federal legislation is moving that would mandate all medical insurance coverage to cover diagnosis of and treatment for depression.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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