Posts Tagged ‘depression’

Can back-to-school blues hit on the first day… of preschool?

September 8, 2010

A recent New York Times article by Pamela Paul, “Can Preschoolers Be Depressed?,” raised a number of points relevant to parenting across the span of our children’s development.

While identifying depression in preschool age children is presented as something newly emerging, Harry Harlow identified failure to thrive in monkeys, and later observed it in human babies—which looks an awful lot like depression, at least to me.

Nevertheless, some of the key issues that Paul’s article highlights have to do with our increasing understanding about the brain’s plasticity, especially at very young ages.  The same open-brainness that makes early intervention with autistic kids an optimal treatment approach leads researchers to hypothesize that early intervention with depressed kids may prove equally important.

Although a negative environment can contribute to kids getting depressed, many kids of depressed, or otherwise limited, parents do not themselves get depressed (in other words, parents can mess us up, but depression is far from always their fault, at least not counting genes).  Guilt rarely helps anyway but, unfortunately, there are many cases of perfectly nurturing parents providing loving environments in which even very young children sometimes become rather melancholy and lacking in exuberance.

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The Undersea World of Jed Clamp-it

June 7, 2010

In the old days nursery rhymes like “Ring around the Rosie” were actually about bleak things like the plague.  In the spirit of getting medieval on the primeval black death tragically washing up on certain beaches, I found myself humming the theme to “Beverly Hillbillies,” but with some different lyrics spilling out.  Sing it with me—in honor of all our collective children.

Come and listen to a story ‘bout a Pig named Big

A company so rich it went dig, dig, dig.

From the bottom of the sea it was pumping up the crude

Until a pipe went bust and Big Pig’s being sued.

By everyone… Shrimpers.  Governments.

Well the next thing you know Big Pig is in the shit;

Execs and lawyers whisper, “we gotta get away with it.”

Said “Pretending that we care is probably the key,”

So they piled in the jet and they flew to “I can’t see.”

Facts that is:  dead birds.  Tar balls.


Well now it’s time to say good bye to Big Pig and all his bitches.

And he’d like to thank you folks fer kindly givin’ him the riches.

Yer all invited back again to this travesty.

To have a heapin’ helping of bitter irony.

Con artist that is.  Purveyor of fine sea food.

Throw another shrimp on the engine.

Y’all don’t get sick now, y’hear?

Dr. Livingston in my living room, I presume

May 24, 2010

An article in Sunday’s New York Times, “Families’ Every Fuss Archived and Analyzed,” looked at comprehensive research being done on middle class American (Angeleno, to be precise) families.  After hours of tape (in the school of the 1970’s PBS documentary on the Loud family more than the lurid sensationalism of “reality” TV) where families were meticulously filmed and documented for a solid week, researchers are now sharing some initial observations and drawing some preliminary conclusions.

Although I find nobility, sincerity and great humanity in this research and this article, as parents I can hardly imagine anything striking any other parent as “news.”  The study was all about dual earner families with children, and, surprise, moms do more of the domestic work.  Still, dads spend significant time with children, but spouses are together and awake less than ten percent of the time.  Moms experience stress levels drop if their partners take an interest in their day.  Dads decompress more slowly.

The big takeaway:  Overall—parenting is quite stressful.  Stop the presses!

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A tale of two camps

May 14, 2010

The summer camp that my parents sent me to was a well-respected and venerable institution in the north woods of Wisconsin.

The summer camp I went to, at least in my mind, was something more akin to a Nazi concentration camp.

As a grown-up I might like to spend some time amongst the pines, “roughing it,” swimming in the lake, fishing, engaging in manly sport and jocular good cheer with fellows.

As an eight-year-old child, I was put on a transport vehicle, slept on one-inch thick mattresses and had forced work details for insubordination:  “green buckets” that had to be filled with either pine needles, pine cones, or (hardest to come by in the immaculate woods) trash.

As a grown-up I can see how this very camp helped shape David Mamet’s love of guns and cabins in the woods (he went there and I’m sure he loved it; in my mind he might have been a capo, collaborating with the authorities as some sort of “counselor in training”).

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Blue Genes

May 10, 2010

Yes one can have a genetic predisposition to depression, but what might it mean that those genes developed long before our modern conceptualization of depression?

I know that I seem to have a bit of that lugubrious shaman blood, that tendency toward black Russian despair and a taste for Kafka and Munch as rather funny gentlemen.  I know that my paternal grandfather was prone to brooding silence and violent outbursts, a supposedly remote, even cold, man who I never knew but nevertheless suspect would have been up for some good chats and dark laughs—that we would have somehow “gotten” each other.

That grandfather, I know, also had electro-shock therapy—one of the first to get it in Chicago in the 30s.  Whatever that grandfather “had,” I know that my father feared getting it (and perhaps that’s why there is so much he never “got,” at least not yet).  He had years of psychotherapy, and once anti-depressants came on the scene he was on those; I’m told they helped, but I’m not sure I see the evidence.

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When trees fall down

May 2, 2010

Whether or not a tree falling in a forest with no human soul to hear it makes any noise, I’m pretty sure that if that tree ends up blocking Coldwater Canyon on a beautiful Friday morning one can’t drive down Coldwater Canyon to get to work.

And so it was that on Friday I was standing still in “traffic” (which implies movement, so this was more like “parking”) along a lovely stretch of Mulholland Drive as I watched the clock on my car turn to ten a.m. (two hours after I had left on my typically thirty minute commute) blithely informing me that the therapy session to which I had failed to make it with my waiting client, the one I had asked to change, had just ended entirely without me ever showing up.

And whether falling trees do or don’t make noise, forgotten cell phones definitely do not make calls—not calls of explanation, not calls of heads up, not calls of apology—just mute and enigmatic silence regarding any excuse whatsoever as I sat contemplating the distant blue Pacific, the rogue yellow mustard growing crazy over the hillsides and the lovely purple wildflowers all just better than I at being, quietly indifferent as I sat blocked and breathing.

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I never sang for my father, either

March 17, 2010

Today the river flows green in Chicago and my dad turns 84, and so I wish all a happy St. Patrick’s Day and I write to honor my father on his birthday.

Although my father forbade singing, whistling and even humming in the house, I recall him really liking the film, I Never Sang For My Father (a “tough film” he would say about anything that moved and/or depressed him).  It came out in 1970 and I’ve still never seen it, but I know he related to it in terms of his own dad, and the difficulties of becoming one’s own man.

The father-son relationship can be a difficult one, and I’ve spent a good deal of my nearly five decades trying to figure out my dad… in fact trying to cure him.

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Always look on the bright side of… depression

March 5, 2010

Following in the footsteps of the sagacious Monty Python, a recent New York Times Magazine article by Jonah Lehrer, “Depression’s Upside,” offers some nice insights to encourage us to not just run away, nor hunt down and kill, our dark and gloomy emotions.  Lehrer frames the discussion well.  However, the debate itself is fraught with assumptions about depression, creativity and the brain that I think are open to debate.

My overarching bone of contention comes with the assumption that depression is a “malfunction” of the mind.  The two poles of current psychiatric thinking are outlined as either depression must be medicated and eradicated, or that perhaps it has an upside—as trumpeted in the article in the form of enhanced cognitive acumen for problem solving.  The real counter-argument, not much made by psychiatry, is that depression might be a normal reaction to an abnormal world.

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Import/Export—Depression’s now big in Japan

January 25, 2010

I caught an interview recently on “Marketplace” where Kai Ryssdal talks with Ethan Watters about his book, Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche.

Watters’ thesis is that mental illness is culturally determined, and that big drug companies have systematically worked to change the way other cultures view melancholy, for example, in order to sell them anti-depressant medications.  He cites Japan as a place where melancholy was successfully reframed as depression, with one anti-depressant climbing to a billion in annual sales once the new paradigm of depression was successfully imported.

Watters claims to not be patently anti-drug companies, mentioning that his wife is a psychiatrist and acknowledging that these medications can, and should, be used to alleviate suffering; mostly he suggests that a diverse perspective on so-called mental illness would be unfortunate to lose in the wake of homogenizing globalization.

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I say yes, you say no: oppositionality in teens

January 14, 2010

As mentioned a few days back, I wanted to follow up on the issue of oppositionality in teens, particularly with regard to the inquiry that asked for feedback on how a mom can stay connected with her child, honor the need to individuate, but keep him safe as well (when grades are dropping, weed has been found in his room and all the kid wants to do is ride bikes with friends and play video games).

In keeping with the general spirit of this blog, my primary intention is to invite alternative ways of thinking about things, striving to deepen and broaden our parenting perspective—and in so doing, to empower parents to decide, and then act upon, whatever’s right for any given parent and their unique family situation.

In my experience, oppositionality and low self-esteem tend to go hand in hand.  It’s always good to keep in mind that everyone’s behavior makes sense… at least to himself or herself.  In parenting (and in life) relationship is everything; before we can help a person change, we have to reach them where they are.  With oppositional children we tend to end up feeling like we’re talking to a wall; we lecture and explain why they should change, and they do not change.

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