The Truth About Depression
Actress Lorraine Bracco was once part of those statistics, spending years in what she calls "a vortex of pain." Lorraine shot to stardom with her Oscar®-nominated role as a mob wife in Goodfellas. But when she landed the biggest role of her career as Dr. Jennifer Melfi on the HBO series The Sopranos, Lorraine couldn't celebrate. She says she was barely hanging on. "Everything was coming my way, but I was going down. I was painfully empty," she says. "I'd be like, 'You're a young, vibrant woman. Where are you?' I realized that I had been living in denial."
The split sparked a vicious custody battle over her and Harvey's daughter, Stella, and left Lorraine almost $3 million in debt. "I had to declare bankruptcy. I was broke financially and emotionally," Lorraine says. "The bank was going to foreclose on the house. I was worried about where I was going to get the next meal from." During this time, Stella was also diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
Lorraine says she felt like a failure. "It really was ... the lowest I'd been in my life," she says. "I was so busy fighting and so busy trying to keep everything above water that I didn't realize I was spiraling downward with nowhere to go."
It was then that Lorraine says she realized she hadn't been herself in quite awhile. "I was keeping in shape. I was reading. I was doing good things for myself," she says. "And I kept saying, 'Oh, next week will be better. Next month will be better.'"
Lorraine says she worked hard to function and put on her "game face," but underneath it all was a pervasive sense of sadness. "It's like walking pneumonia. Instead, it's walking depression. Or it's a fever that you have all day long, all the time," she says. "I was dead inside."
Although some of her choices led to stressful events, Lorraine points out that smaller things can also trigger depression. "You don't necessarily have to have a custody battle and a foreclosure and a child sick," she says. "Depression is very insidious and sneaks up on you. There are simple things in people's lives that can bring you down."
Eventually, Lorraine sought professional help. "When I finally made that step into the psychiatrist's office and he said to me, 'Well, Lorraine, you're clinically depressed,' and I said, 'Okay, I know what's going on. I am going to fight like hell to figure out my life,'" she says.
Lorraine credits antidepressants with pulling her out of her fog. "I was very against any kind of medication because I felt, 'Oh, my God, I'm an actress. I need my emotions. And if I take an antidepressant, I'll never feel again and I'm going to be hooked on them forever," she says. "I was very, very, very wrong about the whole medication thing. And I think that's very important. I feel that it's really what saved me."
She says she also spent time learning about herself and deciding what kind of person she wanted to be. "I lived at Barnes & Noble at the self-help department and I sat there for a long time," she says. "And I went through books, and even the kids who worked there said, 'Miss Bracco, would you like a chair?'"
For the first time, Stella discusses how her mother's depression affected her. "Watching the person who's supposed to be taking care of you in pain is the hardest part. It was hard for me because I felt responsible. She fought to make me happy. For me to have the life that I wanted. And I think that took a lot out of her," Stella says. "I just wanted to be able to make it all okay, and I couldn't. It's painful. It's hard to watch someone you love deteriorate. And it's even harder to watch as a child when there's really nothing you can do."
At times, Stella says it felt like her mother was lost forever. "She might as well have been lying in a hospital bed with IVs—it's the same thing," Stella says. "She was dying. She was already dead. For me, it felt like she was never going to come back."
Now, Margaux says she sees a different person in her mother. "More recently I've seen someone who's made the choice to be an active member of her life," she says. "And that's something she wasn't before. And that's a wonderful thing."
Still, Dr. Saltz says the act will only last so long. "You can put on a face for a certain period of time while you're mild to moderately depressed," she says. "When you are severely depressed, you cannot. You really stop functioning."
Many factors can contribute to depression, Dr. Saltz says. "A traumatic event or very stressful event can trigger a depression, although depression also is genetically passed on, potentially, and some people have a depression without a stressful event happening."
Dr. Saltz says there's a big difference between feeling sad and being depressed. "Sadness is a normal human emotion that everybody feels and everybody should feel. It's healthy. It's part of the intricate fabric of emotions that we feel," Dr. Saltz says. "Depression is substantially different. You feel hopeless. Helpless. Worthless."
Women in particular often feel an overwhelming sense of guilt, Dr. Saltz says. "Guilt about everything and anything and things that are irrational—'I'm a bad person,'" she says. "In fact, when you go on to have severe, severe depression, which can become psychotic, you can have delusions [like], 'I am so bad that my insides are rotting. My brain is rotting."
Just over a year after they met, Gary and Angela were married and moved into their dream house in Nashville. "We used to spend every second together, and she was always very bubbly and happy. Angela was the kind of person that was always there for everybody," Gary says.
Gary and Angela each had three kids from previous relationships, and Gary says they loved being a blended family. "Having all the kids in the same house, it was madness," he says. "It was so fun. She was so lovely. It was picture perfect."
Soon, Gary noticed a change in his wife. "She would spend a lot of time in her room. She was getting hit with allergies and migraines. She would start out with a headache and load herself down with pain medication and then get depressed," he says. "Our conversations had less logic to them. There was just obvious things that she couldn't remember. I found her crying, and I remember sitting in the closet with her for a good two hours."
Gary says he lay down next to her, and she sent him out of the room to get her something to drink. "And then when I walked out to get her a Coke, I heard a pop. I remember going in there and seeing her. I just absolutely fell apart," he says.
Police told Gary that Angela had put a gun in her mouth. "She had come off the bed and opened up a safe underneath and pulled out a pistol and got back in bed and put it in her mouth and pulled the trigger," Gary says.
Many of Angela's friends and family members asked her to seek professional help, but Gary says it was hard for her to accept that something psychological might be wrong. "There was a lot of illogic, I guess, in her thinking," he says. "If we were arguing, and I said, 'That's crazy,' that was something that really cut. I always had to kind of backpedal from that and say, 'I don't literally mean you're crazy.'"
Instead of looking inside herself, Angela blamed her bad mood on migraines and allergies. On the evening of her suicide, Gary says he believed his wife was physically ill. "She had a bunch of pain medication in her body," he says. "I believe the migraines were the trigger—that was where her depression started. That was the part that everybody missed."
It was only after his wife's death that he began to truly understand the disease, he says. Grief and sadness sent him into a depressed state for almost a year.
Then, Gary went to see a neurologist who told him he needed to find a way to laugh again and prescribed him antidepressants. "She had walked through some different prescriptions with me and one seemed to fit me really well. It worked great," he says. "I went on for about a year, and I've been off for about a year. ... I feel like myself again. I'm up."
After a lot of prayer and counseling, which began the morning after Angela's suicide, Gary says the children are doing well. "I think, overall, everybody's really holding up," Gary says. "I think that we handled it as good as we could have handled it."
Gary says his relationship with Angela's family is strained. "You know what? It's normal," he says. "I just give them kindness back and I wish nothing but good for them... It's awful for all of us to deal with."
Although Gary is making new music and moving on with his life, he says he still misses his wife. "She made every day magic somehow," he says. "I love her, and I forgive her. And I wish she wouldn't have done it."
Gary's latest CD is called Greatest Hits. For more information about Gary, visit www.garyallan.com.
Emme Aronson, the world's leading plus-size supermodel, was a Revlon cover girl, television host, clothing designer and best-selling author...until her husband's dark secret nearly destroyed their family.
In 2001, shortly after the birth of their first child, Emme began to notice changes in her husband Phil's personality. "Right after Toby was born, strange things started to happen," she says. "Phil was retreating, not vivacious and bubbly. And [he had] outbursts of anger."
Phil spiraled into a severe depression after developing a debilitating pain that he says tortured him. He discovered later that the pain was caused by prostatitis, the inflammation of the prostate gland located at the end of a male's urethra.
During this time, Phil says he wouldn't get out of bed for days on end. "I wouldn't comb my hair. I wouldn't shave. I hated myself," he says. "It's just the deepest, darkest abyss that anyone could ever imagine." Phil was prescribed antidepressants, but he says they had little effect.
Afraid for Phil's well-being, Emme put her career on hold so that she could be there for her husband. "For two and a half years, she stepped out of her life and into my life and it affected everything," he says. "She was the housekeeper, the breadwinner, the mother and the father during my illness."
Phil remembers telling his wife, "I'm going to kill myself," almost every 15 minutes when he was at his lowest point. "Our family would gather together and they would say to Phil, 'You can't say this to Emme every single hour. You're making her crazy,'" Emme says.
Finally, Phil says he couldn't take it any longer. One night, he went into his sleeping daughter's bedroom to say goodbye. Then, he locked himself in the bathroom and tried to kill himself by overdosing on prescription drugs.
Emme found him the next morning, in bed and not moving. "I looked to my side and I saw the note, and I'm like, 'Oh, my God,'" she says. "I was very angry at Phil for trying to leave us."
"It was the darkest, deepest, most horrific time I could ever imagine in my life," Phil says.
Psychotherapy and medication didn't seem to be helping, so doctors recommended that Phil undergo electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). This procedure isn't like the shock treatments from the '30s and '40s, Phil says.
During an ECT treatment, electrodes are placed on either side of the patient's head. Then, doctors administer an electric charge, which induces a seizure in the brain. This helps change the chemical makeup of the brain and release chemicals that act as natural antidepressants.
Dr. Saltz says the seizures caused by ECT treatments help the brain start over again. "[It's] kind of like your computer rebooting your hard drive," she says.
If levels of the chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine are too low, a person's mood, feelings and thinking can be affected. Antidepressants can help by raising these levels and bringing sufferers back to a more balanced state of mind.
For mild to moderate depression, Dr. Saltz says psychotherapy can be incredibly helpful. "You don't necessarily need medication," she says. However, most people who are moderately or severely depressed should consider antidepressants, she says.
What's the most successful treatment for depression? "Most studies show that it's a combination of medication plus psychotherapy that is really the most effective," she says.
"[My brother] came to visit me at the psych ward, he said, 'Phil, life is for the living and I love you and I promise you're going to get better,'" he says. "And in fact, I did. When he died, that next morning I woke up and it was the first time in two and a half years that I got out of bed and actually wanted to live."
Emme says she immediately knew that the man she married was back. "I could see in his eyes," she says. "When someone is depressed, they go away. ... And that next morning, he was back."
Phil and Emme credit his recovery to a loving family and access to the best treatments. As one of millions who have suffered from depression, Phil says he felt that it was important to tell his story. "Everyone has their own story," he says. "But if we can talk about it, we can help to initiate change."