Jewish World Review Nov. 27, 2002 / 22 Kislev, 5763

Barry Lank

Barry Lank
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Consumer Reports

Why hide the truth about the holidays? | Now that the holidays are almost here, it's time to joke about what is traditionally the funniest part of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years: Depression. Yes, in this season of charity, family and hope - as we think of our loved ones and re-experience the magic of the holidays through the eyes of our children - truly, it is the most miserable time of the year.

Look at you, making new friends, having dinner with your family, counting your blessings. You say you're happy? No you're not. No one is. There's always an upsurge of low spirits right around now; and it may be getting worse.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that the rate of outpatient treatment throughout the year for depression tripled between 1987 to 1997 - from 0.73 of a person for every 100 people, to 2.33 per 100. The proportion of these patients who were treated with anti-depressants doubled - from 37.3 percent to 74.5 percent. The total number of people receiving treatment rose from 1.7 million to 6.3 million.

The numbers don't lie, my friend. You're miserable.

There have been many theories about why this is. The JAMA study, led by Dr. Mark Olfson from the New York State Psychiatric Institute, suggests that it's because medications for depression have improved. Others say HMOs simply prefer to pay for medication rather than for long-term psychiatric counseling. But me, I suspect it's because we're all worthless and nobody will ever love us.

Ah, I kid. (And that is how I kid - by joking about a clinical disorder that has afflicted several of my friends. Funny, funny me.) It's because all the tests for depression are designed so that you fail no matter what.

I take myself as an example. Let's presume that I'm normal. Because I am, you know. I'm really, really normal. This sentence I'm writing right now? Totally normal sentence. You should even measure your normalness by me. Is normalness the right word? Normality? Normalcy? Crud, now I've got to look it up, write it down, look it up again, write it down again, compare the two words I've written then take the dictionary with me into the shower.

My point is that even I - with moods ranging from the heights or guarded contentment to the abject depths of mild annoyance - cannot pass one of these tests.

For example, here's a diagnostic question from If you're younger than 18, "Were you ever so irritable or angry that this interfered with your life a lot," for a period of at least two weeks? My answer is that, like most people, when I was under 18, I was irritable and angry for a period of about 18 years.

Or try this test question from New York University's School of Medicine. For a period of more than two weeks, "Do you have trouble sleeping or eating (too little or too much)?" Do people in South Jersey eat too much? Certainly not. We merely have the world's densest concentration of thyroid difficulties.

One more question from that same test: "Do you feel that things always go or will go wrong no matter how hard you try?"

Am I to understand that there is anyone over the age of 35 who does not feel this way?

So we're all going to fail these tests. But it's OK. Really. It turns out that many important people have suffered from depression. Queen Elizabeth II, for example - according to the PBS production of "Diana and the Royal Family." See? Even though you're depressed, someday you can still become the hereditary heir to the throne of England. And if you don't, you're a failure.

And if that's shooting too high, lots of other people have suffered depression as well. If you have a mood disorder, you could be just like rock singer Meat Loaf, actress Delta Burke and actor, writer and radio personality Danny Bonaduce, still the only former child actor ever to beat up another former child actor in Celebrity Boxing.

OK. Now I really am depressed.

JWR contributor Barry Lank is an editorial writer and humor columnist based at the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, NJ. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Barry Lank