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Overcoming Teen Depression: A Guide for Parents
Kaufman, Miriam, B.S.C.N., M.D., FRCP. Buffalo, N.Y.: Firefly Books, 2001. Paperback, 262 pages.
In Overcoming Teen Depression: A Guide for Parents, Miriam Kaufman, M.D., gives a comprehensive overview of depressive illness, emphasizing the medical components. In addition, the book is full of case histories that demonstrate the various manifestations of clinical depression. Dr. Kaufman covers treatment options, including a good explanation of alternative treatments.
All adolescents experience a wide range of emotions and behaviors. Often moodiness and experimentation are viewed as merely typical teen angst. Some teens, however, exceed ordinary erratic temperament and conduct. Having a â€śbad dayâ€ť may lengthen to months of irritability or sadness. Sleep and appetite may increase or decrease. Concentration is limited, and grades drop. Hobbies, interests, or pleasurable activities may become boring. If these signs persist into several weeks, the teen may be suffering from clinical depression.
The book contains information and support for parents who experience trying times when their child is going through a course of clinical depression or bipolar illness. It is a good source not only for parents, but also for family members, friends, teachers, and counselors. It could be quite helpful to a teen who is trying to understand his or her diagnosisâ€”preferably after recuperation, when the teen has more energy and is able to concentrate.
The tone of the book is hopeful, emphasizing that the parents can help their teens get better by seeking a diagnosis, finding appropriate treatment, and providing support in many ways.
Overcoming Teen Depression was published in 2001 and thus newer medications now commonly used in treating depression are, of course, not mentioned.. But it has a lot of useful information that could have been helpful. I do wish that Dr. Kaufman had more strongly emphasized the genetics of mood disorders. I think that when they have this information, patients, family members, and friends are better able to embrace the disorders as scientific phenomenaâ€”causing less blame and stigma in families.
By Sallie Mink
A FAMILY MEMBER'S PERSPECTIVE — GEORGE MCGOVERN, a report on a presentation1 by George McGovern, Smooth Sailing, Spring 1997
Former U.S. senator and presidential candidate George McGovern had a talented and charismatic daughter named Terry. No other presidential candidate has had a college-age daughter who did such superb, unscripted public speaking on his behalf. Terry's ambition was to be a writer. And she had the discipline to keep articulate, daily journals for over 25 years, despite being ill most of that time. But in 1994 Terry died ignominiously at the age of 45—drunk and asleep in a snowbank.
Terry died within hours after release from an inpatient alcohol detoxification facility. She had been in the same facility in Madison, Wisconsin, 68 times in only four years. She died with a therapeutic level of Prozac in her bloodstream.
Senator McGovern has written a book, Terry, about his daughter's life and illness, and all that was done to help her. Terry died despite the best efforts of some of the best doctors available through her father's financial position and status as a former senator and presidential nominee. She died despite having a family who gave her compassion, understanding, patience, and caring—almost without limit.
Senator McGovern said he came to salute and thank all in the audience who are helping people with depression or alcoholism. He claimed no expertise about these illnesses. But he could at least tell Terry's story. And in both his words and in Terry's own uniquely detailed journals this story may give us new insights.
Terry's depression started years before her alcoholism. She was hospitalized for depression for six months when she was about 19, but her alcoholism was not apparent until after she finished college at age 25. Terry herself, however, felt that the causation also worked in reverse. Her journals often refer to her "alcohol-induced depression." She also thought that her use of LSD and pot might have caused the depression, but Senator McGovern does not agree. He has spoken with some of her college classmates. They said that her use of drugs and alcohol in college was no greater than theirs and that they have not become depressed or alcoholic.
Terry tried Alcoholics Anonymous. Also, she was given Prozac and several other antidepressant drugs. But Senator McGovern felt that none helped. He wondered if the alcohol blocked the action of the antidepressant drugs. Terry had another treatment that Senator McGovern clearly regrets but was too charitable to condemn: several years of psychoanalysis. The analysts insisted on finding blame in the behavior of Terry's family—child rearing, for example. Thankfully, this attempt at treatment ended early in the course of Terry's illness, when she was 23, and it apparently did no permanent harm to family relationships.
The senator also regretted how strictly he interpreted the advice to use "tough love" and distance himself from Terry. He tried this during her last four years. He now believes that parents should always be able to regularly call a child to say that they still love and are thinking about the child, something he evidently did not do. That withholding of affection now causes him particular pain.
At 18, Terry still showed extraordinary energy and sense of humor. At least in retrospect, the first symptoms of her depression were a diminution of these qualities. She also lost interest in nature and sports—especially swimming, which had distinguished her. Then came her explicit verbalizing about "screwing up her life" and losing boyfriends.
Years later, at her alcoholic worst (but not when she was sober), Terry was obnoxious. She blamed others for her problems, and she especially attacked her parents. The hardest lesson for Senator McGovern was to accept emotionally, not just intellectually, that alcoholism is a disease.
He now believes this because the relapses are frequent and the expense of treating them with inpatient detoxification is enormous. Finally the senator has learned to "separate the love of the victim from the loathing for the disease." Senator McGovern fears that his political career may have hurt his children; he was absent often and for long periods when they were teenagers.
But he also knows that there must be a strong genetic explanation. Some of his ancestors had alcoholism, and some of his wife's had depression. And Dr. Kay Jamison has been particularly helpful in giving him the insight that it is "arrogant to think that you can control your kids."
1 Presented at a DRADA/Johns Hopkins symposium, Baltimore, Maryland, April 1997
by Samuel B. Hopkins, J.D., M.P.H.
Smooth Sailing, Spring 1997.
Click here to order the book Terry: My Daughter's Life-and-Death Struggle with Alcoholism, by George McGovern.
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