"You're a woman over 35, you live in Fairfield County, and you're not on antidepressants?"
I was sitting over coffee with a friend, a psychiatrist with an active practice in Darien and we were talking a bit of 'shop.' I told her I'd been noodling around a column about mental health and how people cope with increased causes of stress, in particular here in Fairfield County. The conversation meandered naturally and then she came at me with that whammy of a line.
Her somewhat sarcastic comment hit home, given all the stereotypes of women my age in this part of the country -- Stepford wives, the funny that gets forwarded around every couple of years or so, anecdotal tales of alcoholic housewives (doesn't everyone know one?) -- it's easy to understand that there's a kernel of truth underlying her professional humorous one-liner.
Given the recent, almost-constant barrage of dismal news and local statistics, it certainly isn't surprising that lots of women in our area are seeking out professional -- and prescription pharmacological -- assistance to cope with the pressures of life.
Just take a cursory glance at some statistics I've read about lately: than the national average; in the state; and the economic downturn impacting higher domestic violence rates as well as hindering women more significantly than men. Add that to record ongoing unemployment, it's not a pretty picture anywhere you look.
But the scariest statistic of all? According to the National Institute of Mental Health (part of the National Institutes of Health) women are 70 percent more likely than men to experience depression during their lives.
Suddenly, my friend's line loses its humor completely.
I do a lot of self-examination as part of writing this column, and I've picked up on an obvious reoccurring theme in the topics I cover: I think we women do an awful lot of pretending that everything is OK. We're jugglers when it comes to keeping the family and household in motion, pursuing our own work much of the time, and trying to keep it together.
There's a lot riding on the outward expression of the trappings of success, and sometimes you are what you look like. Let anyone see a chink in that armor -- a weakness, a failure, an imperfection -- and you lose face completely. This is the "Connecticut Gold Coast," after all.
I also know I paint with broad brush strokes of generalization, and I'm coming from a fairly sheltered -- yet liberal -- background. I'm white, college educated and (Wilton) where the median household income might have declined slightly from 2009 to 2010 but it's still almost $100,000 higher than the Fairfield County figure. And yes, most of the people I know are like me.
But depression and mental illness doesn't care what kind of house you live in or how much you make. There are certainly demographic and genetic factors that make someone more predisposed to develop mental health issues, but it strikes all kinds.
I've long been a proponent of removing the stigma around mental health and mental illness. Whether it's brain chemistry, environmental and experiential influences or a host of other reasons, I would hope that people look upon mental health care as an aspect of total health care.
I'd like to think that by raising the topic here and even admitting that I've sought out talk therapy before in my life, it's one more effort to encourage people to view tending to how they feel as something more than just getting a physical to check their heart rate and get some blood tests.
Perhaps there's actually something encouraging about my psychiatrist friend's one-liner. Perhaps actually hidden in the joke is something positive, indicating that women are increasingly seeking out professional help in an effort to get treatment for whatever ails them.
Yes, the cynic in me might call it a 'trend' (and a different cynic might call it a trendy bandwagon many have jumped on) but one can only hope that increased awareness -- and acceptance -- has something to do with it.