Local Counselor Shares Personal Experience with Battling Depression
WESLACO – Many people will experience depression at some point in their lives or knows someone who will. It’s a disorder which can affect anyone at any age.
A local professional said he had experience with battling depression and now dedicates his efforts to help others cope.
“My first thoughts of suicide were probably at 5 years old and I lived like that until my early 40s,” Dr. M.L. Dantzker said. “For the most part, not really recognizing there was a different way of feeling.”
Dr. Dantzker explained how depression affected his thinking process.
“I’d have these periods of severe depression where you have a couple of days where you don’t want to do anything. You don’t want to talk to anybody. None of that kind of stuff and you do what you can to deal with that. Not knowing that’s what you’re doing,” he said.
One way the licensed professional counselor dealt with his pains was by drinking.
“As an alcoholic, and I was on the wagon for a long time, but alcohol was my coping device,” he said.
He remembered when he finally realized something needed to change.
“It had to do with an incident here in the Valley and with my job that pushed me over the edge. I couldn’t find a way to deal with it anymore and it made me realize I may be losing it as the case may be. I told my wife I needed to get help from someone or I’m going to climb back in to the bottle, which I had been off of for many years, and if I did, I would kill myself,” Dr. Dantzker said.
It was a turning point for him. He started taking medication for his depression and even went to counseling, a combination of treatments that worked for him.
He said medication made a big difference in his quality of life.
“I wouldn’t want to go off it because if going off it meant going back to feeling the way I felt previously, I don’t want to feel that way again. So, I’ll stay on medication for the rest of my life,” Dr. Dantzker said.
Helping patients feel better is the goal for Dr. Ricardo Irizarry, a psychiatrist in the Rio Grande Valley. He said depression is more than just feeling sad.
“If you ask a patient, every patient has their own take on what depression is. Patients have told me when they are depressed, they feel dead inside. There is no life inside of them. They can’t get themselves to do anything or to care about anything,” Dr. Irizarry explained.
He said depression is a complex syndrome with many different symptoms.
“Depression is a period of time where you have more than two weeks where you have no interest in many things in life, and that is accompanied by a series of symptoms,” he said.
Some symptoms of depression include:
- Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or guilt.
- Suffering from insomnia or sleeping “too much.”
- Changes in appetite and weight fluctuations.
- Thoughts of suicide.
Dr. Irizarry said biological, social and psychological stressors can lead to depressed feelings. Some people have a genetic predisposition for the disorder. Others may feel depressed due to social aspects such as financial hardship or family problems.
He said some patients experience psychological triggers.
“There is a psychological aspect of depression in which someone has been exposed to trauma, a negative experience, a divorce, loss of a loved one, and those experiences tend to lead to depression as well. It’s believed when you’re exposed enough to a psychological stressor, your brain doesn’t work as correctly because the stressor has impacted brain function and they may also produce changes in neurochemicals,” he said.
Dr. Irizarry said the best treatment will take into account the biological, social and psychological aspects of depression. Treatment may include counseling or medication or even a combination of the two.
In cases of extreme depression, ECT or electric convulsive therapy may be used as a last resort.
“An ECT session is very underwhelming. The patient is under anesthesia, the muscles are blocked and you provide an electrical stimuli to the brain and pretty much nothing happens to the observation, to what you can see on the outside of the body. It’s a very safe technique, very effective,” Dr. Irizarry said.
He said no matter how depression is treated, the disorder is very common but it’s also misunderstood.
“I wish people would consider depression is a real disease. It’s a disease of the brain and the brain is suffering. Like when the pancreas stops producing insulin you develop diabetes. When the brain stops producing certain chemicals and there are certain changes in your brain, you can become depressed and have other psychiatric illnesses,” Dr. Irizarry said.
The symptoms of depression can be eased by getting enough sleep, exercising and eating a balanced diet. It’s also a good idea to stay away from alcohol, tobacco and nicotine. Healthy relationships can also do wonders for the mood.
Dr. Irizarry and Dr. Dantzker said there is a mind/body connection with depression. The disorder can cause health problems but it can also lead to suicide. That’s why they encourage people to seek help before it’s too late.
“I know there is a strong connection between physical issues and mental health, just as I know how physical health can affect us mentally,” Dr. Dantzker said.
Even though it’s important for patients to be aware of their physical and mental health, both doctors said family and friends need to show support for those in the shadow of depression.
Dr. Dantzker said having support is crucial to treatment.
“This idea of going in for mental health counseling, it didn’t dawn on me what others would think because I didn’t care what others were thinking. I cared about myself and my family and I needed to do something about it,” he said.
Dr. Dantzker said he knows what it’s like to be on both sides of the couch – as a patient and a counselor. Even though he’s mentally in a good place, these days and has been for more than a decade, he continues to monitor how he’s feeling on a regular basis.
“I would be a liar if I said somewhere in the back of my mind I didn’t worry about that one thing that might send me back. But I try not to think about that because I try not to worry about what-ifs,” he said.
He offered some advice to those who find themselves dealing with depression.
“Don’t listen to what other people say in terms of ‘it’s just something you’re going through right now. Toughen up, pull yourself up.’ Go and ask someone who knows what they’re talking about,” Dr. Dantzker said.
He said by taking responsibility for his own mental health, he’s able to live a better life. He’s looking to the future and has some tough love for others who are struggling with depression.
“I can’t fix you. Nobody can fix you. You have to fix yourself. All I can do is guide you and give you some things to help make you better along the way. But, if you don’t want to fix yourself, then accept the fact you don’t want to fix yourself,” he said.
Help is available for people battling depression. The National Alliance on Mental Illness in the Rio Grande Valley or NAMI can be found at NAMIRGV.org.
For more stories and information visit Heart of the Valley: Mental Health.