Healthy Minds is a 13-part award-winning TV series about the latest research and insights about mental illness, created to help reduce the stigma associated with psychiatric disease, which often prevents patients and their families from getting needed help. This 30-minute segment on depression features veteran newsman Mike Wallace and his wife Mary, who discuss how they dealt with his depression and reveal intimate details about his suicide attempt and ultimate recovery.
Depression with Mike Wallace
[female announcer] This week on Healthy Minds, prominent psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein sits down with news veteran Mike Wallace and his wife Mary as they share their 20-year battle with his depression. I haven't told about this in quite this graphic a fashion. I figured, hey, I have to get out of here. So I took a bunch of sleeping pills. I couldn't wake him up. And that was really, really scary. [announcer] Experts on the forefront of research talk about hope and treatment for those suffering from depression. People who suffer from depression say it is the most awful feeling you can possibly have, worse than cancer. [announcer] That's this week on Healthy Minds. [♪mellow music♪] Healthy Minds on WLIW-21 is made possible in part by NARSAD-- NARSAD is dedicated to supporting innovative scientific research to find the causes, better treatments and cures for severe mental illness; and by ValueOptions-- working with health plans, employers and government programs, ValueOptions manages behavioral health care and substance abuse services for people throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut; by the New York Academy of Medicine, working to enhance the health of people living in cities worldwide through research, education, advocacy and prevention; by the van Ameringen Foundation-- since 1950, the foundation has supported prevention, education and direct care programs that seek to promote positive change in the mental health field; and by the New York State Office of Mental Health, promoting the mental health of all New Yorkers. [♪♪] [Healthy Minds - Depression - Part 1] Depression is one of those characteristics where people need to intervene when they see behavior changes. I feel that families that struggle with depression need to be vocal about it. It needs to be an open conversation. [female speaker] I personally have not experienced depression, but I know people who have, and I think it's a very, very serious problem. I think it's a very important subject. Hi, I'm Dr. Jeff Borenstein. Did you know that over 17 million Americans experience depression each year? Like any other illness, depression is treatable and that's really good news. But how do you know if you need to seek help? Let's hear from Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Eric Kandel, from Columbia University. He describes what it's like for a person with depression. Five percent of the population suffers a major depression. Depression manifests itself by feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, despondency, anhedonia--an inability to enjoy a good glass of wine, a nice meal, a partner. People who suffer from depression say it is the most awful feeling you can possibly have, worse than cancer. And one of the reasons it's so frightening is when people feel that badly, they want to end their life. And of course suicide is the most frightening aspect of any mental illness, and the incidence of suicide is a serious problem. It's a significant issue with depression. So if a relative becomes depressed, one of the first things one wants to think about is to make sure that there is no additional attending thoughts of doing away with oneself and making sure that the person is accompanied by somebody under all circumstances if there's any concern at all about this. And of course over and beyond this, to get that person to treatment. Now, unlike the situation in schizophrenia where even successful treatment reaches only a component, a significant component but only a component of the illness--the positive symptoms--with depression the treatment is really quite effective and many people--most people--will respond to antidepressant medication. With more people coming forward and talking about depression, we realize there's no need to be ashamed. One person who has come forward to speak about his experiences is Mike Wallace, who we all know is one of America's leading journalists. Recently I met with him and his wife Mary in their home, where they shared intimate details of his struggle with depression, including a suicide attempt, and his ultimate recovery. [Borenstein] What was it like the first time you had a clinical depression? [inhales deeply] Never having had it before--at least I don't remember having had it before-- I was convinced. Mary was different. She knew that I was in a depression. I just thought I was having a bad time. And my family doctor at the time said, "Oh, Mike, you're a tough guy. You're feeling down." "Stay away from the word 'depression.'" Mind you, this was, I guess-- Twenty, twenty-two. 1982. Yeah. This was 22 years ago. And we were good friends, this doctor and I. And he had been very good. And he said, "Look, you're a tough guy. You'll get through it." "You're going through a hard time." And I guess Mary must have said something about a depression, and he said, "Forget the word 'depression' because that'll be bad for your image." [Borenstein] The stigma. >>Yeah. And in retrospect, I think what a damn fool he was. There's nothing to be ashamed of about depression. But in any case, I was beginning to feel really-- couldn't eat, couldn't sleep; took sleeping pills, couldn't sleep. And at that time, I wasn't seeing a psychiatrist then. No. [Borenstein] How did you end up seeing a psychiatrist? What did you do to find one? What happened was that I-- Anybody who is that depressed, anyone--male, female, whatever-- contemplates suicide. I mean, the pain of it, the pain of depression, you're copeless, you're hopeless, you don't want to eat, you find it difficult to sleep, it's never out of your mind, as a result of which-- Well, you tell what happened. [chuckles] You tell what happened. I was having difficulty sleeping, and I finally, finally-- I haven't told about this in quite this graphic a fashion-- I figured, hey, I have to get out of here. So I took a bunch of sleeping pills, wrote a note and ate them. And as a result, I fell asleep. And my friend here-- Well, I couldn't wake him up. And that was really, really scary. I'd do this and that, and I finally called the doctor and said, "Get over here." And he came and immediately called the ambulance and off we went. But it's very frightening when that happens because you forget what you're supposed to do. [Borenstein] It must have been so scary for you. And you, fortunately, were able to take the right action to get help right away. Yes. I guess the fastest thing, instead of calling the doctor, is to call 911 and get anybody there to take them to the hospital. I waited for the doctor to come, which I don't think is a good idea. It was 3:00 in the morning, I believe. [Borenstein] And then after that, what happened? Then he was in the hospital for a while and then-- [Mike W.] And they pumped my stomach, I guess. Yeah, and then started psychiatry. Incidentally, she tore up the suicide note and she got the rest of the sleeping pills that were-- I knew what had happened, and in those days--that's 22 years ago or something-- it was so horrible for somebody to commit suicide. You would be ashamed of that. And people used to lie about that if somebody committed suicide, which again is something that happens all the time. But I wanted to hide it even from the doctor that I was calling. Talk about stigma and how stupid that is. >>[Borenstein] Guilt. Yes. So I was hiding that. I wish we had that note that you wrote. [Borenstein] Do you remember what it said? I don't remember. He was leaving money to people. I don't think you talked about yourself. I don't remember. [Mike W.] It took me a long time to acknowledge what we've just said. It took me until a couple or three months ago, so it's a long time. In any case, for people who are contemplating suicide--contemplating-- who are so damn scared and in pain, and all of those things are true when you're in a bad clinical depression, take a look at me. What I've learned is that because I was saved I had 20 more years of very productive life. And this is the lesson that I take from it. I was out of my mind. I was a little crazy. And if you can somehow wait it out, if your companion is like this one, you're going to get better. You're going to get better. [Borenstein] You need to get the treatment. If you get the treatment, you're going to get better. >>[Mike W.] If you get the treatment. When I'm talking like this publicly, what I say to the people who are looking in, it can be treated, you can get better, you can if you find a good shrink. And I believe talk therapy because there was that and medications, and I know that, for me anyway, the talking was important to talk to the shrink that way. And of course the drug that I was taking at the time was called Ludiomil. [Borenstein] It caused a number of side effects. >>[Mike W.] It sure did. First of all, your hands shake. Secondly, you're dry here, here, here, etc. And our intimate life disappeared. [Borenstein] As a result of the side effect of the medicine. As a result of the Ludiomil. In any case, enough. I decided okay, I was better. What happened was I was feeling pretty good. I began to play tennis, etc, etc. And all of a sudden I broke this wrist. I could feel it go crack underneath me. I fell on it. And I was back in almost immediately, still on Ludiomil. I knew--at least I was sensible enough to understand it can be handled. And as I say, I was in-- I finally got through that. And then I turned 75 and I was in it again, for whatever reason, I don't know. I really don't know what triggered it. [Borenstein] There was no external other than just-- No. No. I was being difficult. How difficult was I? You're always difficult [laughs] and then he gets more difficult. More difficult. >>[Mike W.] Thanks. What was it like for you, Mary, when he was going through these depressions? Mike said he was difficult. What is it like for the spouse to live with someone? What happens is you start blaming yourself and think you're not doing the right thing. This is even when you understand depression a little bit. You still kind of think, "Gosh, I could make it all right if I do the right thing." And that's not true. But while you're thinking that, you're very unhappy and confused and out of control. You don't know what to do to make it better. And that's I think the feeling that parents or husbands or wives have, children have about their parents or one of their parents that may be going through it. You're out of control of a situation that's so personal. You have no control over it. [Borenstein] And with the stigma, it's the kind of thing you may not feel comfortable talking about with a friend. Yes. You become very alone because you don't want to go out with the girls at lunch and say, "My husband is just awful. He won't talk to me. He won't eat." "He's mad. He loses his temper." So you become isolated too. And I think it's a very good idea for somebody who is living with a depressed person to go and get some help themselves, him or herself, to go and talk to a psychiatrist yourself and have him tell you, "It's not your fault, kid," and maybe make some suggestions that help. But the only suggestion that's any good is to make sure they get some help. And somebody else has to handle it. You can't do it yourself. A doctor has to help handle it. But she was the one who insisted, "You're depressed, "so do something about it, damn it." And you got him to get the treatment that he needed. Yes, but not understanding what I was talking about myself. But something was wrong. And when it's wrong, you just go and try and find somebody that knows what's happening and what to do about it. It's not easy either to find somebody. You have to start and just do research on it or have somebody that knows somebody. But that's hard. Since that third episode, you haven't had any other episodes of depression? Third episode. By this time, Zoloft had come along, and so I was-- I used to travel and liked to travel a lot--unlike now. And I went to Beirut. But shortly before I went to Beirut, I began to feel a little something was going on. And I was taking Zoloft, and it takes a little time for Zoloft to take hold. I was told it was six to eight weeks. Well, five weeks, six weeks, seven weeks, eight weeks and still it had not taken hold. And I figured what the dickens? The way I feel because being Jewish and going to an Arab country-- [Borenstein] And you were going to interview the leader of Hezbollah, and the CIA I think warned you you might be in danger. That's exactly right. That's exactly right. Sheikh Fadlallah. I figured the way I feel, okay. That's a good place to go. And if it happens, it happens. In any case, I got there and we went up--I remember this so well. We went to a hotel to stay which was up on a hill overlooking Beirut and looking down into the horror that was a beat up Beirut. But the hotel itself was very comfortable. I remember so well. I was waiting for this damn thing to take hold, this Zoloft thing that I had heard so much about. And all of a sudden I woke up one morning there-- I had been there for about a week, I guess. Is it possible? And I woke up the next day. Not only was it possible, it had taken hold. And suddenly, I mean it, it was astonishing, really. And that was how long ago? Fifteen years? I don't know. >>Yeah. Yeah. And I haven't had a whisper since of depression. I have had some interesting times, tough times, etc, but depression as such, haven't. And I don't even bother knocking wood. What I do is I stay on that drug and will have to stay on that drug-- medication--for the rest of my life. But that's a small price to pay for that kind of a-- [Borenstein] For not having the depression. >>[Mike W.] Right. Other than the medicine and seeing the psychiatrist, are there other things such as exercise that you find helpful? Exercise is wonderful. If you exercise, you sweat, for some reason it diminishes the business of the tension. It really does. You begin to-- Look, the self-absorption of depression, you feel so sorry for yourself and even for those around you. And this one was really an angel. The exercise. What else? I think you make yourself go out, see friends and see that life can be fun again. Going out and doing things that you enjoy. [Mary W.] Uh-huh. Go to a good movie. Yeah, but what happened was that I was able to go back to work. You always worked-- >>I know, but I-- >>even through everything. You always went to work. I know, but I was not as effective a reporter with that hanging over you as I can be. What words of advice, and you've already given some advice, but what words of advice if somebody is out there now and they're in pain or their loved one is in pain, what should they do? First of all, find a good psychiatrist. And there are ways. The culture, if you want to call it that-- There's nothing--You're not a nut case if you want to go to see a psychiatrist. Mental illness is--I mean, for a while when you'd talk about mental illness, you wouldn't want to acknowledge that--hey, it's an illness like any other-- not like any other but it's an illness. And so if you can find yourself a psychiatrist or a psychologist, except that the psychiatrist has the ability to prescribe the medications, you are not to a psychiatrist a strange character. He or she has seen patients like you over and over and over again. [Borenstein] And have helped them get better. >>[Mike W.] And have helped them. And they learn the ins and outs so they know what questions to ask and what medications to prescribe and so forth. So that to me is the single most important thing you can do is to go and talk to someone, for instance, like you. [♪♪] As a psychiatrist, I very much appreciate Mike and Mary Wallace speaking out about his personal experience. What's most striking to me is how he describes that with treatment he's had 20 wonderful years after a suicide attempt that could have ended his life. We all experience emotional ups and downs. But if you have a depression that persists and includes symptoms such as sleep and appetite disturbance, inability to enjoy yourself and/or thoughts of hurting yourself, that's the time to seek treatment. And remember, with help there's hope. Until next time, I'm Dr. Jeff Borenstein. [♪♪] For more information, please visit our website at wliw.org/healthyminds [♪♪] Hi, I'm Dr. Jeff Borenstein. Join me next week when we go into greater detail about depression, including treatment. Only four in ten people who have depression get diagnosed for their condition. I had a pain, constant, that my heart was breaking. I couldn't do anything. I couldn't move. There were times when I would just fall on the floor and cry. I cried the way I've never heard anybody cry in my life. And of those people who are diagnosed, a very small proportion of them actually get what we call minimally adequate care. I was in fact classically depressed and in treatment. So I began looking for something, and in that search I encountered Lincoln's story. The beginning of the story is dominated by these breakdowns. He had two terrible breakdowns. He was suicidal, in one of which he wrote this letter, "I am now the most miserable man living." "I am now the most miserable man living." "If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, "there would not be one cheerful face on the earth." "Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell." "I awfully forebode I shall not." If you or someone you know are concerned about depression, I hope you'll watch. [♪♪] [narrator] Healthy Minds on WLIW-21 is made possible in part by NARSAD-- NARSAD is dedicated to supporting innovative scientific research to find the causes, better treatments and cures for severe mental illness; and by ValueOptions--working with health plans, employers and government programs, ValueOptions manages behavioral health care and substance abuse services for people throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut; by the New York Academy of Medicine, working to enhance the health of people living in cities worldwide through research, education, advocacy and prevention; by the van Ameringen Foundation--since 1950 the foundation has supported prevention, education and direct care programs that seek to promote positive change in the mental health field; and by the New York State Office of Mental Health, promoting the mental health of all New Yorkers.
Posted on BrainLine November 24, 2008.