The Path Back From a Very, Very Dark Place
A number of years ago I went through a major depressive episode. I learned that my son was autistic, my wife was sick and the company that had employed me for eight years shut down my department putting over 100 people out of work.
I was shattered, overwhelmed and scared! In those moments I began to think the worst. My thoughts went to some very, very dark places. I saw no way out and considered some extreme options.
But I couldn’t take what seemed like the “easy” way out. I had responsibilities. There were people, who through no fault of their own, really needed my help and I couldn’t let them down. I had to look for help.
It wasn’t an easy search. In those days it seemed that the mental health system was designed specifically to discourage people who needed help from getting it. There were crippling wait lists to see psychiatrists. And more often than not, you were lucky if you were even able to get onto one of those long wait lists.
And waiting did not even begin to describe what you did when you were on these lists.
Of course you could go and see a family doctor. They were patient and understanding but not the best equipped to manage these kinds of problems. For the most part all they could do was to prescribe any of a vast number of medications.
As anyone who has ever been on a medication program can attest it is difficult, hard on mind and body, frustrating and hit-or-miss. You try one medication for a few weeks, endure the side effects as your body adapts to it and wait to see if it makes a difference. Most of the time it doesn’t so you spend weeks weaning yourself off the drug so that you can start again.
The same cycle repeats itself over and over again until you finally find a medication that works. And there are some people who never do.
The great tragedy here is that, while you are conducting science and biology experiments on your body and mind, the underlying cause, the reason you are enduring these drug tests, is not being addressed. The cause of the problem is still there and it’s not being solved.
The primary role of most medications is to make it possible to cope with the illness while searching for a more robust and permanent solution. Sometimes the illness gets worse. Sometimes it gradually starts to improve of its own accord. Many kinds of illness do this and mental illness can sometimes be one of these.
While languishing on the waiting lists and subjecting my body to an ever expanding assortment of debilitating drugs, I decided to do some research. Surely, I thought, there had to be more options than the never ending wait lists and the drugs.
Turns out there was. It’s a program developed by Dr. Aaron Beck called “Cognitive Behavior Therapy”, or CBT for short, and it was a life changing discovery.
For those of you not familiar with CBT the simple explanation of what it is and what it does is as follows.
Dr. Beck learned, through years of research and trials, that mental illnesses such as depression are almost always caused by improper thoughts. He came to define these as “Cognitive Distortions” (Cognitive from cognition meaning thoughts and the distortions part speaks for itself). At CognImmune we have renamed these distorted thoughts as “Fallacious Assumptions“. To understand why click here.
Dr. Beck discovered that there are 10 distinct and specific distorted assumptions (though if you really wanted to argue the point you could say that there are eleven because one of these distortions is divided into two separate classes)
Where this really begins to get interesting is when you understand that people with depression, for example, do not experience all 10 Cognitive Distortions at once but generally suffer from only two or three of them at any one time.
The first step on the CBT healing journey is to discover which of these ten distortions is currently affecting you. Yes, as you have probably guessed, CBT is a therapy that requires active participation and work in order to achieve results. But the participation and the work are not especially difficult. Nor do they require an unreasonable time commitment. The primary requirement is consistency. And the good news is, with this consistency, the time commitment can be as short as a few weeks.
Imagine, a treatment for mental illness that can yield results in weeks instead of years using traditional methods such as classical talking therapy with a psychiatrist, psychologist or counselor, or the hit and miss drug treatment method. Not to disparage either of these. After all, any treatment with the goal of lifting mental illness is a good thing.
Surprisingly, it was the insurance companies who first sat up and took notice of the CBT method of treating mental illness.To them it sounded too good to be true.
The costs associated with disability payments and treatment were on the rise and there seemed to be no limit to how high these could get. Now here was a way to address, treat, stabilize and cure mental illness that took weeks instead of years. And with no undesirable consequences such as drug side effects and interactions.
But insurance companies are by nature skeptical so they needed to see proof. As a result, over the decades, CBT has been one of the most studied and researched mental health treatments of all time. What all this research discovered was that CBT worked! And it worked just like Dr. Beck predicted it would.
The “Lightbulb” Moment
As I carried out my research I came across more and more material that showed that CBT was effective, efficient, worked in a reasonable amount of time and did not come with debilitating side effects. I was convinced that it was an effective form of treatment.
Certainly there was nothing not to gain by trying it. But then I came across something unexpected and it changed my way of thinking forever.
A study was conducted in the 1980’s by “The Medical Research Council at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland”. The study followed two groups of severely depressed patients undergoing two different treatment paths.
One group was placed on an anti-depressant therapy, the other a program of CBT therapy. Each group received therapy for a period of 12 weeks. The majority of participants in both groups continued to maintain positive results up until the end of the 12 week treatment period.
But where things really got interesting was in the follow up portion of the study. Psychological testing demonstrated that the CBT group continued to feel substantially better. Not only that, these results were statistically significant (something any researcher will tell you is of key importance when doing any kind of in depth study).
However, this was not the most striking finding. Twelve months after the completion of the study, the relapse rate for people who had received CBT treatment was less than half that of the group that had been treated using anti-depressants.
(Find out more about this study here https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7317698 )
CBT was still proving effective in controlling depression in most patients a full year AFTER the conclusion of the initial treatment! And that was when an exciting idea struck me.
When one is suffering from depression, seeking treatment can be an overwhelming task. If the simple process of getting out of bed in the morning takes as much energy as a depressed person can muster, how does one deal with the pain, anguish and frustration that comes from having to find and contact appropriate health care and mental health professionals, being placed on yet another treatment waiting list, the debilitating side effects of medications and the basic activities of daily life?
It can seem impossible. And this is one of the reasons so many depressed people – people who need treatment – aren’t able to acquire it. I know. I speak from experience.
But suppose, just suppose, there was a way to prevent depression from happening in the first place. Or to, at least, mitigate the full impact of the disease. It sounds like a far fetched dream, right? But is it really?
Medical science has developed a number of effective techniques for preventing or stopping the spread of many illnesses. This can be accomplished through quarantine methods, vaccinations, public education – such as encouraging people to quit smoking in order to prevent cancer, or not drinking and driving – preparedness, and many others.
Preventing illness is both more cost effective and more humane than treating someone once they have contracted an illness.
So if the best way to manage illness is to prevent it from happening in the first place, why don’t we do this with depression and other mental illnesses?
And that’s where the concept of “CognImmune” comes in. Cogni – from cognitions or thoughts – and Immune – as in making your thoughts immune to the negative thought processes that lead to mental illnesses such as depression.
There IS Light At The End Of This Dark Tunnel!
The concept makes sense for a lot of reasons. Since it is so difficult for people suffering from depression to look for help, wouldn’t it be better to prevent the depression from happening in the first place?
If CBT treatment is able to help depressed patients keep from relapsing for more than a year, imagine what it could do for people before they become depressed. It could very well prevent depression from happening or, give people the insight to know that something bad is happening – or about to happen – in time for them to seek more aggressive treatments.
In either case, this is something that could prevent a lot of long term suffering and debilitation for a lot of people and those close to them.
This is something that needs to be done. People are succumbing to depression every day. People are dying every day! Suicide is responsible for the deaths of 129 people in the US each and every day.
Even the WHO (World Health Organization) has embraced the concept of prevention as being an effective tool in the fight against depression. “Prevention programs have been shown to reduce depression. Effective community approaches to prevent depression include school-based programs to enhance a pattern of positive thinking in children and adolescents. Interventions for parents of children with behavioral problems may reduce parental depressive symptoms and improve outcomes for their children. Exercise programs for the elderly can also be effective in depression prevention.”
You’ve seen the scope of the problem. You’ve been introduced to a plan that can help to take control of the problem. Now the only thing that remains is the question, how would you feel knowing you could be part of that solution?
I need your help. Simply put, I can’t do this alone. I’ve tried for years. But the scope of the project is too overwhelming for any one person.
Here’s what many people do after visiting this site. They choose to be part of the solution. Wondering how to help? Consider any or all of the following.
- Spread the word! Tell everyone you know on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, Tinder or other social media platforms. Contact everyone on your email contact list. You might even talk to people, face to face, in coffee shops, cafes, restaurants or theaters, concerts or sporting event lineups. The possibilities are endless.
- Use the links scattered across every page on this site to create an account and connect with others interested in this project
- Subscribe to our mailing list
- Contact us with suggestions, questions or offers to join us
- Follow us and/or link to us on social media
- Contribute money to the project. (Crowd funding opportunities are coming soon.)
- Recommend us to venture capital or angel investors
- Share your stories about mental illness and how it has impacted your life
- Partner with us
- Contribute educational materials or web based expertise
- Anything else you can think of that hasn’t already been mentioned
It is only through a community of like minded individuals and organizations, all working toward a common, worthwhile goal, that this solution can happen. The rewards that will come from success can be incredible. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to see that happen? And wouldn’t it be even more fantastic to know that you played a part in building that success?