Mind Matters -- October 2002
Written by Ron Sterling, M.D. and Published in Northwest Prime Time Magazine

The "D" Word

    Mind Matters is a new monthly advice column brought to you by Ron Sterling, M.D., a psychiatrist with a private practice in Seattle.

    Many people would say that our mind matters more than just about any other part of our being. This column is dedicated to matters of the "mind" which is a little different than matters of the "brain." Although the brain is the organ that makes our thinking possible, our "mind" is more about how we think and feel, and what we believe.

    It is my hope that I can bring some helpful thoughts, ideas, and information to you related to emotional and psychological well-being. In this column I will answer questions about relationships, mental or emotional wellness and aging concerns.

    Dear Dr. Ron:

      My mother, who just turned 73, is very depressed. I know it, and she knows it, but she won't do anything about it. She just says "I will be fine, don't worry." My dad died ten months ago and my mother has not really recovered. She doesn't sleep well, wakes up early in the morning, has lost weight and has a poor appetite. She won't tell her doctor she is depressed. She takes a lot of benadryl to try to sleep. What can I do? Signed -- Distressed Daughter.

    Dear Distressed:

      Thank you for writing! Assisting your mother with what may be a moderate depression can be challenging. It is my age group of 50-somethings who are the first generation of Americans to start learning that it is okay to talk about feelings and ask for help. The generations above us didn't get the same opportunity. They learned as they grew up to be strong and independent. They definitely shy away from the "D" word.

      Even folks in my generation still strongly believe in "will power" and "mind over matter." However, the truth is that if the brain is not functioning well it can't be fixed by will power or mind power alone. Certainly, attitude and motivation count, but there are certain kinds of depression that just take a very long time to respond to fixes that are of the attitude kind.

      The problem with the word "depression" is that it can stand for anything from a bad hair day to a very serious or life-threatening disorder. So, professionals like me don't use the word depression without adding to it the words "mild," "moderate," or "severe." Depressions that include physical symptoms such as early morning awakening without being able to get back to sleep, loss of appetite and loss of weight are the moderate to severe type and do not generally get better without some help from medication.

      Unfortunately, I cannot give you all the details of how to treat moderate to severe depression in a short amount of space. However, with respect to assisting your mother in getting the help she needs, I think one of the things that may work well is for you to let her know that you care a lot about her and that you would love to go with her to one of her doctor appointments so that you could talk with the doctor a little bit about mom's eating and sleeping problems (and, of course, then you might sneak in some talk about depression).

      With people who are in their 70s, a little more hands-on support can make all the difference in the world. In addition, the use of benadryl and other antihistamines by older folks has disadvantages and can worsen depression and confusion. For more information, I recommend visiting the Web site MindfulAging.com for the book "Beating the Senior Blues."

      I hope that helps. -- Best wishes, Dr. Ron.

        Author Bio:

        Ron Sterling, M.D. is a 64 year-old General and Geriatric Psychiatrist with a private practice in Seattle. He invites you to e-mail him at with any questions about mental wellness or emotional, relationship, or aging concerns. He is the only person who reads e-mail sent to Dr. Ron. Please be assured that your questions and identities are completely confidential and protected. For more information about Dr. Ron and for resources related to senior mental health, please go to SeniorMentalHealth.org. Read our Disclaimer.

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      Have a great day!

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