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Beating Depression
BY DEBORAH AGOSTA
Thursday, April 5, 2007

As Dr. Jennifer Melfi on the acclaimed HBO hit “The Sopranos,” actor Lorraine Bracco has spent years offering psychiatric advice to James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano. But, in a strange twist of life imitating art, Bracco found herself on a therapist’s couch.

She now admits that for at least part of the time Dr. Melfi has been treating the New Jersey mob boss, the actor had been silently suffering through her own bout with depression, a serious medical condition shared by an estimated 34 million Americans. However, because she initially denied her condition, Bracco didn’t seek help, much like approximately half of those who suffer.

“I wasted a year thinking I could get better on my own,” Bracco says. “During that time I just worked and did what I was supposed to do as a mommy, but I just did it without living life, without being there,” adds the mother of two daughters. “Basically, the big part of it was I felt dead inside. I use the analogy that I was stagnant, no movement,” she says, describing the period as her “lost year.”

During Bracco’s lost year, she found herself devastated by her youngest daughter’s diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, frustrated over a custody battle, and drained by bankruptcy proceedings to get her finances back on track. Even when her life started looking up, Bracco continued to look down.

“I had gone through a lot of really big, hard things and just as everything was pulling itself together and I was on the upswing, I realized I was not jumping for joy.”

A social worker friend suggested she talk to a doctor and maybe go on medication, but the actor chose to ignore the idea. “He was giving me the right advice,” she later realized. “The problem was I wasn’t hearing it.” Instead, she withdrew and just stayed home more with little interest in socializing.

When she finally talked to her doctor, she understood that depression is highly treatable. In fact, more that 80% of those who receive treatment show improvement, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

“I suffered for a whole year without understanding about medication,” Bracco says. “I had the misconception that if you go on medication you were totally numb and wouldn’t feel anything,” she continued. “As an actor, I never thought that was ever a possibility, but I was very wrong.

“I’ve been on Zoloft¨ and it’s the only medication I’ve been on. It was very successful, the best decision I ever made,” says Bracco, although she says she mistakingly thought just by taking a pill she’d be happy the next day. In reality, it was over a six-week period that she began to see the first signs of improvement.

Bracco also maintained another common fear about taking an antidepressant. She thought it would be habit-forming, but she actually took medication only for about 18 months. After that time, she and her doctor agreed that she was in a much better place than when she began.

“Treatment didn’t change me; it made me a better version of myself,” says Bracco. “Within a short time, my symptoms improved, my relationships with my family and loved ones improved, and I was better at being me. I like myself more and my family was better because of it."

The difference in Bracco’s life was so significant, in fact, that she contacted the makers of Zoloft, to discuss how they might educate others about depression and, therefore, encourage them to seek help. As a result of her innocent inquiry, the “Why Live with Depression”ª campaign and the DepressionHelp.com website were launched.

“I made this marriage with Pfizer to help people understand they didn’t have to suffer and that depression is not forever. There’s help that’s readily available and pharmacology does work, but everybody is different and that’s why we created this website,” says Bracco.

To help others who might be depressed, Bracco suggests visiting the website for advice on identifying symptoms and talking to your doctor. She also highly recommends taking the quiz provided by Pfizer and reprinted here. “It’s the best way for somebody who is hesitant to understand where they’re at. But that’s if you’re willing to be honest with yourself and answer the questions and say I do have x amount of these symptoms. It’s really not a bad thing. Then you can start to take control,” says Bracco, adding emphatically that you must want control back in your life.

Additionally, Bracco recommends pursuing every avenue—from friends and family, to doctors and medication, to reading and therapy. “You can’t do it alone,” she warns.

“For me,” says the TV psychiatrist, “talk therapy was also what worked.” Coincidentally, Dr. Melfi was as much a beneficiary as the actor who plays her. “I witnessed firsthand what the other side does. That was a school in itself,” says Bracco. “It helped my character. I got to see what it was like being a patient. And, I was able to kind of pick and choose how I wanted to make Dr. Melfi who I wanted her to be.”

Going public was all done in retrospect, says Bracco, after she saw the effect her character had on her fans.

“I realized I got to be more recognizable as Dr. Melfi,” says the actor. “I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and talk to me about therapy and what I thought of it. Such a huge amount of people are interested in understanding what it is. They are either in therapy or thinking about therapy or they’re on medication or thinking about medication,” she shares. “I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of different conversations with people who have seen me on the show and I realized there’s a huge stigma attached to mental health that we need to break.

“If you have a toothache, you’ll go to the dentist; if you break your leg, you’re willing to go to the doctor,” she points out. “But if you’re feeling isolated and lonely, you feel like you deserve it?” she asks rhetorically, and sounding oh so much like Dr. Melfi who, by the way, will be back in her office come April as “The Sopranos” embarks on its much-awaited final season.

Where to Turn

These organizations and resources might be able to provide you or your loved one with helpful information about depression and anxiety. More complete information may be found at DepressionHelp.com. These organizations do not endorse any specific pharmaceutical products.

National Institute of Mental Health
866-615-NIMH (6464)
nimh.nih.gov

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
888-333-AFSP (2377)
afsp.org

American Psychological Association
800-374-2721
apa.org

Center for Mental Health Services
800-789-2647
mentalhealth.samhsa.gov

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)
800-826-3632
DBSAlliance.org

National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD)
800-829-8289
narsad.org

National Foundation for Depressive Illness, Inc. (NAFDI)
800-239-1265
depression.org
 
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describing the period as her ?lost year.?

that is exactly how i feel about that period in my life, it is lost time. time you could have had with those that matter to you most. time you could have had loving yourself rather than beating yourself up.

?Treatment didn?t change me; it made me a better version of myself,? says Bracco. ?Within a short time, my symptoms improved, my relationships with my family and loved ones improved, and I was better at being me. I like myself more and my family was better because of it."

this really struck a chord with me. this is exactly how it is for me.

But that?s if you?re willing to be honest with yourself and answer the questions and say I do have x amount of these symptoms. It?s really not a bad thing. Then you can start to take control,? says Bracco, adding emphatically that you must want control back in your life.
i think this is very important. being depressed is losing control of your life. slowly taking control back helped me feel better about myself.

thanks for this post nancy.
 

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