Suzanne Fields

"In the old days his eyes would have come alight and he would have treated me with a Bible lesson to have delighted a lecture hall full of scholars. But not when he grew older. 'Look it up,' he said flatly. 'You'll find it in one of my books by Spurgeon or B.H. Carroll.'"

When a doctor suggested that the preacher see a psychiatrist, the son balked. Both son and father saw depression as a weakness and getting help as an indulgence. A psychiatrist finally persuaded them to give a new drug a try. Within a few days the preacher began to relish questions once more: "Now, about Romans 8:17."

My own father suffered a severe bout of depression when he was in his 70s and the family doctor treated it with talk "therapy." I had edited a mental health journal for the National Institutes of Mental Health and knew about the new drugs. I told his doctor that I thought certain drugs might help.

The doctor ignored my pleas until I hand-delivered a letter to his office suggesting that a malpractice suit might get his attention if he didn't look into medication for my father. He referred Dad to a psychiatrist, who put him on medication and within a fortnight his old zest for life was back.

He went on to enjoy a decade of hanging out with his buddies at the local deli, the race track, and trading stories about the good ol' days. Dad and my mom resumed their Wednesday lunch dates at a favorite restaurant, walking down the street holding hands.

Of course this is merely anecdotal evidence of the kind often scorned by science. Drugs don't always work and they can have some bad side effects. But when they're right and provided by a knowledgeable doctor, they can make a huge difference. My father joked that his psychiatrist was a "drug pusher." But the medications transformed him. In kicking depression, he got high on life. Others can, too.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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