Triathletes and Depression

author : Writebrained
comments : 3

What? Me depressed? Why, I’m a high achiever. I’m very active. I even won second place in my age division at last week’s Splash, Crash, and Rash Triathlon. How dare you suggest I’m depressed?

Imagine attending a post-race party with Robin Williams, Abraham Lincoln, Leo Tolstoy, Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, and Vincent van Gogh. Maybe Lincoln and Tolstoy are giving out awards and Robin Williams is working the PA system. Twain and Poe are putting their bikes up and van Gogh is cutting up a banana and eating it. The fact is these famous personalities have much more in common than my factious triathlon. Each of them battled the debilitating illness of depression in life (Robin Williams still does).

Most people get a sense of their own value or self-worth based upon love which they receive from their families and friends. Often times, depressives, achieving no such source of self-esteem, are driven to seek it elsewhere. A depressive, convinced that he is unloved by those close to him, may seek to win a more general recognition of his merits by acquiring public acclaim; competition is one way of doing this. Unfortunately for the depressive, these injections of self-esteem are almost as short-lived as the time on the podium.

It is common for people to speak of how "depressed" they are. However, occasionally feeling down is very different from the serious illness caused by a brain disorder. Depression profoundly impairs the ability to function in everyday situations by affecting moods, thoughts, behaviors, and physical well-being. Twenty-nine-year-old triathlete 'Cam', has suffered from depression for more than 6 years. "For me it's feeling worthless," he explains. "Feeling like I haven't accomplished the things that I want to or feel I should have and yet I don't have the energy to do them. It's feeling disconnected from people in my life, even friends and family who care about me. It's not wanting to get out of bed some mornings and losing hope that life will ever get better."

Demographics and Treatment

Depression crosses all demographics and strikes over 16 million American adults each year--more than cancer, AIDS, or coronary heart disease--according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Women are twice as likely as men to be affected. An estimated 15 percent of chronic depression cases end in suicide.

Many people simply don't know what depression is. "A lot of people still believe that depression is a character flaw or caused by bad parenting," says Mary Rappaport, a spokeswoman for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. She explains that depression cannot be overcome by willpower, but requires medical attention.

Fortunately, depression is treatable. In the past 13 years, the Food and Drug Administration has approved several new antidepressants, including Wellbutrin (bupropion), Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), Paxil (paroxetine), Effexor (venlafaxine), Serzone (nefazodone), and Remeron (mirtazapine).

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), 80 to 90 percent of all cases can be treated effectively. However, two-thirds of the people suffering from depression don't get the help they need, according to NIMH. Many fail to identify their symptoms or attribute them to lack of sleep or a poor diet, the APA says, while others are just too fatigued or ashamed to seek help.

Left untreated, depression can result in years of needless pain for both the depressed person and his or her family. Depression costs the United States an estimated $43 billion a year, due in large part to absenteeism from work, lost productivity, and medical costs, according to the National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association.

Diagnosing the Disease
Medical professionals generally base a diagnosis of depressive disorder on the presence of certain symptoms listed in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The DSM (presently in the fourth edition) lists the following symptoms for depression:

  • depressed mood

  • loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities

  • changes in appetite or weight

  • disturbed sleep

  • slowed or restless movements

  • fatigue, loss of energy

  • feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt

  • trouble in thinking, concentrating, or making decisions

  • recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

The diagnosis depends on the number, severity and duration of these symptoms. Even with this list of symptoms, diagnosing depression is not simple. According to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, it takes an average of eight years from the onset of depression to get a proper diagnosis.

In making a diagnosis, a health professional should also consider the patient's medical history, the findings of a complete physical exam, and laboratory tests to rule out the possibility of depressive symptoms resulting from another medical problem.

'If Someone You Know Is Depressed'
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, to help someone recover from depression:

-Encourage the person to make an appointment with a doctor, or make the appointment yourself. You may want to go along for support.
-Encourage the person to stick with the treatment plan, including taking prescribed medicine. Improvement may take several weeks. If no improvement occurs, encourage the person to seek a different treatment rather than giving up.
-Give emotional support by listening carefully and offering hope.
-Invite the person to join you in activities that you know he or she used to enjoy, but keep in mind that expecting too much too soon can lead to feelings of failure.
-Do not accuse the person of faking illness or expect them to "snap out of it."
-Take comments about suicide seriously, and seek professional advice.

Depression and Triathlon can go hand-in-hand. Our sport attracts high energy people who like to achieve great things. Although there is nothing wrong with achievement, goal setting and success, they should not be a band-aid or and escape from serious emotional issues. If you are running, not only from T2, but from depression - please seek help.


Author Note: John L. Garner (a.k.a. Writebrained) is an active triathlete and published author. He is currently finishing up a Thesis project on creative-depression. 


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date: October 3, 2006



Snow Skiing, Wife, Reading, Listening to Music, Working, My Kids, SCUBA, Teaching, Travel, Philosophy, Economics, Apologetics, and an occasional Triathlon. BT Rawks!



Snow Skiing, Wife, Reading, Listening to Music, Working, My Kids, SCUBA, Teaching, Travel, Philosophy, Economics, Apologetics, and an occasional Triathlon. BT Rawks!

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