Rhonda Robinson Beale is a psychiatrist and chief medical officer at Blue Cross of Idaho. Before taking part in a Zócalo/UCLA event titled “How Can We Reverse the Depression Epidemic?” at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in downtown Los Angeles, she spoke in the green room about changing attitudes toward depression, and how to help serious mental patients readjust to life outside an institution.
Is it true that the winter holiday season can be an especially hard time for people with depression.
Yes, it is a real phenomenon. Being in a health plan, I get the opportunity to look at stats as they relate to hospitalization and suicide attempts. You have higher rates of hospitalization and suicide attempts at this time. It’s not so much at Christmas as New Year’s, because people are looking at starting a new year with the same problems that they’ve had before. So this is when it becomes very depressing.
Do you have any suggestions for people in this kind of situation?
The type of advice I usually give people is to get involved with someone. Many times it can be getting involved with a volunteer organization, the L.A. Mission for example, getting involved with soup kitchens or organizations that help children. Something that gives a sense of being worthwhile and being a part of something. It’s those two basic feelings that really help us human beings to feel comfortable, feel loved, and to feel whole. Many times, people who are depressed become very isolated, feel as though they have no purpose, and it’s those types of feelings that are very detrimental to them having hope in their life. And it’s when one loses hope that suicidality comes up.
Deinstitutionalization of the mentality ill has been going on for several decades. Is there still the same concern about the consequences of this as there was when it started happening in a number of states?
There was a lot of fear that people who had been in institutions for so many years would have a lot of difficulty acclimating to the outside world. When the statistics did show is that some people didn’t do well: There were some who were suicidal, there were some who ended up back in jail. What it really showed us is that we must slowly but surely help people adjust to being outside an institution. I think the most successful ones are where people went to small group homes, and they were able to work with a small group together, and the staff would work with the individuals and help them acclimate to the outside world.
Are we becoming more able to talk openly about depression?
I think we are. I think the fact that more celebrities are coming out and talking about it makes it more normal for individuals, and people are able to talk about it more freely. There still are certain pockets where it’s harder, and particularly with substance abuse disorders, and pockets such as women using alcohol or drugs. There’s still that negative attitude because all this affects the unborn fetus. But I’ve worked in those situations before, and when the staff are able to understand that their help and support will help that woman and that unborn child, it helps to start changing those attitudes.