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Richard Biggs. | Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media









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Richard Biggs. | Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media ptmet

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Help is available

National Alliance on Mental Illness — Porter County: 764-2958 or visit www.namiporter
co.org

National Alliance on Mental Illness — Lake County: 886-4335 or 887-0629

Regional Mental Health Center: 736-7200 or (888) 398-7050, or visit www.regional
mentalhealth.org.

Porter-Starke Services Inc. in Valparaiso: 531-3500

Updated: December 22, 2012 6:24AM



Richard Biggs has a disease and, similar to thousands of other region residents with the same affliction, it flares up around the holidays.

The 1983 Portage High School graduate has been battling the quiet, lonely disease of depression for more than a dozen years. Like relentless waves crashing against an eroding beach.

“My life has slowly been destroyed,” the long-time registered nurse told me.

Those emotional waves have been dulled by various medications, temporarily subdued by mental health treatments and calmed by years of counseling. But they always return with a vengeance, causing Biggs to lose jobs, lose relationships and almost lose his life to suicide attempts.

“I have lost everything to this disease, yet not enough is written on this subject. I find it nearly criminal,” he said.

I hear this repeatedly from others who suffer from the far-reaching tentacles of depression, especially around Thanksgiving, which gives us time to pause and reflect on our lives.

What better time than now to readdress this sensitive, still-stigmatized topic, and offer a reminder that Biggs, and others, are not alone. More importantly, that help is out there.

“It’s been the toughest year of my life. I am unemployed. I have very few friends left. No insurance to cover my medications, and I face a legal battle in the courts,” said Biggs, who also lost his home and now lives above his parents’ garage in Porter. “But I don’t look for sympathy and I don’t want a handout from anyone.”

Biggs has been labeled an addict, an alcoholic and a malcontent — all symptoms of his depression, he says.

“I’m not the only one. Millions of people suffer from this disease. Turn on the TV and count the number of commercials you see for antidepressants.”

“Everyone says, ‘Here, take a pill,’ but as I can attest, it doesn’t always work,” he noted.

Dealing with depression is like walking around with a constant toothache each and every day.

“It affects you physically as well as emotionally. My body aches and I don’t sleep,” explained Biggs, who has been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and anxiety disorder with an 80 percent chance of a relapse.

“I walk around as if in a dream watching the world go by without me.”

People don’t understand

Major (clinical) depression is a mood state that goes well beyond feeling blue or sad, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness — Porter County. It’s a life-long medical illness that affects a person’s thoughts, feelings, behavior and overall health.

Such clinical depression affects 5 percent to 10 percent of Americans, though numbers are unclear because it’s still considered a shameful condition.

“We have support groups that meet twice a month for those who suffer from a mental illness, as well as for their family members and friends,” said Barbara Layton, the organization’s director. “At any given meeting, three quarters of those attending have suffered from depression at one time or another.”

Depression does not have a single cause, but usually a blitz of multiple factors or triggers. It involves both nature and nurture, your genetics and your environment, with little rhyme or reason.

“It is as if I am being punished for having a disease,” Biggs said emphatically.

Society simply doesn’t understand the effects of depression, sufferers such as Biggs say, especially compared to other “real diseases” such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease.

Data shows that one in five people surveyed still believe depression is a legitimate sign of “personal weakness.”

“Because of this, people with depression feel embarrassed to seek treatment,” said Biggs, who is now on a new round of medication and with a new counselor.

His “treatment” now also involves court-ordered classes for alcohol dependency, among other addiction-type classes. At this point, Biggs is even considering electroshock therapy, which sounds barbarian to laymen such as myself.

“I am told it is working wonders but I have no insurance so it’s not an option,” Biggs admitted.

Biggs’ personal story is much more complex than what I’ve mentioned in this column, including a marriage to his “soul mate,” his dream job and a beautiful home in the Arizona desert.

Depression followed him there and drowned everything in its wake, he said.

“I had a life at one time, but that life is becoming more and more of a distant memory.”



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