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The Olson Interviews on Depression

Depression - How To Know The Difference Between Normal Depression & Major Depression!
An Interview with Bob Olson author of Win The Battle and How To Beat Depression

In this interview, John Michaels interviews Bob on the subject of depression. This interview was excerpted from How To Beat Depression! A Private Interview / Seminar With Bob Olson, the new ebook for depression sufferers and their supporters.

John Michaels: Today we welcome Bob Olson, author of the book, Win The Battle: The 3-Step Lifesaving Formula To Conquer Depression And Bipolar Disorder. He is also the author of a new ebook, How To Beat Depression! A Private Interview / Seminar With Bob Olson. Bob has a strong message for people suffering with depression, and I’d like to jump right into our interview by asking: What is it that has you so fired up, Bob?

Bob Olson: Thanks, John. You’re right; I am fired up. Lately, I keep recognizing a dangerous message that the media is allowing to spread regarding depression, and I want to set the story straight. If one more magazine writer, radio talk show host or television news guest tells the public out of ignorance that we don’t need medication to overcome major depression, they should be sued for negligence. This message is both harmful and deadly. And because it’s propagated in the media, innocent depression sufferers are likely to believe it.

John Michaels: Wow, you are fired up. Okay then, tell us why this message is harmful and deadly.

Bob Olson: This ill-informed message is harmful because it pollutes the minds of innocent depression sufferers with false information that could prolong their suffering for months or years longer than necessary. And it is deadly because this misinformation could lead one down the wrong path that eventually leads to their suicide.

If anyone has been diagnosed with “Major” depression, “Clinical” depression or “Chronic” depression, then we are merely using different words for the same condition, and what I have to say is directed for your benefit. Even “Bipolar” depression falls into this category—the depression is the same. The only difference is that people with bipolar disorder also have symptoms of mania.

Here’s the thing, John. Too many people have suffered with their depression for months or years longer than necessary. Too many people have taken their lives in escape of their depression. Yet it is all preventable. Major depression can be quickly and successfully be treated with antidepressants. And in many cases, your suffering can stop in just two or three weeks. I’ve heard cases where people’s depression ended in only a week.

John Michaels: So are you saying that anyone with depression needs an antidepressant?

Bob Olson: Certainly not. That’s another issue in itself. There are a few doctors—more often general practitioners—who are too quick to write a prescription for someone who only has normal depression. These people do not need an antidepressant. They will usually overcome their depression in a few days to a few weeks, at most. And this is certainly why so many people, including those in the media, are confused.

John Michaels: Can you explain the two types of depression for us so we aren’t confused?

Bob Olson: It’s important to know the difference between the type of depression that every human being is used to dealing with, known as Normal or Reactive depression, and the depression caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, known as Clinical depression (aka chronic or major depression). I call this “Chemical” depression.

Normal Depression, or the depression that everyone is used to dealing with, is often triggered by an event or circumstance in which you react to emotionally, such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or the breakup of a relationship. This type of depression is psychological  because you are emotionally “reacting” to something that has happened. Hence, the term “Reactive” depression.

A reactive depression will normally go away on its own within a few days to a few weeks. No medication or treatment is usually necessary. The person will grieve the death of the loved one or the loss of the relationship, or he will likely find another job and move on. There will be emotions to deal with and adjustments to make, but the person is generally not debilitated by the event, at least not for very long. At most, he may require some talk therapy.

Clinical / Chemical Depression is more serious. The depression that doctors call “clinical” depression (major, chronic), and what I like to call “chemical” depression, is the depression that is triggered by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Hence, the term “Chemical” depression. This is a biological disorder of the brain, but it has psychological symptoms. This type of depression need not follow any sad, stressful or upsetting event; it can kick in for no apparent reason at all other than a change in one’s brain chemicals.

People who suffer with clinical (chemical) depression find they have little, if any, control over their emotions and moods. Since there are no obvious triggers for their depressions, it is not possible to avoid them. And since one cannot mentally control their brain chemicals—it requires medication—it is impossible to “heal” this depression with counseling or self-help techniques alone.

What makes clinical (chemical) depression all the more confusing for people is that events and circumstances can trigger a depression the same way it does for people who suffer with reactive depression. In this way, the death of a loved one or loss of a job might cause this person to become depressed in the normal, reactive manner; but then the reactive depression triggers a chemical reaction in the brain that turns this reactive depression into a chemical (clinical) depression. At this point, the person who has a predisposition to chemical depression finds himself unable to overcome the depression that was initially triggered by the death, job loss or relationship breakup.  

click here to order the Ebook/Seminar now on our secure server

John Michaels: All right, so a reactive depression is triggered in reaction to an event or circumstance in your life, and a chemical depression is triggered by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Correct?

Bob Olson: That’s absolutely correct.

John Michaels: Furthermore, for people who are susceptible to chemical imbalances in the brain, a reactive depression can sometimes turn into a chemical depression. In these cases, the person’s brain chemicals do not return to normal after the reactive depression, and the depression continues for more than a few weeks. Is this correct?

Bob Olson: Right again. And there is a major sign that helps you know if your depression is reactive or chemical: When a depression exists for most of the day and nearly every day, and it lasts for more than a few weeks, and certainly if it has extended over a period of months, you are likely dealing with a chemical (clinical, major, chronic) depression.

John Michaels: Excellent, that’s very clear now. Can you explain why different names are used? Wouldn’t it be easier just to use one name for each?

Bob Olson: Yes. The term “Normal Depression” is just a layman’s term. Doctor’s will better understand the term “Reactive Depression,” as most people confuse their normal depressions with their chemical depressions.

And the term “Chemical Depression” is really my term. I use it because I think it best describes what causes this type of depression—a chemical imbalance in the brain. However, doctors are more likely to call this type of depression a “Clinical Depression,” a “Major Depression” or even a “Chronic Depression.”

John Michaels: So how does it benefit people to understand the difference between reactive and chemical depression?

Bob Olson: The purpose to understanding all this is that reactive depression and chemical depression are treated differently, so you need to know what type of depression you have in order to know how to treat it. If you need treatment at all with reactive depression, you’ll go to a counselor for talk therapy (counseling). But chemical (clinical) depression will be treated with medication—antidepressants—in most cases.

With that said, oftentimes, people suffering with what appears to be a normal, reactive depression later find out that their depression is, in fact, caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Yet, the reason they did not know earlier was due to their lack of knowledge about clinical (chemical) depression. It’s very easy to mistaken the two.

I know that when I was growing up, I was dealing with chemical depressions long before I was ever diagnosed. I was diagnosed at age 27 but can trace depressions all the way back to 3rd grade. And it is common for people with chemical depression to blame their symptoms on events and circumstances in their life, as if they were normal depressions.

For instance, while in my twenties, I blamed my gut-wrenching sadness on law school. I didn’t know I was suffering with chemical (clinical) depression, but I knew I was unhappy. And since most of my waking hours were spent either going to law school or studying for it, it was the most obvious source of my unhappiness at which I could place blame.

So I quit school. Unfortunately, a few months later, I still felt terribly unhappy (that’s how I defined all my depressive symptoms at the time), so I knew it wasn’t law school that had been causing it. That was actually the first major signal for me that I might be dealing with some disorder. It took another nine months to finally seek help from a doctor, but it was the beginning.

I wish I had come across an interview like this one. Maybe I would have been diagnosed months earlier.

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John Michaels: Good point. Good point. I know I’m learning a lot already. Now one question that comes to mind when you use the term “chemical” is that this type of depression sounds biological rather than psychological. I think you mentioned that. Is this true?

Bob Olson: Very perceptive, John. Few people ever get that. A most important fact that people need to learn is that chemical depression is not a psychological disorder, but rather, a biological disorder. While there are psychological symptoms that result from these biological, chemical imbalances in the brain, the true cause of the suffering related to these disorders is physiological (physio), not psychological. 

This means that to treat these disorders one needs to balance the chemicals in their brain. If you balance these chemicals, your debilitating symptoms will go away. And while it can sometimes be difficult to find the right treatment to balance brain chemicals, this is an important distinction for patients, their supporters and society to understand because of the myths, misunderstandings and stigma associated with these disorders.

To further my point, let’s compare depression to another biological disorder: diabetes. Diabetes is a chemical imbalance in the pancreas. This biological disorder also has psychological symptoms, some very similar to depression, yet no one is confusing it as a psychological illness. Instead, the psychological symptoms are perceived for what they are—symptomatic results of a physiological (biological) imbalance.

I stress this point for three reasons. One, I stress it so that people understand why it is necessary to take medication in order to balance the chemicals in their brain. At this point in time, there is no known treatment that is more effective and consistent for clinical depression—not talk therapy, not natural herbs, nothing.

Two, the reason I make a point to explain that clinical depression is biological is so you understand that your disorder is treatable. If your disorder were a personality issue or character flaw—if there were such a thing—it would be a psychological issue. Psychological issues require counseling, sometimes leading to months or years of therapy. But your disorder is physiological (listen to that word carefully, “physio” like physical). Clinical depression is a chemical imbalance in one of your organs—your brain. So all you have to do is balance those chemicals with the proper medication and you have treated the disorder so that your symptoms and symptomatic behavior disappear.

Three, I stress this point so that people understand that they are not weak, crazy, slow or psychologically impaired. They simply have a biological, biochemical disorder that causes some mental impairments. Yet, once again, this disorder can be successfully treated so that these symptomatic impairments are eliminated. I know because that is exactly what happened to me.

To illustrate what I mean about eliminating the chemically imbalanced impairments, let me use an example from my own story. When I was depressed, my depression caused me to be socially withdrawn, among other symptoms, even socially phobic to some extent. This meant that I no longer enjoyed going to parties, I no longer enjoyed having guests at our home, I didn’t even like answering the telephone. This is partially why I was disabled from working for almost five years—well, that and the fact that I was sleeping an average of eighteen hours a day.

Nevertheless, when I finally found a medication that eliminated my symptoms, I wasn’t “just” socializing again, I was actually partying the very first day the depression lifted. And that is not an exaggeration by any means. I went to my cousin’s wedding and partied late into the night. Instantly, my social avoidance and anxiety was gone. And within four weeks—once I was sure that the depression wasn’t coming back—I went out job hunting and got a job on the very first day. One month after that, I was working twelve-hour days in an office with one hundred people, carrying a great deal of responsibility with my employer’s top clients. And I did it all with enthusiasm, joy and absolutely no depression—no exaggeration.

That is the difference that takes place when you balance the chemicals in your brain. It’s dramatic, to say the least.

I can’t stress enough, John, that clinical depression is biological, not psychological. If it were psychological, I never would have been able to overcome my social anxiety so quickly. Yet by simply taking a medication that worked successfully, all my depressive psychological symptoms disappeared along with my biological symptoms. And in case you are wondering, I never underwent psychotherapy (talk therapy), so counseling was never a factor. It was the medication, alone, that balanced the chemicals in my brain and freed me from the torturous confines of my brain disorder. And it has continued to keep me free for over 11 years (since September 17th, 1994).

John Michaels: So this is why you’re so upset. People are sending out the message that depression can be overcome without antidepressants, but that’s only true for “Reactive” depression, not major depression.

Bob Olson: Exactly. And I’ll give you a little hint of how you can tell if you might be dealing with major depression. If you’ve suffered with depression in the past that lasted several weeks or months, then it went away, and now it’s back again, there’s are really high probability that you are dealing with a major depression—not a normal, reactive depression.

Chemical depression (major, clinical, chronic) is what we call “recurring.” This means that it repeats—it comes and goes. This is different for different people, but you generally know if you’ve suffered with major depression in the past. For some people, you might only have a depressive episode every five years. For others, you might have one a year, or even two a year. Many people fall into a depression around October or November every single year. For others it’s every Fall and Spring. And for others, Summer is when their depression returns.

What’s important here is simply knowing that you’ve had depressions in the past. If you have, there’s a likelihood that you’re dealing with “recurring” depressions, which means your depression is chemical (due to a chemical imbalance in the brain).

John Michaels: That might sound scary to some people.

Bob Olson: Sure, nobody wants to hear that they have an illness of any type. I wouldn’t want to learn that I have diabetes or epilepsy or asthma either, but denying them isn’t going to make them go away. Just like those disorders, if you don’t properly treat your clinical depression, you’re going to continue to suffer from it. And the good news is that this type of depression is treatable. Millions of people have successfully ended their depression thanks to antidepressants.

John Michaels: So does clinical depression mean that the depression is really bad, really severe?

Bob Olson: No, there is a chemical depression called dysthymia that is basically a mild chemical depression. In other words, the symptoms never accelerate to such severe depths that the depression sufferer can’t work or function normally. However, he or she is plagued by this constant low-level depression that slows them down, diminishes their energy and motivation, limits their ability to concentrate, and causes them to be over-sensitive, feel less confidence and have a lower self-esteem. Dysthymia may be less disabling, but it is just as destructive. It affects your relationships, your career, and your overall enjoyment of life. Yet, once again, mild depression like this is easily treatable.

John Michaels: So what is the message you’re trying to send? What would you like to say to offset the harmful and deadly messages you spoke of earlier?

Bob Olson: I’d like to tell people the truth, which is that close to 20 million people in this country suffer with some form of clinical depression, and that no amount of therapy, herbs or self-help bullsquat is going to make it go away. The only proven treatment for clinical depression, major depression, chronic depression and even bipolar depression is medication. And if you think you might suffer with depression of any sort, it would be wise to see a psychiatrist (a medical doctor who specializes in the mood disorders of depression and bipolar disorder) to determine if your depression is “Reactive” or “Chemical.”

Now all of this requires a much more detailed explanation, but it is outside the confines of this interview to provide the detail necessary. I do explain all of this in detail, however, in my ebook.


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Bob Olson is the editor of OfSpirit.com, GriefAndBelief.com and BestPsychicMeduims.com. However, due to his own 5-year chronic depression that ended in 1994, and his deep compassion for those who suffer from depression or bipolar disorder, Bob has been teaching people how to beat depression since 1999 via his books, websites, lectures & seminars. In 1999 he released his first book on the subject titled Win The Battle: The 3-Step Lifesaving Formula to Conquer Depression & Bipolar Disorder. His newest program (2006) is his ebook titled, How To Beat Depression. For more info, visit his website: www.HowToBeatDepression.com.


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