Depression in America: Linked to Unresolved Infant Medical Trauma?

In a recent article  ”Dosing Down” published in O Magazine, writer Robin Rinaldi states, “. . . nearly 23 percent of American women between the ages of 40 and 59 take antidepressants.” That’s a helluva lot of women. According to psychologist Dr. Bob Murray, “recent research has shown that men are actually just as likely to be depressed [as women], if not more so.” That’s a helluva lot of men. What’s going on here?  Why so much distress?

The answer is complex. This blog is not the forum to unravel all those threads. But what is important to note is that a good percentage of these folks, I’m sure, have depression due to unresolved infant trauma. It’s just not a subject that we talk much about. But there are those rare moments.

After dinner one evening, my friend’s husband and I were chatting. He asked me about my blog, so I told him about my infant surgery for pyloric stenosis, likely without anesthetic, and the years I spent depressed in my early twenties as a result. As I talked, he was leaning more and more forward and his facial expression was changing from interested to shocked. Next thing I knew, he was telling me about his inexplicable bouts of deep depression and the details of the surgery he had as an infant. It was astonishing. Fireworks were going off inside him, and I had the privilege of watching his sky light up with insight after insight.

One of my theories is that the rage a baby feels from an early medical assault is sublimated and unable to boil to the surface, and it doesn’t go away. The life-threatening situation takes precedence and, as Dr. Peter Levine puts it in his bookWaking the Tiger, we go into freeze mode since babies can’t defend themselves or run away. We cut ourselves off from our bodies and emotions in order to attend to the emergency but then don’t circle back to shake off the somatic shock and recover our connection to ourselves. Post-traumatic stress can result, which reminds me of another story.

I was teaching a unit in medical humanities at a community college when a student had the insight that the nightly crying of her infant might be due to the 6 attempted, and the one successful, spinal taps he had recently endured. When I asked her if he had gotten adequate pain control, she stated that she did not know. She had assumed  her baby was given an anesthetic. Don’t we all?  My mother certainly had.

The groundbreaking research revealing that newborns do feel pain (see my previous blog post) did not appear until 1987. There’s a whole lot of people out there who as infants were subjected to invasive medical procedures and/or surgeries without anesthesia and/or adequate pain control. (And it’s still going on!) Could this be one factor in the epidemic of depression that we see today?  Absolutely.

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