By Claire Walla
The perfect storm is a combination of fierce weather conditions, that, when taken individually, are perfectly manageable for any nautical ace. It is the impact of their combined force that puts helpless sailors on their knees reciting Hail Mary’s.
Some have described depression in a similar way. And when the conditions are perfect, there is very little one can do in their wake.
It remains unclear whether the reported suicide of former UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Denice Denton this past summer was the result of an ongoing state of depression or not. However at the time of her death, two antidepressant medications, Zoloft and Effexor, were found in her system.
Faye Crosby, chair of the Academic Senate and a professor of psychology at UCSC, believes Denton’s suicide was, in part, the result of a state of depression.
"It was a bad confluence of a number of things," Crosby said, and in the end, "the boat got tossed in the sea."
Though Crosby confirmed Denton suffered through an unfortunate sequence of events while Chancellor, she believes there was little anyone at UCSC could have done to prevent it.
"Denice was my friend as well as my colleague, and [during the academic year] there were some indications that she was experiencing problems," she said. But, Crosby continued, "I did everything that you would do to be friendly to somebody… and I observed everybody in the Chancellor’s office being as nice and kind to her as they could have been.
According to the World Health Organization, depression is currently the fourth most disabling illness worldwide. And by the year 2020, it is projected to be the second leading cause of disability in the world.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is used to protect those who suffer from depression in the workplace. But according to Claudia Center, senior staff attorney at the Employment Law Center of the Legal Aid Society in San Francisco, the ADA "makes it very difficult-not impossible-but very difficult to show depression as a disability [covered by the law]."
Those in California are lucky, however, because the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act directly protects people with depression from unfair discrimination in the workplace.
But like any disability, protective measures are not enacted because of diagnosis or medical conditions; protection relies on whether or not a person can prove that they suffer from "limitation in a major life activity," Center said. It ultimately comes down to whether or not the person in question can function in the workplace.
Last spring, instead of attending UCSC’s ’06 graduation ceremonies, Denton checked herself into the Depression Center at Langley Porter Psychiatric Hospital in San Francisco.
Dr. Ricardo Munoz, Chief Psychologist at San Francisco General Hospital, explained the possible seriousness of a sickness like depression. "Depression has an impact way beyond the individual who’s suffering," he said. "It affects everyone in the family, and it has an impact on the workplace."
Depression, Munoz continued, can be a very delicate subject to approach. Unlike a scratch or a bruise, depression yields emotional wounds that take insight and careful observation to notice.
Munoz explained that there are various outward signs that can indicate depression.
In general, there is a downcast look to someone who is depressed. Usually, a person will become quieter, will speak more slowly, and even move more slowly. Others, he continued, become more agitated and jittery.
The common denominator here is the extreme nature of change: "Depression changes the regulation of the body, one way or the other," Munoz explained.
This change often causes emotional fragility in those suffering from depression, which is why offering help is never as simple as handing someone a Band-Aid.
Munoz explained that offering aid can be particularly difficult in work environments, where the nature of hierarchical structures creates a stream of communication that tends to flow from top to bottom, often leaving those at the bottom with salmon status.
"It can be very lonely at the top," Munoz said. "Even people in power need help sometimes," he added. "We’re all human beings after all."
Professor Crosby does not know for certain what caused the death of Chancellor Denton. But she does find comfort in knowing that Denton did her job well and in the best interest of the campus.
"She had some emotional problems that were difficult," Crosby said. "In hindsight we know that these emotional problems were much, much greater than any of us suspected. But even in that terrible state, she protected us."
Crosby noted that if Chancellor Denton had committed suicide just a week earlier, her death would have coincided with the 11 graduation ceremonies taking place on campus.
"Everybody who graduated would have had a twist in their heart for the rest of their life when they think back on their graduation ceremony. And I think at some level, instinctively, [Denton] knew that," she said. "But, maybe I just need to think that."