Depression

Understanding Depression Slideshow

Battling Depression

WebMD Live Events Transcript

An estimated 19 million American adults are living with major depression and most never seek treatment. Actress Lorraine Bracco, famous for her role as Tony Soprano's psychiatrist on the hit HBO series The Sopranos, was one of them. After a year of misery, she finally talked to her doctor and got the help she needed. She joined us to share her story on May 3, 2005.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR:
Welcome to WebMD live, Lorraine. Thank you for joining us today.

BRACCO:
Thank you for having me.

MODERATOR:
You talk about losing a year to depression. What do you think started your slide into depression ?

BRACCO:
Well, I wish I could give you one specific instance or moment, but I can't do that. In retrospect I describe it as being very insidious. You know something is not right but you really can't figure it out yourself.

I think that I went through a couple of very hard things. One big thing was that my daughter was sick and finally diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. That was very frustrating for me as a mother. I also went through a big custody battle and I went through Chapter 11 to figure out all my finances. And as things were starting to pull themselves together, meaning as everything was getting better in my life -- The Sopranos was doing really well and Stella was doing extremely well health-wise -- I was putting everything together and I could not understand why I was joyless.

At this juncture of my life everything was really, really going well. Why was I not jumping for joy? I finally just said to myself in the mirror, "There's something really wrong here."

A friend of mine about a year before had said to me, "Loraine, I think you should go and talk to someone, I think you should go on medication." I said, "No, I'll be fine, I just had a really bad week, things will be better. I'm exercising, I'm eating well, I'm getting into this yoga class." I said everything not to really deal with it. That's why I call it my lost year.

"I thought that with an antidepressant, I would stop feeling -- that I would never feel anything. I had every misconception about medication. I thought it was a happy pill and the next day I was going to feel great."

MODERATOR:
What was it that finally pushed you into acknowledging to yourself that it was something more than just being down?

BRACCO:
The length of time of not being happy. I felt stagnant. I felt that I was not moving forward. It was like I couldn't move, like I was in a vortex. And as I said, everything was going really well. Why wasn't I jumping for joy? Then I finally realized that something is really, really wrong here.

I called my friend and went to the doctor the next day. The doctor put me on medication.

I had 50 questions. I'm exaggerating about the 50, but I had tons of questions to ask. I was so misinformed about medication. I thought you would have to be on medication forever once you started an antidepressant. I thought that with an antidepressant, I would stop feeling -- that I would never feel anything. I had every misconception about medication. I thought it was a happy pill and the next day I was going to feel great.

So I went through all of those things with my doctor. He told me no, you're going to feel everything. No, you don't have to be on the medication forever. No, it's not a happy pill and it's not going to work tomorrow. He told me that I was going to have to wait about five or six weeks for the medication to kick in, which is exactly what happened for me. That medication changed everything for me. I was so grateful to go on medication.

MODERATOR:
Have you also done talk therapy?

BRACCO:
Absolutely. I did talk therapy at the same time.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I am a painter with chronic mild depression. I admire high-functioning artists who seem to find continuous success despite their condition. As an actress of your caliber, how do you function during your down phases? Are you able to work? Do you believe that you have lost artistic opportunities due to your depression?

BRACCO:
All of those questions are incredibly relative to being an artist. As an actor, all I do is use myself. How could I go on medication?

The medication did not dull me or stop me in any way. It lifted -- for me -- a heaviness that never belonged there in the first place. It allowed me to become the true woman, artist, and mother that I am.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Now that you're aware of what depression is like, can you look back in your life and see other times previously where perhaps you were battling depression and you just pushed it aside?

BRACCO:
I believe possibly that I had a bout with depression probably when I was younger and living in France. Looking back, I would say that, yes, there had been that other time.

Quick GuidePhysical Symptoms of Depression in Pictures

Physical Symptoms of Depression in Pictures

MEMBER QUESTION:
What was your day-to-day life like with depression?

BRACCO:
You know what -- I functioned. I just did everything without any happiness or joy; without having me.

"I was just, maybe I could say, like a walking zombie in a funny way. I mean, I did everything. I just did it without any life inside of me."

MODERATOR:
What was the reaction of those closest to you? You mentioned a friend who urged you to seek help. What was your family's reaction -- your daughter in particular? Was she aware of what you were going through?

BRACCO:
I think they all knew I was sad or wasn't fully myself. I'm usually a very fun, spirited kind of girl. So I would think that, yes, they missed that part of me. They are my children and they are going to love me no matter what, and I think every mom knows that.

One of the things that I read somewhere, in a pamphlet I believe, was you only have one chance to be a mother -- why do it depressed? That hit me, it hit the core of my being. And I agree with that.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Did you ever feel incapacitated at all about your illness?

BRACCO:
Incapacitated in what way? You mean like where I didn't get out of bed or I cried all the time? I didn't have that. I was just, maybe I could say, like a walking zombie in a funny way. I mean, I did everything. I just did it without any life inside of me.

MODERATOR:
The phrase "walking zombie" is interesting in light of the fact that, of course, you are an actress, and an actress depends on being able to express so many emotions. How did you manage to get through shooting The Sopranos that year?

BRACCO:
I just did.

MODERATOR:
Obviously very well; your portrayal of Dr. Melfi is fantastic. But how did you manage that?

BRACCO:
I don't know what to say more than that. I did it. I did it to the best of my ability. I had children to take care of. I knew I was on the road to recovery.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Did anyone else in your family suffer from mental illness?

BRACCO:
Not that I'm aware of.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Were you worried that your illness might affect your career in terms of producers being less willing to hire you if word got out?

BRACCO:
Do I think some people probably have or hold on to the stigma of depression? Probably -- but no way to know. Why go back and why care?

MODERATOR:
What are you looking forward to at this point?

BRACCO:
I feel like -- I was just 50, you know -- I feel like I'm a kid; I just started to live.

MEMBER QUESTION:
How did your depression affect your relationships with the people around you and those you love?

BRACCO:
I believe I wore my depression on my face. They knew it wasn't the Lorraine they used to know. They were sad for me, they knew that I wasn't all there. They knew I wasn't happy.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Did going through this depression and the talk therapy provide you any insight to playing your role as a psychiatrist on The Sopranos?

BRACCO:
Yes, but more important, it gave me insight to what kind of woman I really wanted to be in this lifetime.

MEMBER:
You were wonderful at hiding your depression.

BRACCO:
Aren't we all? That is one of the reasons why I've come out about this. Once you start to deal with it, life is much easier.

MEMBER QUESTION:
How did you get the most out of your therapy sessions, and are you still in therapy?

BRACCO:
I wrote all my questions down at night or whenever, during the week. Whenever I felt I wanted to talk about something, I wrote it down. I had a little book and wrote down things I wanted to talk about so when I got there I didn't say "Oh, I wanted to ask you about ... Now I can't remember."

MODERATOR:
That's always a good idea before seeing any physician.

BRACCO:
Absolutely. I never wasted a minute in there.

"I had anxiety when my daughter went to college and I became an empty nester; I had separation anxiety. I was sleepless. I was waiting. I was anxious all the time -- every day."

MEMBER:
I have been diagnosed with clinical depression and work every day; you know it's something you have to do and you do it. However, I'm constantly thinking that I'd rather be at home curled up in bed. I mistakenly thought it was because I was lazy.

MODERATOR:
Did you ever question yourself in that way before you sought therapy?

BRACCO:
All I know is that there are so many different symptoms of depression. There are so many different ways that people deal with depression. This is one of the reasons why I've come out and said to people "no, it's not that you're lazy -- there are reasons." Talk therapy and medication can help you. It's a terrible thing to have to suffer through.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I suffer from panic disorder and agoraphobia. Did you have trouble with anxiety of any kind while suffering from depression? I find I become depressed as a result of relapses and setbacks.

Quick GuidePhysical Symptoms of Depression in Pictures

Physical Symptoms of Depression in Pictures

BRACCO:
I had anxiety when my daughter went to college and I became an empty nester; I had separation anxiety . I was sleepless. I was waiting. I was anxious all the time -- every day. Finally after five or six weeks of that, I called the doctor and I said, "Something is wrong again."

Then I realized -- just in that one phone call -- that I was waiting for my daughter to come home. I was an empty nester.

MODERATOR:
How old were your children? You have one daughter?

BRACCO:
Two daughters; 26 and 19.

MODERATOR:
How old were they when you realized you were suffering from depression?

BRACCO:
Margo was already in college and I had Stella at home. It's really all been with Stella, and she was young.

MEMBER QUESTION:
It seems that there are so many people who suffer from mental illness, depression, bipolar and anxiety disorders. Did you find that despite this knowledge you still felt like you were the "old crazy one" amongst friends and family?

BRACCO:
Yes. I felt that it was only me, that nobody could really understand, and it wasn't even worth talking about.

I think that's also a big key -- when you feel that your family and your friends are sick of talking to you about it, it's a good clue to go talk to a doctor.

MODERATOR:
Did your co-workers notice what was going on with you and speak to you about it?

BRACCO:
Not really. It wasn't like I was working every single day on the set. But many of the people that I worked with on The Sopranos have been through therapy or are on medication. It was something that we all had, it was like we shared a kindred spirit.

MODERATOR:
That must have helped you get through it.

BRACCO:
Yes. It was kind of a relief in a way. It wasn't like I had to explain anything. They knew it; they had been there, they had done that. We all related to each other on that level -- without shame, without embarrassment.

"I really don't believe I tried to hide it, I just didn't realize that I was just existing instead of living."

MEMBER QUESTION:
I have clinical depression and am just getting over a major bout of depression. I need to return to work and I'm frightened. How do you get the courage to go on when you're dealing with depression?

BRACCO:
You've got to find that fire in your belly.

I used to tell everybody that I lived in Barnes & Noble at the self-help section. So much so that one time somebody asked me if I'd like a chair. In there I read a lot of books. I read one book when I was depressed that kind of screamed out to me. This book told me that it's OK to be depressed; it's a great time to look at yourself and figure out really who you are. Don't look at it as wasted time, look at it as a time to better yourself, know yourself better, and decide what you want to do and where you want to go with it. For some reason, that screamed out to me.

MODERATOR:
Loraine, we have a question from a father whose child was a Columbine survivor who then took his own life:

MEMBER QUESTION:
Do you have any comments on how people hide their depression and how someone might look for it? Did you try to hide your depression?

BRACCO:
No, I never really tried to hide it. I just didn't really know I was in it. I really don't believe I tried to hide it, I just didn't realize that I was just existing instead of living.

I want to say to this man that I'm so sorry. My heart is broken for him. I'll say a prayer tonight for his child.

MODERATOR:
It's very difficult for those on the outside looking in to try to understand what it's like for someone who is in the grip of depression. I believe that's one of the most valuable things that you can share with people is to try to give us some insight because those on the outside really don't know what you're going through and how we can help. I think that that's probably what that dad was asking. How could I have helped, what can we do for others? What would you suggest if someone wanted to help someone who was a friend or loved one who they suspected might be going through depression?

BRACCO:
I would, first thing I would say, get them under a doctor's care.

MODERATOR:
Do you feel the joy in your life again?

BRACCO:
Yes.

MODERATOR:
What was the first thing that you noticed that led you to believe you were on the road to recovery?

BRACCO:
Oh, it was very quick. Five or six weeks into the medication, I knew there was a big difference.

MODERATOR:
Are you still on your meds?

BRACCO:
I am not.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Most research suggests that people relapse when they go off antidepressants. I've found that to be true personally. You have not suffered that?

BRACCO:
Not yet, but there's always "around the corner." But I will never wait a year of my life to go and talk to the doctor.

"Take every avenue -- talk therapy, doctor, friends, family, reading -- everything. Take every avenue that is available today, and there are avenues available, to get better. You can't do it alone."

MODERATOR:
Do you have any other advice for someone suffering from depression?

BRACCO:
I think they need to really dig and be honest with themselves. Take every avenue -- talk therapy, doctor, friends, family, reading -- everything. Take every avenue that is available today, and there are avenues available, to get better. You can't do it alone.

Quick GuidePhysical Symptoms of Depression in Pictures

Physical Symptoms of Depression in Pictures

MODERATOR:
I want to thank you for being with us today, Loraine. You have been absolutely wonderful. We appreciate you sharing your story. You're feeling well these days?

BRACCO:
Great.

MODERATOR:
Feeling the joy?

BRACCO:
Yes, and I wish that for everyone.

MODERATOR:
How is filming coming on The Sopranos?

BRACCO:
We just started. The first script is good.

MODERATOR:
We're all excited and anxious to see you again as Dr. Jennifer Melfi. You're our favorite psychiatrist on TV and it's a wonderful series.

BRACCO:
Thank you.

MODERATOR:
Our thanks to Lorraine Bracco for joining us today. And thank you, members, for your great questions. I'm sorry we couldn't get to all of them. For more discussion on this topic, be sure to visit the WebMD message boards to ask questions of our online health professionals, and to share questions, comments, and support with other WebMD members.

This transcript was edited for clarity



©1996-2005 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Depression Newsletter

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

Reviewed on 5/4/2005 1:38:29 PM

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors