Siepmann suffers from severe treatment-resistant depression, or TRD. It sprang upon him 12 years ago, when he was in his mid-30s. He had no known family history of the disease, was a successful family practitioner with a happy family, good marriage and st March 26, 2007
Man battles treatment-resistant depression
By Krista B. Ledbetter
of The Northwestern
A good week for Jim Siepmann is when he can make it a couple of days without wanting to die.
And that’s a significant improvement.
Siepmann suffers from severe treatment-resistant depression, or TRD. It sprang upon him 12 years ago, when he was in his mid-30s. He had no known family history of the disease, was a successful family practitioner with a happy family, good marriage and stable finances. That’s why it took him by such surprise.
“The only reason I knew something was wrong was because I was crying for no reason and I couldn’t stop. It was like a faucet,” said Siepmann, who had to give up his medical practice in 2000 because of the progression of his depression.
At his lowest points, Siepmann said, he became catatonic — never leaving the bed, unable to speak. He hardly had energy to dress, shower or shave. His medications — in multiple doses and combinations — weren’t working. He came close to suicide more than once, but, as he said, never pulled the trigger.
“On a scale of one to 10, with one being dead and 10 being normal, I hovered at about one or two,” he said. “Severe depression is painful. There’s just an ache in your brain that is so overwhelming.”
Suicide, he said, would not have been an act intended to hurt anyone, but rather to rid him of pain.
“I’d rather break my arm every hour than to have this pain,” he said.
However, last May of last year, Siepmann underwent a medical procedure for vagus nerve stimulation, which is a treatment for depression that uses a stimulator to send electric impulses to the left vagus nerve in the neck through a lead under the skin. VNS has been shown to affect blood flow to different parts of the brain, and affect neurotransmitters including serotonin and norepinephrine, which are implicated in depression.
Siepmann called the treatment a miracle. And though the ,000 procedure wasn’t covered by his insurance, Siepmann said it was worth it. Without the VNS, he said, his depression would have killed him.
David Murry, a licensed marriage and family therapist for ThedaCare Behavioral Health, said men are often under-diagnosed for depression for a variety of reasons. As a doctor, Siepmann was able to recognize the signs, but many men, Murry said, feel like they have to “suck it up.”
“It’s really a cultural issue,” Murry said. “A lot of times doctors miss it because men don’t talk as openly about it.”
Women, he said, are much more receptive to acknowledging depression and accepting its treatment.
“I think more men are starting to be open to the idea, but I think we have a lot of work to do,” Murry said. “We, as a culture, need to give men permission to ask for help.”
For Siepmann, he’s got a wife and five children to help him through.
“They’re enough of a reason to live,” he said.
His wife of almost 25 years, Vicky Siepmann, said her husband’s battle has been a struggle for the family, as it is with any disease. But family support has made a difference in his treatment.
“It’s so important for depression to be seen as a disease, or an illness, much like cancer,” she said. “We need to support him and make sure he’s getting the treatment he needs.”
It was more difficult to explain Siepmann’s illness to the couple’s youngest children, as opposed to their oldest, but Vicky Siepmann said the children have adjusted to the differences in their father’s life.
“Once they realized that things weren’t going to change, and mom and dad weren’t going to change, and that everything would be the same, that was the most important thing for them to understand,” she said.
VNS wasn’t a cure for Siepmann, and he still struggles. But he said he owes his life to the treatment. Shaving and showering are still what he calls “Olympic events,” and he said he gets about one good hour a day.
“A good day is when I can be up for an hour or so without having to lay down,” he said. “But if there’s ever been a survivor, it’s me.”
Krista B. Ledbetter: (920) 426-6656 or email@example.com.