The Blues Brothers

Humorist Art Buchwald, Sophie’s Choice author William Styron, and “Sixty Minutes” co-anchor Mike Wallace have an understanding among themselves: if their depression ever returns, they will not keep it a secret.

“If you talk to people, it helps you,” said the seventy-eight-year-old Buchwald. “You’ve got to have some backup–family or friends.”

The three distinguished writers and journalists, who are close friends and neighbors on Martha’s Vineyard, spoke in Atlanta about their depressions at “An Evening with the Blues Brothers,” co-sponsored by Emory’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

Styron, seventy-eight, said he found himself walking the beach near his home, totally lost. “It was inconceivable pain,” he says. “I was completely adrift.”

“You’re lower than a snake’s belly,” said the eighty-five-year-old Wallace. “You can’t sleep, you can’t eat, and you’re ashamed. That’s the worst part because you don’t want to tell anyone how you are feeling.” His advice for others who believe they may be depressed? “Get thee to a psychiatrist.”













































































































The Mean Disease
Emory’s Fuqua Center helps combat depression in the elderly

The first time severe depression settled onto William R. King Jr. ’38C-’41M, he was a young doctor in Griffin, Georgia. The year was 1956, and King was building a practice with his two younger brothers, also doctors.

“I was practicing surgery, working very hard day and night, and was under tremendous amounts of stress with no outlets,” he says.

King (left) underwent psychoanalysis and within six months his depression was gone. But, like an unwelcome acquaintance, it returned almost fifty years later when King was eighty-three, sapping his energy, taking away his appetite, and stealing his enthusiasm.

“Everything was an effort, even walking or thinking,” he says. “Depression is a mean disease.”

When Virginia Allen, of Atlanta, started withdrawing from her usual activities and going into seclusion over a period of several months, she couldn’t figure out what was wrong. “I spent all day sitting in a recliner,” she says.

“I thought, well, a seventy-six-year-old woman ought to walk with a cane and sit in a chair.”

As many as two million of the country’s thirty-five million seniors, age sixty-five and above, suffer from major depression, and five million have depressive symptoms such as lethargy, lack of interest in normal activities, or sleeplessness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Unfortunately, depression often goes underdiagnosed in the elderly, says Eve Byrd, associate director of the Fuqua Center for Late-Life Depression at Emory’s Wesley Woods. Only a small percentage receive treatment from mental health professionals.

“People think, ‘Oh, I’m just getting old.’ Or, ‘I’m not sad, I just don’t have any energy.’ Or, ‘I just have too much to do and I can’t concentrate.’ Depression can be numbing,” says Byrd. “Also, people of this generation believe you should be able to ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps.’ They aren’t used to relying on anyone but themselves. But you can’t just snap yourself out of depression.”

The Fuqua Center seeks to improve this inequity. Working with health professionals, clergy, and caregivers, the center provides a full spectrum of services, from in-patient to day treatment programs to group therapy. The center emphasizes community outreach, conducting educational programs at assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and senior communities.

Atlanta businessman J.B. Fuqua, whose donations established the Fuqua Center in 1999 as well as an academic chair in late-life depression in 2003, suffered from the illness for much of his life.

“Mr. Fuqua has made a huge difference in our ability to reach out to–and help–a large group of elderly persons who have traditionally suffered in silence,” says William McDonald, associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Fuqua Center (at left with Eve Byrd, associate director of the Fuqua Center). McDonald holds the J.B. Fuqua Chair in Late-Life Depression.

More than fourteen thousand seniors have been served since the center started, including King and Allen, whose depressions lifted almost immediately with proper treatment.

Now seventy-nine, Allen golfs regularly and walks three miles a day. “Life is once again really and truly a joy,” she says. She attributes the difference to the Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT) treatments she received at Wesley Woods.

“ECT is not our first-line treatment, but it is a very effective treatment for depression,” Byrd says. “There are a lot of preconceived notions about ECT, but it’s very safe.”

ECT, which involves passing an electric current through the brain, has been used for decades on patients with severe depression or mania. The treatment appears to trigger the release of neurotransmitters, which leads to an antidepressant effect. With sedation, muscle relaxants, and IV fluids, the procedure is far less intense than in the past, and has minimal side effects, although it can result in short-term memory loss.

King, now eighty-seven, was treated with counseling and medication. He has resumed playing golf twice a week, walking two miles a day, and tending to Robbin Hills, his seven-hundred acre farm just outside of Griffin, Georgia. He has returned to leading roles in his church, community, and charities like the Salvation Army and the Boys and Girls clubs. He and his wife, Mariella, have traveled to Norway, South Africa, Australia, and France.

“I have a busy, happy life. I’m happy within my skin,” he says. “The more I give to life, the more it gives to me.”–M.J.L.

For more information, call the Fuqua Center at 877.498.0096, or visit the Web site at The Eldercare Locator, a nationwide toll-free service, is also available to help older adults and caregivers find local services, at 800.677.1116.

J. B. Fuqua’s depression
led him to help others

Atlanta businessman John Brooks Fuqua is, by all accounts, a consummate deal-maker and supremely confident man.

His Fortune 500 company, Fuqua Industries–a conglomerate of businesses as diverse as Snapper Power Equipment Company, Pier 1, and a savings and loan–at one point had annual sales of two billion dollars.

Despite his success and personal fortune, however, J.B. Fuqua was sometimes immobilized by unpredictable bouts of hopelessness and despair, which could last from days to months.

Since publicly acknowledging his illness, Fuqua has given more than four million dollars to promote awareness of depression and remove the stigma.

“People have said that my coming out and saying I had depression caused them to want to seek some help themselves,” said Fuqua, now eighty-five. “And that’s what I had hoped to accomplish.”–M.J.L.




© 2004 Emory University