Blog / ABC's 'Private Practice' Storyline Takes on Depression and the Elderly
Like every Thursday night at 10pm I tuned into one of my favorite juicy medical dramas “Private Practice.” Charlotte and Cooper were finally getting married and I was not going to miss the nuptials. Wedding bells aside, another storyline caught my attention in this episode titled “Something Old, Something New.” It was something real that, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, affects 6.5 million senior Americans -- depression.
Here’s the storyline:
Naomi visits her patient Marian, an elderly woman residing in assistant living. Normally Marian dresses nice, but during this visit Naomi notices something different. Marian’s hair is uncombed and she’s wearing frumpy clothes. The curtains are drawn and her mood is low. I mean really low. She’s lonely. Her husband of 50 years died some years ago and her Scrabble buddy recently passed away. Dr. Fife, who is relentlessly pursuing Naomi’s love, sits in on the session. He also notices Marian’s behavior and tells her nonchalantly she’s depressed and a neurosurgeon could “zap the sadness out” with an operating procedure called anterior singulotomy. This entails the surgeon operating on the part of the brain that causes depression.
Dr. Fife’s disregard for Marian’s feelings irked me. He tells her a surgeon can “zap” away her sadness as if her mind is some kind of arcade game. She passes on the surgery and counseling. Dr. Fife is not a psychologist but his insensitivity reminded me of one of the reasons why some people who need therapy don’t go. People want to be treated humanely when they seek help. Opening up to friends and family about your mental health condition isn’t easy, let alone a stranger. Dr. Fife just saw Marian’s problem as something that could be resolved with a knife, but he missed the whole picture. He didn’t recognize her feelings and that she deserved respect. This is evident in a scene where he’s discussing her condition with other doctors who disagree with pushing her into the procedure. “That’s the depression talking, clouding her judgment and making her incapable of an informed decision,“ Dr. Fife said about Marian’s objection to the surgery. Thank goodness for the psychologist Sheldon who checked him, “Depression doesn’t necessarily make someone incompetent.” I would add that her suffering with a mental health condition doesn’t justify in taking away her power.
The episode packed a lot of issues into one storyline: Surgical treatment versus counseling for depression, doctor insensitivity, patient rights and their voice. I especially liked how the show addressed elderly depression and seniors sometimes feeling a loss of control over their lives once they become dependent. I imagine that’s difficult when you’ve spent most of your life as an adult and people younger than you are trying to help. “You want me to talk to some stranger half my age and tell him I’m sad and listen to him try to put things in a perspective he doesn’t have?!” Marian responded when Naomi recommended counseling. Well, Marian didn’t get the surgery or therapy. In a true Hollywood ending, Dr. Fife actually opened his ears and became her confidant. Hopefully their heart to heart will encourage her to sit down with a therapist. Marian just needed to be heard, like many of of us do.