Dr. Deborah Serani is a go-to media expert on a variety of psychological issues. Her interviews can be found in ABC News, Newsday, Womens Health & Fitness, The Chicago Tribune, The Associated Press, and affiliate radio station programs at CBS and NPR, just to name a few. She is a ShareCare Expert for Dr. Oz, writes for Psychology Today, helms the “Ask the Therapist” column for Esperanza Magazine and has worked as a technical advisor for the NBC television show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. A licensed psychologist in practice over twenty years, Serani is also an adjunct professor at Adelphi University teaching courses in clinical disorders and treatment and is the author of the award-winning book “Living with Depression.”
Her latest book is Depression and Your Child: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers.
Visit her website at www.drdeborahserani.com.
Seeing your child suffer in any way is a harrowing experience for any parent. Mental illness in children can be particularly draining due to the mystery surrounding it, and the issue of diagnosis at such a tender age. Depression and Your Child gives parents and caregivers a uniquely textured understanding of pediatric depression, its causes, its symptoms, and its treatments. Author Deborah Serani weaves her own personal experiences of being a depressed child along with her clinical experiences as a psychologist treating depressed children.
Current research, treatments and trends are presented in easy to understand language and tough subjects like self-harm, suicide and recovery plans are addressed with supportive direction. Parents will learn tips on how to discipline a depressed child, what to expect from traditional treatments like psychotherapy and medication, how to use holistic methods to address depression, how to avoid caregiver burnout, and how to move through the trauma of diagnosis and plan for the future.
Real life cases highlight the issues addressed in each chapter and resources and a glossary help to further understanding for those seeking additional information. Parents and caregivers are sure to find here a reassuring approach to childhood depression that highlights the needs of the child even while it emphasizes the need for caregivers to care for themselves and other family members as well.
Can you tell us who or what was the inspiration behind your book?
Actually, my daughter was the inspiration for “Depression and Your Child: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers.” I wanted her to know about the biographical and biological threads of my life story and how it might impact hers. I grew up with depression and didn’t realize that I had an illness. Now as a clinician, I treat the very disorder I had as a child. Depression is a real medical illness. It can be set off by genetics and environment. And I wanted to teach her – and others – what aspects of depression to be mindful about.
Is this your first published book and if so, can you tell us your experiences in finding a publisher for it?
I knew that the self-help genre was a very marketable one – and decided to go without securing an agent. I wrote my completed book first… and then did my homework researching publishing houses. I sent a dozen queries out and was thrilled when half returned with an interest in my work as an author. My dilemma was a good one to have… narrowing which house would best serve my work as a writer. I decided to go with Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group. Now into my third book, I’m happy to say that I made a wonderful choice and feel wonderfully supported.
Where do you live and if I were coming to town, where would we go to talk books?
I live on Long Island, a fish shaped island that juts out of New York. I’d love to take you to a lovely local spot where we could sit outside by The Gold Coast, sip tea or something more decadent – and talk books, famous writers and all things literary!
When you’re not writing, what do you do to relax and have fun?
I adore doing nothing. I’m really, really good at it. And by nothing, I mean relaxing, reading, couch surfing or listening to music. My work life is very scheduled, so having fun involves not having a schedule and letting things unfold as they happen.
Do you make a living off your books or do you have another job?
I wish, but sadly no. In fact, when I got my first royalty check, I was like, “Where’s the beef?” Selling books is very hard work, and when one becomes a best seller it truly is a big, huge deal. For all of us other authors, the joy is in meeting those who’ve read our work at book signings or reading a really lovely review. Or receiving the check that comes twice a year from the sales of your book. For me, the self-satisfaction of completing the writing process and seeing the book as the final outcome is the real thrill. My job that allows me to write is one of psychologist. I have a practice where I work with children and adults. I also teach at a local university and serve as a go-to media expert of psychological issues.
In your opinion, what makes a good book great?
The writer’s voice is what gives me butterflies in my belly. I love a good story, but when prose is beautiful, rich and flows… ah, there’s nothing like that.
Psychologists tell us the thing we think we’d most like to grow up to be when we’re ten years old is our avocation. What did you want to be?
I wanted to be a teacher when I was ten years old. And in many ways, that’s exactly what I am. Whether you see me as an author, a psychologist, a professor or a media expert, I’m teaching in all those capacities.
Can you give us a short excerpt from your book?
As a young girl, I always felt this looming sense of sadness. I remember feeling tired and sullen a good deal of the time growing up. When I was in school, I was quiet and kept to myself, but these feelings didn’t get much better when I was at home. Like Eeyore, the glum little donkey from the Hundred Acre Wood, I was known as a sad-sack to friends and family.
Piecing together my interior life along with school reports, medical history and my parents’ recollections, it’s easy to see now that I was a depressed child. I was very sensitive, cried easily, was frequently tired and irritable, prone to headaches and stomach aches too. And then there were the feelings of insecurity that plagued me wherever I went. I never felt good enough or smart enough, strong or pretty enough – so I preferred being alone than spending time with friends. I also struggled concentrating at school, constantly having to work hard to catch up to what was going on in the classroom – like my focus was moving at a slower pace than everyone else’s.
My depressive illness didn’t accompany my life as a big, dark cloud shrouding me in blackness. It was a silent partner – hazily clipping the edges of the light, subtly pressing itself against me in ways that made me complacent. Back then, I didn’t know I was depressed. I just thought everyone felt and thought the kinds of things I did. And no one – teachers, health professionals, friends or family – took notice of my depression back then either. Partly because children weren’t thought to experience clinical depression. And to another extent, because my behavioral and emotional presentations weren’t extreme, raising flags that I was a kid that needed looking after. I was a good, quiet kid that didn’t get in trouble.
But as I got older, my depressive symptoms intensified, challenging me to work harder to shake the negative feelings and physical fatigue. By then, I learned to mask them well, presenting a cheerful exterior publicly, while privately feeling sad. I’d force myself to keep social plans with friends, attended extra-help sessions after school to improve grades, and even joined sports teams as an antidote to my constant tiredness. Try as I might to fight the dimness of my mood and the distortions of my thoughts, I often ended up cancelling on friends, barely passed school subjects and quit every sports team before the season ended.
My negative and corrosive thinking made it hard for me to feel hopeful or happy, and soon I descended into a perilous despair. At age 19, my junior year of college, a staggering sadness seized, spiraling me into a hopeless frame of mind. Within weeks, I stopped studying, then stopped going to my classes altogether. I remained in bed nearly all day, the depression siphoning out my soul, creating for me a featureless, numbing existence. Soon my judgment clouded and I lost my sense of thinking clearly. With each passing day, I struggled to keep away thoughts and urges to hurt myself. Unable to control these internal pressures, my emotional collapse lead to a plan to die by suicide with a loaded hand gun. Luckily, my self-destructive act was interrupted and I received immediate medical care.
Through the life saving interventions, I came to learn that as a young girl I’d been living with Dysthymic Disorder and that it escalated into a Major Depressive Episode. Having both these disorders was called a double depression, and it wouldn’t be the last time that would challenge me. Some 15 years later, I found myself in dire straits again, but knowing what risk factors to look for helped save me from plummeting into what could have been another life threatening situation. I was a trained clinician and realized what was going on. I kept an eye on my mental state just after returning home with my healthy, newborn beautiful daughter, Rebecca. I started noticing how I was feeling weepy, anxious, and irritable. Thinking it might be the radical hormone changes known as baby blues, I gave myself some time before checking things out with the doctor. Within months, those symptoms worsened, with negative thoughts, despairing feelings and self-destructive ideas plaguing me once again. There was no hesitation in my mind that I was experiencing another depressive episode – this time it was with the onset of Postpartum. I began medication and resumed psychotherapy, and was feeling better in a matter of weeks.
I have no doubt that if my parents, teachers, coaches, friends and family knew what to look for back when I was a child, I would’ve been involved in treatment much earlier in my life. And I strongly believe that earlier intervention would’ve helped me avoid circling the drain and thinking of suicide. Better late than never, getting treatment in my late teens was life saving and inspirational to me. So much so, that I became a student of psychology – and have been an expert psychologist diagnosing and treating depression in children and adults for over twenty years.
Born out of my personal experiences with depression has come my professional need to educate others about how to detect depression, how to treat it, and how to live well in spite of it.
What’s next for you?
I’m finishing a children’s picture book on depression “Sometimes When I’m Sad.” I always wanted to complete a trilogy of books on depression. My memoir “Living with Depression” won a Gold Medal Book of the Year Award in 2012 and my parenting book is just launching now. So, it felt right to get started on the children’s book. Depression is a serious, but treatable disorder. I’ve struggled with unspeakable sadness and life threatening despair and have come out from under the dark shadow of depression. And it’s been my life’s work to help others not feel shame about living with mental illness.