Nobody has witnessed the ravages of alcoholism more intimately than former Sen. George McGovern, whose daughter Terry fought the disease for 25 years before staggering two years ago into a Wisconsin snowbank and freezing to death.
Yesterday, the former presidential "peace candidate" joined mental health experts at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine nTC in making a firm statement that another disease -- clinical depression -- often accompanies alcoholism and magnifies its horrors.
"She was an alcoholic and she suffered from clinical depression," McGovern told 850 people attending an annual conference sponsored by the Depression and Related Affective Disorders Association.
The group has made a ritual of featuring celebrities, such as writer William Styron, talk show host Dick Cavett and TV journalist Mike Wallace, who have battled clinical depression.
McGovern brought the audience to its feet with an address that many found touching and heartbreaking.
"She did try until the very end to get on top of alcoholism and the depression, and still we have more questions than answers as to why that was not possible," McGovern said of his daughter, who was 45 when she died.
He personalized a theme voiced earlier by Hopkins psychiatrists Alan J. Romanoski and J. Raymond DePaulo -- that depressed women, much more so than their male counterparts, often drink to ease their emotional pain.
The result, they said, can be an endless spiral of addiction.
Said Romanoski: "There's little evidence that depression drives one to drink, but it drives people to drink more" -- often bringing them to the "lethal state" that afflicted Terry McGovern.
Epidemiological studies have found that about half of all female alcoholics are clinically depressed -- compared with about 1 in every 10 male alcoholics.
"A few men drink to abate depression and, certainly, men who are manic tend to drink both to control themselves and because their appetites run wild," Romanoski said. "But with women, there is clearly a different relationship."
In his book, "Terry," McGovern recounts the long struggle with alcoholism and depression that ended a few days before Christmas 1994, when a police officer and a minister appeared at his front door to deliver the grim news.
She died the same day she left a detoxification center in Madison, Wis., for the 68th time, vowing that she had finally resolved to get her drinking under control. Hours later, she wandered out of a bar and fell unconscious behind a print shop.
Her body was discovered the next day, half covered by snow.
Although the book focuses on her alcoholism, McGovern also wrestles with the role that clinical depression played in her struggle. The chicken-and-egg question of what came first -- alcoholism or depression -- is not answered, perhaps because it cannot be.
As a teen-ager, Terry had tried marijuana, beer and LSD but not, McGovern insists, to a degree that was unusual for youths growing up in the 1960s. He first learned that Terry was deeply troubled after her first year of college, when she told her parents that she was feeling hopelessly depressed.
"She couldn't stand her life," he said. "She was so sad, so depressed, so discouraged about what she'd done with her life and where she was going."
The McGoverns admitted her to a psychiatric hospital where she spent six months in treatment for clinical depression. She remained in treatment there, later as an outpatient, for four years. "And to this day, they'd tell you that her problem was depression, not alcohol," McGovern said.
But Terry was a meticulous keeper of journals, and McGovern later read that she had been drinking about five beers a day all through that period. Even when she was in the hospital, she convinced a friend to smuggle marijuana and LSD to her.
During the presidential campaign of 1972, Terry amazed friends and onlookers as an articulate and charismatic speaker who confidently addressed crowds without being briefed. Nobody knew the depths of her struggles.
After returning to college, she fell into a pattern of drunkenness that consumed the rest of her life.
"From that point on," he father said, "she never achieved a substantial period of sobriety. I don't know why Terry repeatedly relapsed. I don't know why those relapses accelerated rather than declined."
McGovern said he realizes that much of the treatment she received for depression was outmoded and ineffective -- steeped in a fruitless pursuit of childhood injustices that might have produced her despair.
Only in her last four or five years did she take anti-depressant medications. Even then, she occasionally stopped taking them, fearing they were sabotaging her recovery.
McGovern said she was influenced by others in Alcoholics Anonymous who believed a recovering alcoholic should avoid all drugs, even anti-depressants.
Romanoski and DePaulo brought a simple message to the patients and mental health professionals in the audience: Treat the alcoholism, but treat the depression, too.
"When you treat the depression," said DePaulo, "the results can be gratifying."
Pub Date: 5/01/97