The mind, pioneering woman, oysters

Books Of The Region

March 24, 2002|By James H. Bready | James H. Bready,Special to the Sun

Is the incidence of mental depression rising? The best answer seems to be, no one knows, or will know until the world of medical science perfects diagnostic technique. But there is progress. In 1988, J. Raymond DePaulo Jr. of Johns Hopkins Hospital co-authored a book, Coping With Depression. Now, covering some of the same ground, he has a new book out, Understanding Depression, written with Leslie Alan Horvitz (John Wiley & Sons, 288 pages, $24.95, softbound) -- because so much has been learned in the interim, both as to the nature of such illness and as to its treatment.

In three decades of medical practice, Dr. DePaulo has seen 8,000-some patients with unipolar or bipolar disorders (formerly spoken of as clinical depression or manic-depressive syndrome)--a few times, patients with both. He says that, in this country, at any given time, 10 million women and 5 million men have one affliction or the other --more than twice as many as have coronary disease. Yet, often, depression's ambiguous presence still goes unrecognized.

The new book is broad, civil and, despite all that misery, optimistic. After a decade in which pharmaceuticals (pills) have run riot, DePaulo is reserved about, but does not dismiss, psychoanalysis, electroshock, brain surgery, bright lights and herbs (St. John's Wort). One other recourse of great importance--physicians who "learn from their patients." This one even smiles: "Maybe editors' pencils should be colored depression blue instead of mania red."

The mind gone wrong is dealt with across its full clinical sweep in a second book by four local physician-specialists: A Primer on Mental Disorders, by Thomas E. Allen, Mayer C. Liebman, Lee Crandall Park and William C. Wimmer (Scarecrow, 174 pages, $26.50). Here, too, part of the message is that understanding of this condition, let alone treatment, continues to be impeded by society's old, bad habit of speaking about such things "in whispers and shame."

Autism, anorexia nervosa, alcohol dependence, amphetamine withdrawal, age-related cognitive decline, attention-deficit disorder and on to schizophrenia and trichotillomania -- the spectrum alone runs to 10 pages, as reprinted from the standard Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Under "bipolar" and "depressive," the DSM lists 46 variations.

Primer, with its descriptions, information sources and support organizations, may or may not help the ill, but relatives, teachers and employers stand to gain from it.

Bertha Adkins used to be presented so many flowers, during or after ceremonial occasions, that her habit was to stuff the bouquets afterward into her refrigerator. Thus the title Orchids in the Icebox (Chapel Hill Press, 351 pages, $19.95, softbound) of Winifred G. Helmes' biography of "the first woman to hold the title of undersecretary in any department of (federal) government." This was Health, Education and Welfare, in 1958 -- making Adkins "the most senior woman in the Eisenhower administration."

Historically, however, Bertha S. Adkins of Salisbury (later, Oxford) remains prominent also for her post-New Deal role in reviving the Republican Party, in state and nation. Born in 1906, into an old, upper-crust family (E. S. Adkins Co. lumber and building supplies), she sailed through Wellesley and became dean of women at Western Maryland College, only to leave educational administration for politics. Adkins, who died in 1983, is remembered for her concern with human problems.

Without the benefit or burden of husband and children, she traveled far, consorted with the famous, persuaded many women to join her in the arena.

Helmes, active in teaching and writing (she edited 1977's Notable Maryland Women), looks not for flaws in Adkins -- her boss and apartment-mate in Washington. But Helmes writes temperately, cites print sources and, again and again, was there when it happened. Overall, Bertha Adkins was what used to be called a moderate Republican --with McKeldin and Rockefeller, not with Taft or Goldwater. Orchids is a tribute well deserved and well delivered.

The Nanticoke River is navigable clear up into Delaware where, at Seaford, in the early 1940s, Tommy Elliott's father runs an oyster-packing plant. Part of Tommy's upbringing, along with pirate games and Sunday church and girls, has to do with the economic struggle between Tilghman Seafood Co. and the bay's independent watermen. Tommy grows into his teens, and the settings move to Deal Island at the river's mouth, but the conflict only increases.

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