Experts encourage us to talk about depression if we are to save those suffering from it. Robin Williams’ suicide last week has sparked that conversation.
One day after Williams’ death was reported, as I set foot on Park Avenue, a rattling behind me made me turn to see what was following me. It was a shopping cart, pushed by a younger woman whom I did not know. I doubt she recognized me either. We exchanged smiles before she said, “Have you heard Robin Williams died?”
I said, “Yes, I’ve been reading it everywhere.”
Her knowledge of a news topic startled me. Often no one I meet from store clerks to bank tellers to doctors’ receptionists have heard about a news topic I might mention.
Depression and its toll on lives concerns me. My extended family has been blighted by more than one suicide. One was prevented after the teen shared her dark thoughts on Facebook. A reader in the southern U.S. alerted police nearest to the teen’s home city. Police located her curled up on a river bank after overdosing on pills and rushed her to Emergency where her stomach was pumped.
Sometimes I want to say, “Oh, get over it.” But I know from closer experience being told to “get over it” doesn’t help. Depressed people cannot just get over it.
Elizabeth Hawksworth, blogging on the Huffington Post, writes, “Suicide isn’t “giving up” or “giving in.” Suicide is a terrible decision made by someone whose pain is so great that they can no longer hold it, and feel they have no other option in life but to end it. It’s a decision you can’t take back, and a decision that will affect your friends and family forever. It is not taken lightly. But imagine, if you will, feeling so desperate, so desolate, so incredibly sad and hurt that you honestly cannot see a way out.”
One relative was so depressed he couldn’t drag himself out of bed even to water their few houseplants. After visits to several psychiatrists and trials of medications he found a fit for each. A new, tailored regimen of drugs lifted him out of his bleak moods and he’s gone on to be a happy nurturing Grandpa.
From reading a lot about depression, I gather it’s usually caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Different triggers can make matters worse. A failure to receive an accurate diagnosis leaves the patient floundering. Take, for instance, the unhappy existence of Pierre Trudeau’s wife, Margaret, who blossomed once she had been accurately diagnosed as bipolar and received appropriate treatment.
Only yesterday, slotted in around reports of Williams’ suicide and accolades for his outstanding work as a comedian and actor, our military reported on studies detailing the high incidence of post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) among Canada’s returning Afghan vets.
Last fall near Christmas news reported more than one vet’s suicide every week.
Closer to home, one vet was shot and killed by police in Prince George after his PTSD got out of hand and shots were exchanged.
Since we know proper diagnosis and medications can restore depressed patients to an even keel and a happy, productive life, we owe it to them and to their families to do more for them while we still can.
All of us can do our bit to talk about depression, to offer hope that things can and will improve. We wouldn’t hesitate to tell others we’re allergic to peanuts, or to bees, or wear contacts. Why, then, should we hide the fact we don’t feel emotionally whole?
To quote mental-health advocate Arthur Gallant, also writing in the Huffington Post today, “If we talked about suicide this much when it wasn’t in the news, we’d be better off.”