by Parker Turner
In the years leading to his death, Robin Williams privately struggled with the depression and anxiety that would be the catalysts for the actor taking his own life in August. However, while most of the country openly mourned the loss of one of the most beloved actors of all time, there were others, like Shep Smith of Fox News, who labeled Williams as a “coward” for taking his own life.
The stigma that caused a news anchor to label a man who committed suicide as a “coward” is the same sort of stigma people held towards suffer from, or understand mental illness, depression seems like nothing more than a person getting down on himself. Depression is usually invisible. People create “masks” to pretend that nothing is wrong and to hide their struggle: Williams used comedy, Kurt Cobain used music, and I used anything that would distract me. Even Duke University physician, Augustus John Rush, admitted that, “Doctors are still reluctant to make the diagnosis [of depression]” because once people reveal that they have depression, “you don’t have a disease anymore; now you have ‘trouble coping’; now you have a ‘bad attitude’.”
Having lived with a clinical diagnoses of depression and anxiety for over a year now, I know how the fear of letting people know you are depressed feels. I spent years suffering, falling almost to the point of suicide, before I decided to talk to someone and to stop hiding behind my masks. However, it was not until second semester of my freshman year, after I had lost 25 pounds and my grades were devastatingly low due to zero motivation in my life, that I went to University Counseling Services and finally asked for help. Considering how dangerous not talking about depression can be, we, as a country, need to throw out the stigmas attached to the disease in order to help those suffering.
According to the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), 15% of people who are clinically diagnosed as depressed commit suicide. This means that among the almost 14.8 mil-lion American adults that suffer from depression, over 2 million will die because of suicide.
Depression is debilitating. It makes the simplest of tasks, like taking a shower or eating a good meal, seem like Herculean struggles. I have been mocked for my depression because people who have never faced depression do not realize or understand the toll it takes. I felt like the weight of the world sat on my shoulders, pushing me deeper into the ground, into darkness, and my mind refused to exert enough effort to get out of bed in the mornings. The ease with which people make jokes about killing themselves desensitizes people to the severity of the suicidal thoughts that are so common within depression. Joking makes these thoughts seem less serious and, in turn, stop people from realizing their problem, and can lead to the depressed creating a self-stigma.
Facing ridicule and doubt toward depression deters people struggling with the disease from seeking out treatment. According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) “nearly two out of three people suffering with depression do not actively seek nor receive proper treatment,” despite success rates of almost 80% within psychotherapy and medication treatments. Without treatment, depression be-comes the greatest risk for suicide among youth, ac-cording to the DBSA.
Until we reach out to our friends or relatives or class-mates – because anyone can suffer from depression – with full hearts and unbiased minds, depression will continue to debilitate any-one it can attack. If some-one is suffering, reach out to them. Simply letting them know that they have support makes all the difference in the world, I know it did with me. However, to really destroy the longstanding stigmas against this mood disorder we need to educate the country. People need to understand depression for what it really is, a treatable chemical imbalance, be-fore they can begin to look at others suffering from depression as people who need help, rather than lesser members of society. As we approach winter in Sewanee, depression be-comes a much more powerful beast. Especially at this time, people need to be aware of how to help and support someone who might be suffering, because that person may not always be ready to admit it. The Sewanee community is amazing, it helped me and anyone reading this who is suffering should know that it can help you too. (If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, please urge them to call University Counseling Services, 931-598-1325)