Depression is not a sign of weakness

Mental health, a topic that is near and dear to my heart, has been on the forefront of my mind in the wake of Robin Williams’ passing. While my work now primarily focuses on mental wellness and the “flourishing” end of the spectrum, I have also worn the hat of a “depression and suicide prevention educator” in the past. Plus, I’ve certainly been there myself, and all the positive thinking in the world could not snap me out of it.

Robin Williams’ death struck a chord with many as he filled our hearts with joy and laughter over the years. While he certainly shared his unique gifts with the world, he was also apparently struggling with his own demons. We often never know what a person is going through internally.

It’s not that Robin Williams was just “sad.”  Mental health disorders are physiological, treatable (brain) disorders that affect a person’s behavior. Mental disorders can negatively affect one’s overall health and hinder an individual’s judgment and decision-making abilities. Here are some facts to ponder:

  • The World Health Organization estimates that globally, 350 million people suffer from depression at any given point.
  • Mental health is an essential component of overall health yet only a small percentage of people seek professional help or treatment for mental health when needed.
  • Depression is the most common mental illness and has risen to the leading cause of disability worldwide.
  • Mental illness is not isolated by certain races or income, and does not discriminate.
  • According to the CDC, a person dies by suicide every 13.3 minutes in the U.S.  Therefore, early recognition and treatment of mental illness may help prevent suicide.

Depression (which can be mild, moderate or severe), is just like any other health condition that requires healing and treatment. Depression is not a sign of weakness. In fact there are biological, social, psychological and even environmental factors that affect us all. Even what we eat and drink affects our mood and mental health.

The truth is that the mind and body are inseparable, and bigger systems issues exist with more attention being paid to physical health in our culture and society. With that being said, it is unhealthy to sweep our mental, emotional and spiritual health under the proverbial rug. These aspects of our lives are JUST as important for our overall health and well-being. If we don’t take good care of our mental / behavioral health, the effects can lead to poor overall (physical) health.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or addiction, remember that there’s hope and so much to live for. Often times we come out of the other side of challenging times so much stronger.

Just a few thoughts if you have a friend or loved one struggling:

  • Do not turn the other cheek and assume friends are okay.
  • If you feel in your gut something is wrong with someone, ask him or her.
  • Listen without judgment.
  • Don’t say to them, “I don’t understand why you can’t stop or snap out of it.”
  • Encourage the person to seek help.

When I used to train on suicide prevention, my team and I used the “QPR” approach: Question, Persuade and Refer.  Should you know someone who is experiencing signs of severe depression, an approach could be as follows:

Q: Ask the Question.  Asking the person if they are thinking of hurting or harming themselves does not put the idea into their heads. It can help save lives. Literally.

P:  Persuade.  Helping the person see that there is hope, or helping them find something to look forward to, can help them realize that life is worth living.

R: Refer.  Refer to a healthcare professional as soon as possible. The National Suicide Prevention Line is 800-273-TALK.

Mental health and behavior change are soooo complex.  Let a professional help.

I’ve included resources below. I encourage you to seek local mental health professionals, such as licensed clinical social workers, licensed professional counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, or treatment centers for help. There are also many amazing integrative approaches, and twelve-step programs have also been shown quite effective for addiction. Professionals, groups and treatment modalities exist for your support and healing.

Resources:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention http://www.afsp.org/

National Suicide Prevention Line:  800-273-TALK

Mental Health America: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association: Samhsa.gov

Screening for Mental Health: http://www.mentalhealthscreening.org/

National Alliance on Mental Illness: www.nami.org