Depression Does Not Discriminate
Like thousands of people around the world, I was deeply sadden to hear about the death of Robin Williams who was reported to be suffering from severe depression. However, not everyone who is depressed attempts to take their life or commit suicide as Williams did. Although, it has now come to light that Robin Williams was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, which could have been a contributing factor in his decision to take his own life. Neurological experts believe that Parkinson’s can make depression symptoms worse, although the area is still under study, reported the Independent.
Whatever his reasons were, and we can only surmise. The despair that this man must have been feeling was so intolerable, that this was the only way he knew how to relieve his pain. As Mark Goulston, MD, writes in his article “Robin Williams did not die from depression. What he died from was des-pair (possibly the most life threatening part of depression). And by des-pair I mean feeling utterly: hopeless, worthless, pointless and helpless”.
If anything, the death of Williams has brought wide media attention to the subject of depression. Although, some people have criticised depression being labelled as mental illness. The stigma attached to this title is something a lot of people still struggle with to this day.
In its mildest form, depression can mean just being in low spirits. I think most of us can relate to that; something goes wrong in our life e.g. divorce, redundancy or loss of a loved one. It doesn’t stop you leading your normal life, but makes everything harder to do and seem less worthwhile. At its most severe, major depression (clinical depression) can be life-threatening, because it can make you feel suicidal or simply give up the will to live.
The pain of mental illness, often not always understood by those not affected, can be unbearable. Those affected can have feelings of hopelessness and emptiness that many others can’t empathise with. I should know, having experienced depression years ago whilst still married; however, I haven’t experienced such despondency since getting divorced over 20 years ago……so that speaks volumes! But, despite that, I wouldn’t wish those feelings of helplessness and worthlessness on anyone. As Goulston say’s “Pain is pain, suffering is feeling utterly alone in pain. Most people can endure chronic pain, few can endure prolonged unrelenting suffering”.
My belief is that most people who commit or attempt suicide don’t want to die, but want to get rid of the continual pain and persistent negative thoughts that torment them. I suppose that is why I became a counsellor, supporting hundreds of people through their anxiety and depression. And as I continually search for the answers, techniques and strategies to combat negative thoughts and patterns of behaviour. I try to support and empathise, letting people know that there is ‘light at the end of the tunnel. That they can get to a place of peace, and when those times of sadness, low mood and for some, despair arises. I want them to know that those feelings will pass. That by learning to manage those thoughts and emotions, putting strategies in place and by having a good support network can help people towards living a more fulfilled life.
However, in Williams’s case. Was the thought of his future life living with and managing Parkinson’s too incomprehensible? As some of the strategies he was using to manage his depression and addictions, like cycling would be affected by the debilitating disease. I suppose we will never know.
The truth is no one is immune from depression and anxiety. It does not discriminate. The facts and figures around Mental Health in the UK states that 1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year. I personally feel that it is much higher than that, only because I know so many professional people (especially men) who would not like to admit that they are feeling depressed due to it being a sign of weakness, or they don’t want the information going on their medical records, as well as their work personnel file.
Mind is one of Britain’s main mental health charities; according to its research, just 23% of men would see a GP if they felt low for more than two weeks, compared with 33% of women. “One of the more common ways men deal with it is self-medicating with alcohol and drugs,” says the Mind spokeswoman Beth Murphy.
Mixed anxiety and depression is the most common mental disorder in Britain. Depression affects 1 in 5 older people and British men are three times as likely as British women to die by suicide. Yet, according to a report in the Guardian; Less than a third of people with common mental health problems get any treatment at all – a situation the nation would not tolerate if they had cancer, according to the incoming president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Depression can leave a person in a very lonely and isolated place. So if you’re feeling depressed, in a low mood struggling to shake it off or have even flirted with the idea of suicide. There is help out there with people who really do understand and can help and support you through. Don’t suffer in silence.
Original blog written August 2014.