The death of Robin Williams brings to light the absolute tragedy of suicide. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family as well as to the millions of other families who have lost a loved one to suicide. I cannot even imagine the pain such a loss would cause. Depression is a major problem in our country today. According to the the World Health Organization, 34,000 people commit suicide each year, about twice as many deaths as caused by homicide — about one death per 15 minutes. By 2030, depression will outpace cancer, stroke, war and accidents as the world’s leading cause of disability and death.
Depression is a mental illness that disrupts families, takes lives and has nothing at all to do with being a coward or not having people in your life who care for you. Although being isolated, with few friends and loving connections, can impact depression, there are many people who struggle with depression who are surrounded by loving families and friends.
Below are ten facts regarding depression and suicide that are important for everyone to know since it is likely that most of us will be touched by depression in our families, our friends or ourselves at some point in our life time. Get curious, not judgmental.
1. Depression strikes all people, at all ages, from all socioeconomic levels. No one is immune.
2. Many who struggle with depression don’t show it, talk about it or seek help for it.
3. Depression is a mental illness. It is not a sign of weakness.
4. Depression needs to be treated by a professional therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist (not a life coach).
5. Not all depression needs to be treated with medication, however severe depression often requires both therapy and medication.
6. Major depression clouds the person’s judgment and can make suicide seem like the only option. It paints a bleak picture of the future and spins a story that convinces the person they have limited options and little chance of ever having happiness in their future. It is a minute-to-minute battle fighting these internal messages.
7. If a person talks about harming himself/herself, not wanting to live or wanting to kill themself, take them seriously. Do not mistake these sentiments as a ploy for attention. Report this information to a responsible adult and do not let the issue drop until you know it is actively being addressed with the person.
8. If a person admits to being suicidal, they need to be hospitalized or minimally placed on a 24-hour watch—even when sleeping — until the suicidal ideation is no longer an issue.
9. The key role of family and friends is to be a support to the person and to let the person know that they are loved and cared about.
10. Family and friends cannot save a person’s life—they can only do their best to be a support, provide them with the help they need and to remind them how much they are loved.
If you know someone who struggles with depression, check in with them, see how they’re doing, show them kindness and offer them support. Give them the telephone number of a great therapist, a suicide hotline or any other reference you feel would be helpful. Do not judge them and do what you can to encourage them to seek help. Let them know that seeking help takes tremendous courage and is anything but a sign of weakness. Do not stigmatize them in your mind or out of your mouth.
Challenge: Become aware of the signs of depression and take the stigma out of mental illness. If you’re struggling with mental illness yourself, be courageous—seek help. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-272-8255