Richson: Time to get talking about depression


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World Suicide Prevention Day was last week, but the topic seems to have been more prominent in the public psyche than ever. Shaken by Robin Williams’ suicide last month, people were left perplexed by the notion that someone so exuberant and engaging could compartmentalize his career from his inner demons. More recently, Simone Battle, a finalist of the popular show “X-Factor,” was another celebrity that fell victim to her depression.

The dominant question always seems to fall as “Who would have thought?” rather than “How could this have been prevented?” Understandably, words often fail when we grapple with the idea that someone could, by their own will, exit this earth. People with terminal illness fight to say alive on a day-to-day basis … but it’s time that we start discussing depression as a day-to-day fight as well.

According to the organization Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, “Suffering from depression is involuntary, just like cancer or diabetes, but it is a treatable illness that can be managed.” Yet when people suffer from physical illness, we talk about it much differently than mental illness.

I know I myself am guilty of tossing around the word “depressed” in reference to feelings I have that by definition are certainly not indicative of clinical depression. Oddly, depression has become normalized from a colloquial standpoint, but its stigma as a mental illness continues to stick around.

Learning the signs that someone is contemplating suicide comes hand in hand with learning how to talk about depression. In fact, Suicide Awareness also states that the simple act of talking can be incredibly beneficial to a person with depression. Traditional talk therapy is often also combined with antidepressant medication … yet taking medication for a mental illness remains far more stigmatized than taking medication for physical reasons.

Some might find it hard to reconcile the fact that suicide is, in fact, preventable with the fact that mental illness is involuntary. But this is a burden that falls on the rest of society, not the victims of depression, because we need to learn how to approach depression without belittling it.

People often learn how to mask their depression because, through its inability to get a dialogue rolling, society demands it. We don’t like problems that don’t have easy solutions or don’t fit in with light dinner banter.

In reality, one out of four adults will experience mental illness for a year of their lives. Some diagnoses are unfortunately more chronic than others, but this is all the more reason for us to learn how to talk about them.

The National Alliance on Mental Health puts suicide at the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. So we can either learn to talk about it and the disorders that often coexist with it, or we can continue scratching our heads.

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