The Centers for Disease Control reports that nearly 1 in 10 Americans are affected by depression and on Monday, August 11 it was brought to light that Robin Williams was one of them.
President Barack Obama may have summed it up best when he said, “Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien — but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit.”
So today begs the question, “Why?” Why would someone who made such an impact in our lives, take his own life? The answer to that we may never know, but a tragedy like this serves as a reminder that most of us could probably stand to be better equipped to deal with situations like this should they happen in our own lives.
I enlisted the help of Christy Krause, Director for Mary Greeley Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Unit, and asked several questions about depression and suicide.
Q: What are some of the signs of depression/suicide?
A: The answer to this is twofold. There are a number of signs, and then there are the factors behind those signs. Someone who is depressed may exhibit feelings of hopelessness. They may suffer from severe anxiety, panic attacks, shame/humiliation, decreased self-esteem, impulsiveness and aggression.
The factors that may increase one’s risk for depression/suicide include, but are not limited to: a lack of social support, recent unemployment, health problems, recent stressful life event(s), abuse or a family history of depression/suicide.
To read more about depression, click here.
Q: Why do some people who are depressed commit suicide while others do not?
A: There are certain things associated with a reduced risk of committing suicide. That’s not to say that someone who possesses these things wouldn’t commit suicide, but these protective behaviors seem to dissuade individuals from doing so: presence of a social support system, problem-solving skills, active participation in treatment, religious commitment, life satisfaction and fear of social disapproval.
Q: Does substance abuse/addiction exacerbate depression/suicide? If so, why?
A: Absolutely. When someone is addicted to something, they want it all the time and when someone is under the influence of substances, their inhibitions are decreased and irrational thinking increases. When they aren’t under the influence, they may wish they were which creates an internal conflict, especially if they have sought treatment before. All of these things put them at a higher risk for suicide.
Q: If we have a loved one we think might be depressed and/or suicidal, what can we do about it?
A: First off, talk to them. Let them know that you’ve noticed they aren’t themselves and that you want to help. Ask why they’re depressed and what you can do for them to help. Take whatever reasons they give you seriously.
Listen without judging and seek to understand. Don’t interrupt or blame and remember that depression is an illness, not a choice. If they are a substance abuser, encourage them not to use as it makes them more vulnerable. You should also advise them to seek professional help and take any threat of suicide seriously. We’ve all heard stories about people who have committed suicide and had told someone, but they thought it was a joke. If a person threatens suicide, that means the thought has crossed their mind and the last thing we should do is pretend everything is okay.
To learn more about the warning signs of suicide and how to help someone contemplating suicide, click here.