Dealing with Depression
A Personal Note from Nolan Dalla:
What you are about to read is a manifestation of courage.
What follows is a previously-unpublished essay on the mental malady of depression.
It was written by a very close and dear friend of mine who is often afflicted with severe bouts of the disorder. These common bouts have dispensed debilitation and even thoughts of suicide, on occasion.
On the surface, nothing seems wrong. By looking at him and observing his very successful career and comfortable lifestyle, complete with a loving family and plenty of friends, you’d probably never guess that he suffers from depression. You’d never know he’s spent agonizing periods of his life stuck in a dark place which has no boundaries, virtually incapacitated within a self-contained prison surrounded by invisible bars, from which there appears to be no escaping, often requiring the care, the compassion, and the direct intervention of others who understand.
I am ashamed to say there was a time once, until quite recently even, when I didn’t understand much about depression. I lacked the capacity to empathize with those who dealt with mental health issues in their lives. Worse, I’ve written harshly about some people in the past — such as ex-pro football player Junior Seau and actor Philip Seymour Hoffman — who took the most violent escape possible, committing suicide and overdosing by accident. It took me considerable time and some serious contemplation to eventually come to the realization that depression isn’t something typically within control of the sufferer. They are the bearers of an affliction, not the cause of it. It’s a burden with heavy shackles with no key within reach.
Speaking to the author of this essay over a considerable period of time, then followed by a episodes of reflection, gave me a far greater understanding of the serious illness of depression. It helped me not only to empathize with those who must deal with it, sometimes daily, but also enabled me to see the painful struggles and in some cases appreciate the strides made by those crawling from the darkness, one new dawn at a time.
Although he prefers not to use his name, nor take any credit as the author, he has granted me permission to print his thoughts here in their entirety. His hope is that by writing openly about his malady, he can better cope with his own struggle. Just as important, his words might be able to comfort others out there who are enduring their own crisis within, trying to find a clearer path out of the abyss of confusion.
Finally, even for the more mentally fit, this essay might serve to enlighten readers who continue to look upon depression as I once did, maligned by our own ignorance and misunderstanding. Let us try to open up our minds, free ourselves, listen to this brave voice. Let us learn.
That’s my hope and intent.
On August 11, 2014, actor and comedian Robin Williams was found dead in his Tiburon, California home.
The cause of death was ruled as suicide. According to a statement from the coroner’s office, alcohol and illegal drugs were not a factor. An entire nation was shocked. Many people could not understand how such a thing could have happened. Some people called it a tragedy, while others blamed Williams himself.
Suicide has been called the “cowards way out.” It has been described as an act of selfishness. In some ways it is indeed a selfish act. But then again aren’t we all guilty of being selfish at times?
In some cases, people contemplating suicide go to great lengths to ensure that those who survive them will be well taken care of. They even run the numbers. They determine that they are worth more financially dead than alive. They decide that their struggles have become a burden to others. They use twisted logic to conclude that even though they still may have something left to give, the world would be better off without them. When that realization occurs, emotions take over and the logical part of the brain is no longer powerful enough to override the part that controls our emotions and instincts. That’s when depression becomes overwhelming.
A depressed person can be surrounded by 20,000 people and yet feel completely alone. He or she can experience helplessness, hopelessness and become desperate to find relief from the pain.
Oftentimes, people battling depression are viewed as weak. “Man up,” or “Deal with it,” or “Get over it” are common phrases that are heard almost every day by those who suffer from depression. Yes, we all have our problems, and we all handle them differently. Depression isn’t imagined, nor is it something one can simply “get over” any more than one can “get over” cancer or heart disease. Like cancer and heart disease, depression can be treated. Yet, according to Healthline.com, over 80 percent of people with symptoms of clinical depression are not receiving any specific treatment for their illness.
My best guess is — perhaps it’s because of the stigma that is often associated with mental illness. Perhaps it’s because people do not want to appear weak and unable to handle life’s problems. Perhaps it’s because people who suffer from depression work very hard to convince the world that nothing is wrong and don’t want to destroy all of that hard work.
One of the problems in self-assessing depression is that from time to time, almost everyone experiences periods of sadness at some point in their lives. Sadness is a normal part of life and most people get through it without incident. But for someone who struggles on a more regular basis, depression can be quite debilitating. Moreover, there are no standard physiological or biochemical test results that can be monitored for measuring depression. One can’t do a white blood-cell count or take someone’s pulse to see if they are suffering from depression. It’s an invisible sickness.
According to one published report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 41,000 people living in the United States died by their own hand in 2013. Depression is a major killer.
- According to the World Health Organization (published in October 2012), depression is a common mental disorder. Globally, more than 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression.
- Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is a major contributor to the global burden of disease
- More women are affected by depression than men.
- At its worst, depression can lead to suicide.
- There are effective treatments for depression
In 2014, the number of murders per 100,000 people in the United States was approximately 5. The number of suicides per 100,000 people was approximately 12.6. That’s more than two and a half times as many suicides as murders in this country. When was the last time you heard about a suicide on the evening news? Answer — almost never, unless the sufferer was someone really famous. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers. Yet as a society, we are far more focused on murders than suicides.
Do you know how many people died in the U.S. from the Ebola virus in 2014? Five. Yet this “outbreak” got far more attention from the media in one month than the issue of depression does in one year. That is partly because of the fact that Ebola is a contagious disease and can POTENTIALLY affect millions of people. But depression ALREADY affects millions of people too. Not potential millions – actual millions.
Most of us live in the here and now. We want to know what’s going on at this moment. We have instant access to information via the internet and with each other via wireless devices and social media. We crave sensationalism. Because of that, it is only when something sensational happens that we sit up and take notice. When Robin Willams died, depression was a hot topic — for about a week or two, and then we all went back to doing what we normally do.
The more I read the more I learned. I discovered that 22 U.S. military veterans a month commit suicide. I stopped reading as that number seemed shocking to me. It was almost beyond belief. Twenty-two a month! That’s almost one suicide per day…. 1 per day…. 1 per day…. I couldn’t get past that thought and it was only when I went back to reread the sentence did I discover why – I had, in fact, misread it.
No, it’s not 22 veterans per month, but 22 veterans PER DAY. That’s slightly less than one per hour. It’s a tragic fact, but what is even more tragic is that I’d bet hardly anyone realizes how commonplace suicide among veterans truly is.
Even more tragic is the fact that millions of people with depression could be helped. But as a society, we need to change our way of thinking. Depression is a disease, just not a quantifiable one. There are no effective ways to measure the amount of depression a person feels. It is not always easy to even identify a person who is suffering from depression, because they are generally very adept at hiding it. In a society where one is supposed to “man up,” many people don’t want to be diagnosed, and so they just try to “deal with it.” Make no mistake, left untreated, depression can and many times does result in death.
I have friends who are currently battling cancer and other diseases. I’m not trying to diminish their struggles. Some of them are my heroes. But death is death, whether it’s from a heart attack, cancer, Ebola, or suicide. When was the last time that you told someone with cancer to “man up and deal with it?” Never. Many people suffering from depression are not weak. They are probably far stronger than anyone realizes. I n fact, it is probably only in a rare moment of weakness that the depression becomes identifiable to a friend or family member. It’s either that, or when the depression has become too much to bear and the sufferer breaks down completely.
While many people dealing with depression do not commit suicide, depression is a key factor in their overall health. Depression can produce stress, which may result in high blood pressure, kidney problems, and heart disease. People suffering from depression may be less productive at work, and may have more stressful family lives. Depression affects so many different and important aspects of life. If you suspect that you are suffering from depression, please seek a professional opinion. There is help available. You don’t have to fight alone. You’ve tried that for long enough.
I have no education nor training in the treatment of mental health, but I do know the affliction firsthand. Here are some ideas you may wish to consider:
1. Get Professional Help
Yes, you will have to admit that you have a problem. Yes, despite claims to the contrary, there is still a social stigma attached to depression. You are just going to have to accept that in order to move forward and improve. Yes, the process may prove to be a painful one, but probably not as painful as ignoring the problem.
2. Make a commitment
It is the nature of all things to resist change, but you can overcome that resistance. Talk to a counselor. Make some changes. Dedicate yourself to improving yourself. Eat better. Get more sleep. Exercise.
3. Take out the trash
Get rid of the negative influences in your life. Stop the destructive habits. Focus on improvement. Dump the so-called “friends.” You are vulnerable. You are a target. Certain types of people will recognize that and take advantage of your vulnerability, because at times you may be easily manipulated. A drowning man will grab and hold on to anything – even an anchor. Let go of the anchor, grab a life preserver instead and start swimming. So how do you tell the real people from the vultures? I’d start by going down the list and looking for the people who are always willing to give far more than they take.
4. Acknowledge that things will take time
You will make mistakes. You will have setbacks. You are human, but you cannot allow these things overwhelm you. Forward progress is a slow and steady crawl, while regression can be quick and significant. Setbacks are a part of the process, but don’t confuse a setback with a failure.
If you know someone suffering from depression, please encourage them in their daily lives. Contact them every once in a while, for no apparent reason. For many people suffering from depression, it is difficult to reach out. They do not want to burden others with their problems, but the longer they battle alone, the worse the depression gets. Sometimes, seemingly insignificant actions can be of great benefit. A kind word, a caring gesture, an offer of support – each of these things can make a difference. You cannot cure your friend’s depression, but you might be able to help them make it to tomorrow.
For the individual who suffers, the battle against depression is fierce, constant, and can at times be all-consuming. As a friend, you cannot always be there to help. If you should lose a friend to suicide, it is natural to ask yourself if there is anything more that you could have done. In many cases, I suspect that the answer would be “no.” It is important that you go on with your life, and continue to help your friends and family. Diseases kill and even though as a friend you may be able to help offset some of the symptoms, you cannot provide the cure.
While depression is not curable, in many cases it can be manageable. Many people suffering from depression can and do lead productive lives, but the war is endless. Some become experts at hiding their depression, which consumes a tremendous amount of energy. They seem to have everything going for them: A seemingly constant positive attitude. Money. Cars. Houses. A wonderful family. Fame. Success. They appear to doing so well that it is almost impossible to believe they are suffering.
You don’t believe me? Just ask Robin Williams.
Oh, wait. You can’t.