By Ashley Inks, LPC
This article is one in a series which InRoads is publishing designed to provide information on various aspects of mental health.
- Depression can happen to anyone, anywhere.
- Stigma surrounding suicide and mental health issues prevents many from seeking needed and effective treatment.
- Negative portrayals of depression and suicide in the media such as suicide being called, “cowardly” can result in people being less willing to seek the help they need.
- Depression can disguise itself to the untrained mental health professional. Many times the person experiencing depression isn’t even sure of exactly what they are feeling or why.
- There is help. There is hope. It can get better.
- Depression impacts many areas of an individual’s life such as work, living situation, relationships, and physical health.
Depression and Suicide: Matters of National Importance
When celebrities such as Robin Williams commit suicide, the topic of mental health gets thrown into the spotlight with many people, regardless of their knowledge about mental illness, offering opinions to answer the critical question that is always asked in these cases, “Why?” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collects data about mortality in the U.S., including deaths by suicide. In 2011 (the most recent year for which full data are available), 39,518 suicides were reported, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. In short, an individual in the United States commits suicide every 13 minutes and about 12 individuals attempt suicide each day (CDC, 2011). Those figures are larger in the military with the Veterans Administration reporting 22 suicides per day in 2010 and preliminary numbers for more recent years are projected to be higher (Schoenbaum et al, 2014). Approximately 80% of individuals who commit suicide are found to have had clinically indicated depression. Individuals with depression are at higher risk for cardiovascular diseases, stroke, and non-compliance with treatment recommendations due to the impacting symptoms of depression detracting from their ability to take care of themselves (National Institutes of Health, 2013).
As a mental health service provider, Pathway Homes, Inc. is invested in the national discussion that is occurring because of the passing of Robin Williams from suicide. It was known that Williams suffered from depression and alcohol abuse, and it was recently disclosed that he was in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. The tragedy of Williams’ passing brings depression and suicide to the front and center of current events. In the age of 24-hour news cycles and the ability to reach even more people than ever before, it is imperative that the correct information is presented, and time is taken to refute misinformation. It is equally important to promote local and national resources that provide resources for those suffering from often debilitating mental health conditions.
Stigma and Misinformation on a National Level
Fox News host Sheppard Smith recently said on air that Williams’ suicide was “cowardly.” Smith went on to discuss his inability to understand how someone like Williams could end his life with all of the seemingly great things he had going on in his life and considering the pain it caused his loved ones. While the host later apologized, statements like these illustrate the lack of understanding about mental health issues and suicide. It also misrepresents that an apology can simply, “take back” the damage that could have been done by the initial statements.
It is true that people close to an individual who committed suicide feel emotions of confusion, pain, and maybe even guilt or anger. What is not true is thinking that the person who committed suicide did so because of lack of courage or unwillingness to endure unpleasantness or pain. Those who attempt or complete suicide do so for many reasons; most, if not all, with the intention of putting an end to the unbearable levels of pain, physical or emotional, that they are experiencing. So instead of asking, “Why?” after the fact, we need to start asking, “What can we do to prevent this?” For starters, we can ensure the availability of services to those people experiencing the distressing symptoms of mental illness and crisis intervention and response for those individuals who are in need of immediate help.
Recovery is Achievable with the Right Support
Recovery is a term that can mean different things to different people. Pathway Homes, Inc. believes that recovery from mental illness is possible and that each individual sets his or her own pace throughout this process. Support is most commonly in the forms of medication and or therapy. At times support needs to be more immediate and intensive so crisis stabilization at an inpatient level might be necessary for a short period of time so that outpatient treatment options can be pursued after the individual becomes stable again. Like other illnesses, depression is treatable. It also requires a partnership between the individual and clinician and the use of evidence-based practices and treatment approaches tailored to the unique needs of the individual.
Local Resources in Virginia for Individuals in Crisis:
- Woodburn Emergency Services: 703-573-0523
- CrisisLink Suicide Hotline 703-527-4077
- CrisisLink Text: 703-940-0888
National Resources for Individuals in Crisis
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
- Suicide and Depression Hotline (Covenant House) 1-800-999-9999
- National Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-800-448-4663
- Crisis Text Line: Text CTL to 741741
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. (2011). Available at www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/index.html.
National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Library of Medicine. (2013). The state of US health, 1990-2010: burden of diseases, injuries, and risk factors. JAMA 310 (6), 591-608. doi: 10.1001/jama.2013.13805.
Schoenbaum, M., Kessler, R.C., Gilman, S.E., Colpe, L.J., Heeringa, S.G., Stein, M.B., Ursano, R.J., Cox, K.L., (2014). Predictors of suicide and accident death in the Army study to assess risk and resilience in service members. JAMA Psychiatry. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.4417
Photo courtesy Lloyd Morgan via Flickr