I knew that there was going to come a day when I had to write this post. It was really a matter of how long I could keep my mouth shut before exploding. One of my greatest fears was that I would explode at a well meaning but uninformed friend or family member and I would never want to do that. But with the tragic death of Robin Williams, mental illness, more specifically depression, is being discussed on an endless loop and the stream of ignorance and misinformation is so deep, it's about to drown us all.
There is nothing that grinds my gears harder than ignorance about mental illness. There have been several people in my extended family that have wrestled with various different illnesses and as such, I had to educate myself. So when I hear ignorant viewpoints on the subject, my blood boils like the lava in Vesuvius.
For example, when I hear people putting down friends or complaining about family members that struggle with things like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or depression, I get angry. I get angry because someone who is suffering from one of those disorders doesn't need your disdain. What they do need from you is the following:
Work hard to help that person get the medical and psychiatric support they need. Make sure (within your power to do so) that they take any prescribed medications as directed by their doctor and help to make sure that they get regular talk therapy sessions in conjunction with their medication. While it is understood that not everyone has insurance coverage for these things, there are clinics available that work on a sliding scale according to income.
The first rule of caring about someone with mental illness is to understand that they are sick. They may do or say things that are hurtful, inflammatory or just difficult to comprehend. Try not to personalize it. It is not about you it's about their mental illness and they may be needing more support (see #1).
At the end of the day, they are your friends, family, loved ones. Love them as such.
So, with you knowing what your role is and with the 24 hour news cycle spewing misinformation at a rapid clip, let's do some myth busting.
According to the DSM4 (the standard diagnostic manual of the mental health profession), depression is classified as a mood disorder. A mood disorder is further described as such:
And more specifically, major depressive disorder, the kind of depression that is likely to need to be managed throughout your life and carries the threat of suicidal thought and action, is described as follows:
Depression is not:
Depression is not a choice. Did you get that? No? I'll repeat. Depression is not a choice. It's not because someone is lazy or just won't pull themselves up by the bootstraps. Depression is not a time to practice "tough love" so that they "snap out of it". Depression is an illness. Would you tell someone with cancer to "snap out of it"?
The Cycle of Misinformation:
On the topic of ignorance, there were many things that I heard this week that illustrated how far we need to come as a country around the topic of depression and mental illness. Here are two of the most uninformed comments of the lot:
1) This was from several random news anchors - I'm paraphrasing here: He had everything to live for, a beautiful family, a great career. Why would he end his life?
This comment is ignorant and diminishing as it assumes that fame and fortune are the antidote to depression. Again, the cancer analogy works here. Would you ask someone suffering with cancer how their fame and fortune didn't work to stop the tumor from growing?
2) Rush Limbaugh is actually quoted as blaming Robin William's depression on his political leanings. To co-opt someone's tragic mental illness as a means of advancing a political agenda is so morally reprehensible, I can't quite wrap my head around it. I won't dirty this page by quoting his ugliness, ignorance and general stupidity on the topic, but if you want to read it and have your mouth hang open like a trout, go here:
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs immediate support, it is best to get them to the emergency room of your nearest hospital. If you can't get to them immediately or get them to the hospital, there are suicide prevention hotlines available, such as: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ - 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
The signs and symptoms of a crisis situation are defined here: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/learn/warningsigns.aspx
Finding a Psychiatrist/Psychologist:
There is no shortage of practicing therapists and Doctors that can help treat depression. Finding the right one for you may take some research. Here are a few avenues to find the right one(s) for you:
1) Ask your medical doctor for a recommendation.
2) Join a support group (these are often run in local hospitals) and ask for referrals.
3) Ask a friend or family member.
4) Consult your local yellow pages or search online for someone in your area.
Let's all work to stop the ignorance, fear and misinformation around mental illness. The world will be a better place for it.