Saturday, August 16, 2014
A Green Ribbon Wouldn't Have Saved Robin Williams
Breast cancer used to be a shameful secret. Now everybody knows what a pink ribbon stands for. It’s less well-known that green ribbons signify depression awareness, along with Lyme Disease and pedestrian safety. But a green ribbon wouldn’t have saved Robin Williams’ life. Our vague ideas about celebrities’ “struggles with depression” don't reveal how lethal or how omnipresent it is.
Depression is dangerous because it is hidden. Depressed people are ashamed. We keep it secret, and we don’t ask for help. We don’t think we deserve help. A recent Canadian study found that 24% of patients who had attempted suicide "reported not receiving care or even perceiving the need for care." This is why our friends and family don’t know what to do for us. And end up keeping quiet themselves.
Let's run full-page ads in magazines educating readers about depression's warning signs. And not ads with a woman gazing wistfully into her cup of tea. Depressed people don't see those ads and think "Poor lady, she's sad. I am, too, maybe I'd better get some medical attention." Instead we think, "How pathetic (I am)." Or "I hope I'm hiding it better than she is." No, let's run an ad with a noose hanging in a bedroom doorway. Or a drawer in a morgue, with a handmade Mother's Day card taped to it.
I wouldn't even mind a drug company sponsoring the ads. Anti-depressant medication not only saved my life and saved my daughters from losing their mother (saved my younger daughter from not being born at all, in fact)--it gave me my life. It made my glass look half-full rather than half-empty, until I could hold fast to the idea that I was worth fighting for. But let's not argue over the drugs. Not all depression is treated with drugs.The point is to let the secret out. This is not a case for green ribbons, but for ACT UP. Depression Kills! Fight Back!
Or we can just state the facts,courtesy of the American Psychiatric Association:
"Major Depressive Disorder is a medical illness that affects how you feel, think and behave causing persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. Depression can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. It is a chronic illness that usually requires long-term treatment."
Then let's list the warning signs. Have you or someone you love:
* ...felt sad, empty, or hopeless most of the day, nearly every day, for the last two weeks?
* ...lost interest or pleasure in normal activities?
* ...lost a lot of weight in the last month? lost your appetite?
* ...had trouble sleeping, particularly with waking up too early? Or been sleeping a lot more?
* ...been physically agitated, or noticeably slowed down?
* ...felt especially fatigued or low-energy?
* ...felt worthless or excessively guilty, nearly every day?
* ...had trouble thinking, concentrating, and making decisions?
* ...had recurrent thoughts of death, or thoughts or plans about suicide?
An"official" diagnosis of Major Depressive Episode requires five of the nine symptoms, but let's not get hung up on details. The more symptoms you have, the more severe your illness. It is an illness.You wouldn't say "I'm okay, don't worry about it" if you had breast cancer--then you would die. If you or someone you love is ill, get help right away.
Let's hang these ads in every library, police station, school and doctor's office. Let's hang them in restaurants--more people die of depression than of choking. And if you think you've never been out to dinner with a depressed person,who smiled at the table but snuck off to sob in the bathroom, think again. A sign might just change what we do after we dry our tears and walk back to our seat.
Dying of depression should be unacceptable, and it is up to us to decide to make it so. Depression is not preventable, but it is treatable, and it is all around us. Some of your friends and neighbors--as Robin Williams was our neighbor--are depressed right now. They aren't wearing green ribbons,though. We have to find them in the darkness, and keep them safe.
Posted by Lovechilde at 9:23 AM