Since Robin Williams completed suicide last Monday, I have been reflecting on the profound impact depression had on people’s lives. Robin was an incredibly gifted man- he could do anything from a tragic role to a genie. He had a talent for improve. He brought laughter, joy, and tears to millions of people worldwide. Yet, he struggled with the monster of depression. Ultimately, he lost the war. His legacy will live on, continuing to challenge, entertain, and inspire generations in the future.
Depression effects roughly 25 million Americans annually. I am one of them. My first bout with depression was while I was active duty in the Marines. Due in part to stigma, it went undiagnosed and untreated. I first got help three years after completing my service in the Corps.
Depression is misunderstood. It’s not a temporary sadness that everyone experiences in life. It’s not something you can just “snap out of” by doing something or thinking happy thoughts. It’s a crushing change to your brain’s chemistry. Depression robs you of laughter, joy, and hope. It is living under a dark storm cloud while everyone around you is basking in bright sunlight. It impacts how you think, your emotions, and what you do. At times, getting out of bed is an accomplishment. Depression is a family disease, a social disease. It effects the family and friends of the person. Often, they are confused, frustrated, and feel helpless to ease the pain of their friend or family member. At times, a person may be surrounded by friends and family, yet feel utterly alone. That is the ugly face of depression.
There are effective treatment options. If you have depression, seek out a qualified therapist. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy does help. It teaches you how to identify the interactions between thoughts, emotions, and behavior. If you change one, you frequently change the others. There are also several effective antidepressant medications. Dialectical Behavior Therapy may also help. Talk to your doctor and rule out medical issues that can mimic depression: hypothyroid, low vitamin D, and low iron may all cause depression-like symptoms or make your depression worse.
It took me five days to write this blog. I never thought the death of a stranger I never met would impact me so deeply. I mourn for the loss of a bright, shining star in our world. Robin Williams made me smile in some of the darkest times of my life. But his legacy lives on.