*All quotes are from the book Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn’t Teach You and Medication Can’t Give You by Richard O’Connor, Ph.D.
Suicide, the ‘worst case’ outcome of depression, is officially the tenth most common cause of death in America. There are 33,000 documented suicides annually, but the true incidence is probably double that (because police and medical examiners prefer not to label ambiguous, solitary deaths as suicide). One out of every two hundred people will eventually take their own lives. And although I personally think that suicide can sometimes be a rational choice for people who are in intractable pain or facing great disability, the vagueness of the boundary lines means that we have no reliable data on how many suicides are people who are really depressed, versus how many are ‘rational.’ My experience is that far, far more suicides are truly depressed. Among adolescents, the suicide rate has quadrupled in the past twenty-five years.
The internet is all abuzz with conversations revolving around the tragic passing of the beloved Robin Williams. I have read a whole wide range of posts today – some that spewed varying levels of indignation and ignorance regarding depression and suicide, but many more that exuded courage as individuals vulnerably detailed their own encounters with mental illness. So tonight I am compelled to add my voice to the many others, not as a therapist per se (though clearly my profession impacts my perspective), but as another person who has known depression intimately. From my own family history of depression and suicide attempts, a personal encounter with a single major depressive episode, to the recent loss of a dear friend – I am painfully aware of the impact of this particularly haunting mental illness.
As the above quote indicates, depression and suicide are a serious epidemic in our world today. It is a deeply complex and fascinating illness, that cannot be summed up in any single blog post, but that acknowledgment should not serve as an excuse to avoid the conversation altogether. And y’all, I think we all need to start really dialoguing about these issues. Dialoguing requires the capacity, first and foremost, to really listen – to learn from those who know the subject matter intimately. May we all let those who have been gripped most severely by the suffocating hand of depression and those who have walked along side the many who have suffered become our greatest teachers. We may discover that we all have a part in perpetuating a culture and climate that primes the soil for such an illness to thrive.
Stressful jobs lead to a marked increase in major depression and anxiety disorders in previously healthy young people. Instead of a cooperative world where your life’s value is defined by how well you contribute to your community, we have a competitive society that tries to measure your value by your income and possessions. Instead of a world of social ties and ritual that provides security in virtually every aspect of your life, we have a world of me-first. Instead of the sense of belonging to a community, we have the anxiety of unemployment and homelessness. So for the past twenty-five years in both the United States and Europe, rates of anxiety, depression, and stress-related disorders have been accelerating every year; in 2006, Americans spent an estimated $76 billion a year on antidepressants. Now health authorities predict that soon depression will be the world’s second largest public health concern.
…Mental health is dependent on society; the culture must give parents the opportunity to love their children; must honor justice and fair play; must provide hope through opportunities available to all. Thus the world of work, the family , and the larger community all affect not only the current state of mind of the individual but the ability of the individual ever to achieve a state of emotional health.
As many of us are lamenting over that fact that mental illness still carries such a deeply rooted stigma (which often leads to a shame that can completely obstruct one’s journey towards healing) and many more are crying out for an increase and improvent in mental health services and resources, I am left wondering how the world might look different if we embraced a “village mentality.” Perhaps we are not as powerless as we might feel in the face of the darkness that is depression. The often burried idealist in me longs to believe that as a society, or a community, or a church, or a neighborhood, or a family, we can become a safe place for those suffering in an internal isolation. Because the truth is, we’re ALL in need of a much safer world.
Kurt Cobain…20 Years Later
April 5th of this past week marked 20 years since the suicide of Kurt Cobain. When I was reminded of this anniversary while driving earlier this week, I was mentally catapulted back in time remembering the first time I held the Nevermind cd in my hands. As a 12 year old, there was no way I could have understood the level of internal wrestling evident in Cobain’s lyrics, but there was something about his resistance to the status quo that both frightened me and made me feel less alone in the world. My exposure and love of his music synced up with some very dark and troubling years in my own life. His story led him to ending his own life. For whatever reasons, my story led me to the resources necessary to experience transformation and healing.
It saddens me to acknowledge that too many people who struggle with addiction, self-injurious behavior, depression and other forms of mental and emotional disturbances struggle to find or utilize resources for help still today today. I love the work of To Write Love on Her Arms and am thankful for how they are trying to bridge the gap between the hurting and the help. In this short TEDx talk, Jamie Tworkowski (founder of TWLOHA) reflects on how all of us have a story that includes both depression and desire and how much we need each other to unpack all that our stories hold.
One Mother’s Story of Beauty and Loss
Every time I come accross a raw and honest personal story that someone has found the courage to write about and gift to the world I am reminded of how storytelling has the power to be mutually transformative for both the teller as well as the receiver. Christa Black’s raw and recent account of the loss of her baby girl who only lived outside of her womb for 40 minutes has been working inside my own heart in mysterious, painful and wonderful ways this week.
NOAH, Philosophy and “Divine Madness”
There is a lot of buzz about the newly-released film NOAH. I haven’t seen it yet because four kids ranging in age from 1 to 13 necessitates waiting until films are released to dvd in most cases. I have been reading some of the philosphical engagements with the film, however,and had to share this reflective article from Peter Rollins mainly because he compares the film to Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling.
Flight of the Lion King (because this post is too heavy without it)
Anxiety and depression are two sides of the same coin of control. Anxiety says that you must have control of everything. Depression says that you have control over nothing. Neither of these sentiments are entirely true.
Listen in to find out what we can and cannot control and how to recognize the signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression in your own life. Follow along and download the workbook.
*We invite you to respond to these questions in your own journal or to simply take time to ponder and reflect while sipping on a great cup of coffee or tea…or maybe with a glass of red wine.
- Where do you find yourself most often in regards to your family? Anxious? Depressed?
- Can you name one thing that you could give up trying to control?
- Can you name one thing that you will make an effort to begin controlling?
- What are some obstacles to believing that God has control? What are some obstacles to believing that you have some control?
- After you give something up (either anxiety/control or depression/lack of control) there will be a space – will you fill it with kindness and self-care? How so? Specifically? No, really, write down the ways you will start introducing care for yourself.