© Geoff Brookes
When any two people are discussing various issues in life, you’ll often hear someone say “What’s it going to take until [someone] changes the way they [do something]”. The idea is that something extreme has to happen before change will occur.
And yet, my perception is that change occurs so terribly slowly when it comes to issues like depression, in our culture in North America.
We continue to put “stars” on pedestals. We want to believe that somehow they’ve risen above the life issues that generally haunt human beings on a daily basis. We know in our hearts that this cannot be true. If asked, we would deny this belief that they are somehow super-human. And yet we persist in imagining that movie stars, hockey players and politicians live some kind of charmed existence.
It’s almost like a cruel joke about celebrities, because when they fall, we want to “read all about it”. At least I assume we do, based on the magazines that populate grocery check-out lines.
And yet, nothing seems to change, when terrible issues come to light in that news cycle.
When I watched the Academy Awards this past winter, I was “half expecting” Hollywood to do or say something special about Robin Williams, And they did, in a very muted kind of way. Unlike the “Hollywood” that is so quick to embrace various social issues in the world, I don’t think they had anything to say at all about depression or any other mental health issues.
I guess it’s not considered “good press” in Hollywood.
And yet here was a man that brought such joy to people with his truly unique sense of humour; who also brought such poignant moments to the big screen, like his portrayal of the hope for a medical cure in the movie “Awakening”. He had a power to move us emotionally. And yet, suddenly he was gone, because he suffered so badly himself from the “quiet disease”, depression. The man who emotionally moved millions of us fell victim to storms of his inner feelings of inadequacy.
Tragically, Robin Williams’ story isn’t a “one off”. His story is not unique. Suicides among young adults are the second-leading cause of death, and many of those suicides are related to depression.
The lack of any public response from Hollywood increases my appreciation of Canadian public figures like Michael Landsburg and Clara Hughes, who regularly speak out on mental health issues. Both Michael and Clara suffer from the illness of depression, and have shared about how this affects their lives. It’s so important that public figures share about their experiences with depression. When we talk about it (e.g. the annual Bell “let’s talk” day), we acknowledge the reality of these illnesses. We say to those who suffer with it, that we are beginning to understand; that they’re NOT alone, as they might often feel; that we are willing to support them, and affirm them. We acknowledge that, despite affirmation from us, it is indeed an illness that comes and goes, unpredictably. We tell them that we are supporting them as friends and family, 24/7.
I think there might be a feeling among those friends and family, that it’s hard to know what to say. I think it is hard, because those that don’t suffer from depression struggle to imagine what it must be like for those that do. Nevertheless, I think it’s critically important that we regularly express what their friendship means to us, and how important they are to us. And, most of all, that we are beginning to understand the illness that they have.
I wrote these words yesterday as a comment to Chuck’s blog post:
“Chuck, what you’ve written today is so terribly important, for both the people that suffer from the illness of depression, as well the people around them.
To anyone reading this blog and my comment – please read the story on the link, about the young athlete and college student who took her life. This is not about “guilt trips”. It’s all about gaining a better understanding about depression. With understanding comes compassion, better communication, and for those that suffer from depression, perhaps the beginning of understanding that they aren’t alone in this world – that friends and family really do understand them and care about them – just as they truly are.
People that struggle with depression need a solid clear reference point. At the worst of the depression attacks, they might not believe the reassurances that friends or family might provide – but they can rely on the “true north” in their relationships , and they can begin to see the depression attacks for what they are. There are many metaphors thay can be used, and none are a perfect description of the effects of depression. But hopefully, with mutual understanding, the depressive storms can be weathered, and the person suffering from depression can emerge after the hurricane abates – perhaps battered emotionally, but alive to fight another battle on another day.”
Our recent blog posts are a reaction to the tragic news of two more deaths, this time two young people here in our own city.
It’s time that we talked openly about this illness. Roughly based on statistics, there must be thousands (maybe tens of thousands) in our province that battle daily with depression.
Let’s actually change things. We can’t change their disease. Like insulin for diabetics, there are treatments, but there are no cures.
But the support of friends and family can make a huge difference.