Every so often, I read about someone taking their life due to severe depression – the latest being Robin Williams ( and every time I think of him, I remember a cheerful “Gooooood morning Vietnam !”) . And then I typically read multiple articles on depression in twitter and facebook. I feel terrible for a while and then I move on.
Occasionally, right after I read these things – I start worrying that a lot of people around me that I care for are depressed. Once, I even asked a Psychiatrist ( who is related to me and with many fancy degrees ) if someone we knew in common showed signs of depression (based on a series of facebook posts) . Thankfully he set me straight quickly saying it did not look like signs of depression at all. I totally forgot about it till I read about Robin Williams yesterday. It is so easy to mis-diagnose mental illness.
Even after his tragic death – when I think of Robin Williams, I still smile (albeit with a tinge of pain). My brain associates his name to fun and jokes. It is such a rude awakening that depression does not leave alone a man who cheered up millions of people. If it can happen to him – it can happen to you and me too.
When it comes to suspected physical illness – I push friends and family hard to seek medical help if I suspect they are not in good health. Usually it is an effort they appreciate, and some might even take me up on it. But I am hesitant to push anyone to a mental health specialist given my lack of knowledge of symptoms and the social stigma they will face. .And there in lies the problem – because I think vast majority of people hesitate like I do and probably for exactly the same reasons.
I honestly don’t know what causes depression – but I am guessing some combination of nature and nurture are at play. Not sure what can be done about nature – but surely there are things about nurture that we can control to some extent if we knew better. The world around us is changing fast, and there are plenty of ways to abuse the multiple stimulants most people have access to – including kids. Restricting access might be hard – but educating everyone on consequences might be a good start.
The more I think about it – the absolute minimum thing to do is to start educating little kids in school about mental illness and to let them know that asking for help is the right thing to do if they or someone they know needs it. There is a reason I think this is the most sustainable way to do it. The first time I saw recycling done was in my 20s. And it took a serous effort for me to do it consistently. My little daughter learned it in play school and she does it by habit and reminds me when I slip. I know all of her friends do it too .
Of course there needs to be an education option for adults too – but there is enough information online etc in case anyone wants it. But for that “pull model” to work – there needs to be an open conversation without the usual social stigma. It can’t be just a conversation that happens for a week when a celebrity takes his life. It needs to happen in offices, schools, government and everywhere else. The more we talk – the more we will need information, and we will go find information and eventually a few more of us will know what to do about depression. It is needed – much needed.