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Depression: an illness in every sense of the word

When the brain is ill, no matter what the cause, the PERSON is ill, not "crazy", just as a diabetic is ill rather than merely having a malfunctioning pancreas.
When the brain is ill, no matter what the cause, the PERSON is ill, not "crazy", just as a diabetic is ill rather than merely having a malfunctioning pancreas.
National Institutes of Health/Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

When those greatly admired by the world, such as Robin Williams, choose to end their lives, there are many left to mourn them. Mr. Williams, whose life was spent in making the rest of us laugh, apparently had aspects deep within his soul that he couldn’t laugh at himself. People are now all busy commenting on that fact, that so many comedians and clowns have their dark sides and end up expressing their sorrow fatally. Those looking at them from the outside can only guess at what lies under the makeup.

Many of those who end their lives by violent means (and this can be descriptive of all suicides, including by more passive means such as drug overdoses) often have also had addictions to alcohol, drugs, overeating or any number of possible habits. Whether or not they chose these means as their ticket out, there is no doubt that the struggle could have been overwhelming. In many instances death may not have been a conscious decision but one resulting from the addiction carried too far.

Nonetheless there are many (and aren’t they all coming out of the woodwork now?) deriding the act of suicide as “the coward’s way out”. Perhaps they have, themselves, never faced the prospect of slitting their throat or wrist, of putting a gun in their mouth and pulling the trigger, or jumping off a bridge. Could the knowledge that such an action will result in incredible pain, especially if you die slowly (or survive), be one of cowardice? Knowing there is most likely not going to be any second chance to change your mind, would this stem from a lack of courage? Facing the unknown, especially if you believe in any kind of afterlife, may also be daunting to the prospective suicide. For all one knows, what awaits you after inflicting your own demise could be infinitely worse than life continued on earth.

Quite possibly the reality is, for most who kill themselves or at least try, is that living is simply too painful to carry on. When you are doing anything resulting in extreme suffering, such as running barefoot on broken glass, the natural response is to want to stop doing it. Thus it is with living a life that you can no longer bear—the impulse is to want to make the pain stop, now. What if you are unable to find a method of solving such a dilemma?

Oh, of course many will say, “So take a pill and chill!” or (worst of all) “Cheer up, stop whining!” As if a person suffering from depression—above all clinical depression, biologically gearing you to despair—could merely decide “Well, today I won’t be sad anymore.” Pills? The truth is, in many cases, anti-depressants—especially for teenagers and children—are more likely to shove someone over the edge, both figuratively and often literally. (See http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/DrugSafety/ucm088660.pdf) Drugs like Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, have been known to cause suicidal thoughts or impulses of violence towards others, or both. If changing from wanting your own death prematurely to desiring another go at life could be accomplished so easily, would there be so many self-inflicted fatalities, or kids going berserk in schools with guns, bombs, knives (whatever they can get their hands on, really)?

What about the possibility that addictions are not just a sign of moral weakness, as many in society are prone to judge? What if they are, instead, a response to the pain of depression or other emotional problems? Depression is, seriously, an actual disease as much as cancer is. It eats away at your mind, your very soul. In holistic medicine, we consider the body, mind and soul all as one integrated being rather than separating them. Shouldn’t depression, then, be treated as a condition afflicting the entire person? It affects the body in many ways, lowering immunity, raising cortisol (the “fat hormone”) levels, interfering with healing from other illnesses, to list only a few ways in which it impedes wellness. When people become depressed, whether from chemical imbalances in the brain, from life situations, or induction by environmental means such as ambient or ingested toxins, they are afflicted in all areas of the body, the mind and spirit. Like the concept of not being “just a little bit pregnant” it is impossible to be sick in only one aspect of the integrated being. Just as in Traditional Chinese Medicine the chi (life energy), when blocked, causes disease, so can having illness in any area cause depression, and vice-versa.

Society needs to immediately stop labeling those suffering from depression, PTSD, eating disorders, or other so-called “mental” illnesses as crazy. Possibly nothing more than this prevents people from seeking help they desperately need. When you are depressed you are as ill as a person with a broken leg or diabetes, but those other conditions have no stigma attached to them. It’s time for the depressed people to “come out”, in solidarity, supporting each other. Laws need to be formed to protect them from job dismissal, housing discrimination, etc. When enough depression sufferers stand up to say they are ill, not insane, when this is no longer labeled a “mental” illness, only then will progress be made in treatment.