August 20, 2014
Pulling Out of Depression
By Mike McManus
The suicide of beloved comedian Robin Williams is a grim
reminder that depression leads too many Americans to make that tragic choice. In
2011 38,300 Americans killed themselves – more than triple the nation’s 11,100
A stunning one million Americans attempted suicide, half of whom were hurt badly
enough to be treated in hospitals.
Dr. Jean Kim, a psychiatrist, says Williams’ death “has sparked an international
conversation about mental illness, and it shows we have a lot to learn.” She
says that too often people are quick to stigmatize depression as “a moral
weakness or lack of willpower.”
However, with Robin William’s death “something has shifted. People are starting
to recognize that depression must relate to biology, because who would give up
such an outwardly gifted life? Williams was always busy making the rest of us
happy, and we adored him for it.”
Speaking from personal as well as professional experience, Kim says depression
“skews your vision and distorts reality. It sprays a fog that makes the
afflicted person feel that nothing is ever good enough and that people hate you
or you hate them. Anxiety brings crippling panic, feelings of danger, racing
thoughts of doom and obsessions about misery, plaguing you in the middle of the
Depression is quite different for men than for women. Men tend to blame others,
feel angry, irritable and ego inflated – while women blame themselves and feel
apathetic and worthless. Men feel suspicious and guarded while women feel
anxious and scared. Men create conflicts while women avoid conflicts at all
Men need to feel in control while women have trouble setting boundaries.
Depressed men find it “weak” to admit self-doubt or despair whereas women find
it easy to talk about self-doubt and despair. Men are more apt to use alcohol,
TV, sports and sex to self-medicate while woman use food, friends and “love” to
Men are four times as likely to commit suicide as women, in part because they
find it difficult to acknowledge their depression – let alone seek professional
Perhaps the Robin Williams tragedy will be a clarion call for Americans to
recognize that mental illness can be crippling, is no one’s “fault,” and that
there is no shame in seeking help.
Fortunately, there are warning signs by those at risk of suicide. Many do talk
about killing or harming themselves and have an unusual preoccupation with death
or dying. They express strong feelings of hopelessness or being trapped. Some
act recklessly as if they have a death sentence – driving too fast, drinking too
Another clear warning sign is that some begin giving away prized possessions,
and call or visit people to say goodbye. Or they say things like “Everyone would
be better off without me.” Or “I want out.”
If you suspect a friend or family member is considering suicide, express your
concern and seek professional help immediately. Talking openly about suicidal
thoughts and feelings can save a life!
There are many effective treatments for depression, especially therapy which
gives tools to treat depression, such as skills and insight to prevent
depression from coming back. One skill is working through the root of depression
and employing behavioral skills to combat it.
Many use anti-depressants, which can relieve symptoms in some people, but do not
cure the underlying problem. Medication comes with side effects. Therefore,
avoid relying on a doctor who is not trained in mental health.
What can be very helpful – especially to men who are greatest risk – are
lifestyle changes which can help lift depression. First, exercise regularly
which boosts serotonin and other feel-good brain chemicals. It boosts
self-esteem and helps improve sleep.
Second, eat well. Avoid sugary foods and eat more citrus fruit, leafy greens,
beans, chicken and eggs. Foods rich in omega-3 fats are very helpful – salmon,
walnuts, soybeans and flaxseeds are mood boosters.
Third, get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation exacerbates anger, irritability and
moodiness. Experts recommend aiming for 7 to 9 hours nightly.
Fourth, take steps to reduce stress. Figure out what in your life is stressing
you out, such as work overload or unsupportive relationships. Set some realistic
goals and break them down into manageable tasks, making a plan to avoid or
minimize what’s stressing you.
Finally, take on new responsibilities. Avoid the temptation of pulling back from
life and responsibilities at home and work.
Instead, find new ways to serve others. Scripture says, “Give and you shall
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