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August 20, 2014
Column #1,721
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 murders.

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 night.”

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 costs.

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 self-medicate.

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 help.

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 much.

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 receive.”

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