Swim­ming in de­pres­sion

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - -- Richard Ma­honey [email protected]­garyrnews.ca

He was “swim­ming in de­pres­sion.” This man, whom we’ll call John Doe, was sink­ing deeper and deeper into a dark place, a melan­cholic morass.

This was about 20 years ago, be­fore so­cial me­dia, emoti­cons, and chat rooms, an era be­fore peo­ple used tech­nol­ogy to share ev­ery de­tail of their lives with com­plete strangers. This was a pe­riod be­fore Google could pro­vide all the an­swers.

Like most men, middle-aged John did not talk about his feel­ings. So he qui­etly dealt with his sad­ness, which washed over him in waves. Hope­less­ness en­gulfed him. His mori­bund mood be­gin to af­fect his health.

His mar­riage was on the rocks; his grown chil­dren weren’t talk­ing to him; his busi­ness was suf­fer­ing.

Mr. Doe did have many friends and aquain­tances. They met on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, to have a few drinks, gripe about the world and oc­ca­sion­ally play board games.

His friends no­ticed that Mr. Doe was not han­dling his per­sonal trou­bles all that well.

“He doesn’t look good. He has let him­self go. What’s with that scrag­gly beard? And since when did he take to wear­ing only black sweat­pants to work?”

“Leave him alone. We should just butt out and mind our own busi­ness. Ev­ery­one gets a lit­tle down once in a while. Once the di­vorce is fi­nal­ized, he will be back on his feet again.”

The am­a­teur psy­chi­a­trists were di­vided on a course of ac­tion.

“I think he needs help, pro­fes­sional help. There is no shame in ad­mit­ting to your­self that that you might have a men­tal health prob­lem.”

“That is the last thing he wants to do. I know of this guy who went to a shrink and since word got out he had a men­tal ill­ness, his life has never been the same. Peo­ple look at him dif­fer­ently. Cus­tomers don’t like deal­ing with sad peo­ple. The other em­ploy­ees were afraid to say any­thing to him -- they were afraid he would snap.”

His friends said noth­ing to John, whose be­hav­iour grew er­ratic.

He be­gan driv­ing around the coun­try­side in the middle of the night, show­ing up at all hours at friends’ homes, sleep­ing in the middle of the day for 12 hours non-stop. Mr. Doe tried to find re­lief in the bot­tom of a liquor bot­tle.

On a glo­ri­ous clear Sum­mer day, Mr. Doe would close all the cur­tains and sit in the dark, star­ing at the wall.

He grad­u­ally re­treated, shut­ting him­self off, re­fus­ing in­vi­ta­tions to get-to­geth­ers with his bud­dies.

One day, as a friend drove by his house and saw his lawn had not been cut in weeks, he stopped and knocked on the door.

Af­ter some coax­ing, Mr. Doe fi­nally emerged from the dark­ened house, and let his friend in. Mr. Doe had ob­vi­ously not slept nor bathed in weeks. The vis­i­tor did not have to ask him how he was. Be­fore he could speak, John blurted out: “If I kill my­self, what hap­pens to my life in­sur­ance?” “You’re not se­ri­ous, are you?” “Of course I am. I have enough drugs here to do it.”

As the alarm bells sounded in his brain, Mr. Doe’s friend re­al­ized that he could no longer mind his own busi­ness. Some­thing had to be done. Mr. Doe never did at­tempt sui­cide. But pulling him out of that vor­tex was not easy. His friends used ev­ery means pos­si­ble to con­vince him that life, his life, was worth liv­ing. But he re­sisted. To him, reach­ing out was a sign of weak­ness. He kept rid­ing a roller­coaster of emo­tions. He was giddy one mo­ment, an­gry the next.

To make a long story short, John Doe did even­tu­ally re­ceive treat­ment. “I got sick of be­ing sick.”

To­day, while he is no longer “swim­ming in de­pres­sion,” he says, “I still have some bad days, par­tic­u­larly when the weather is dreary. But I am do­ing bet­ter. It’s some­thing I live with. I just have to take th­ese pills for the rest of my life.”

We all know John, or some­one a lot like him. And trag­i­cally, we also know of peo­ple who took their own lives. Sui­cide ac­counts for about 25 per cent of all deaths among peo­ple aged 15 to 24, and for 16 per cent of deaths in the 25-44 age bracket.

The world has ob­vi­ously changed in two decades. When John was di­ag­nosed with a men­tal ill­ness, the topic was rarely dis­cussed any­where.

At­ti­tudes have changed to­wards what was once a taboo sub­ject. Ini­tia­tives such as Bell’s Let’s Talk pro­gram have helped lift the “cloak of se­crecy” around men­tal ill­ness. Ad cam­paigns en­cour­age peo­ple to be more ac­cept­ing of peo­ple who have men­tal ill­ness.

Yet, the Cana­dian Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion re­ports that 27 per cent of Cana­di­ans are fear­ful of be­ing around peo­ple with men­tal health prob­lems.

And only 49 per cent of Cana­di­ans said they would so­cial­ize with a friend who has a se­ri­ous men­tal ill­ness.

This would ex­plain why two in three peo­ple suf­fer in si­lence, fear­ing judg­ment and re­jec­tion.

Why would any­one os­tra­cize some­body be­cause he or she is sick? No­body would shun a di­a­betic or steer clear of an asthma suf­ferer.

Chances are that, whether we know it or not, sooner or later we will en­counter some­one who has “is­sues.” Peo­ple with men­tal health prob­lems live among us. One in five Cana­di­ans will ex­pe­ri­ence a form of men­tal ill­ness.

Some three mil­lion Cana­di­ans are suf­fer­ing from de­pres­sion.

Mood and anx­i­ety dis­or­ders af­fect a quar­ter of the pop­u­la­tion.

Only one of five chil­dren who needs men­tal health ser­vices re­ceives them.

Eleven peo­ple will end their lives by sui­cide to­day – and ev­ery day – in this coun­try. So, what can you do? For starters, we should all know bet­ter, but of­ten we must be re­minded to hit the “edit” but­ton be­fore speak­ing.

Talk­ing is the first step to­wards mean­ing­ful change and build­ing greater aware­ness, ac­cep­tance, and ac­tion. But don’t start shoot­ing your mouth off if you do not have any­thing con­struc­tive to say.

Use of terms such as “psy­cho” or “nut” is not help­ful. Harsh words, stupid ges­tures, in­sen­si­tive “jokes” can re­ally hurt.

We can never pre­tend to un­der­stand what is go­ing on be­tween a per­son’s ears or what kind of in­ter­nal hell would drive a per­son to con­sider end­ing it all.

The Cana­dian Men­tal Health As­so­ci­a­tion of­fers ad­vice on how to help.

Treat a per­son who has a men­tal ill­ness with the kind­ness and care you give to peo­ple with other ill­nesses through a friendly smile, a help­ing hand, a phone call or visit.

Don't triv­i­al­ize some­one's ill­ness. In­stead, say: “I’m sorry to hear that, it must be a dif­fi­cult time. Is there any­thing I can do to help?” Break the si­lence. Talk about how men­tal ill­ness touches us all in some way di­rectly or through a friend, fam­ily mem­ber or col­league. Sto­ries of lived ex­pe­ri­ence are the best way to help erad­i­cate stigma.

Then again, some­times it’s best to just lis­ten.

When their friend spoke of sui­cide, they knew they had to butt in

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