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Understanding the depths of depression and how to help


With the tragic passing of Robin Williams, we see the sad reality that depression can afflict anyone. Depression is a common health condition not restricted by age, gender, socioeconomics, or personal or professional success. Did you know that one in 10 adults in the United States has depression, and suicide is currently the tenth leading cause of death?

Often, negative attitudes associated with mental illness and substance abuse prevent people from seeking the help they need. But depression is treatable. We can help make a positive difference for those struggling with depression.

In his role as John Keating in the movie Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams said, “…words and ideas can change the world.” Improving the ways in which we talk about and think about depression and mental illness can help remove stigma, making wellness easier to obtain for those who need it. Conversation and collaboration about how we work together across our health care system to treat mental illness can bring positive change.

What can you do? Learn how to identify when someone you know or care about is struggling. Early detection and intervention of mental health problems can lead to improved outcomes. Anyone can help. If you are worried about a loved one, consider these steps:

  1. Talk to the person honestly and openly about what you’ve noticed and why you’re concerned.
  2. Suggest that the person see a professional such as a medical doctor or a mental health provider.
  3. Express your willingness to help by setting up appointments, going with the person to appointments and attending family therapy sessions.
  4. If you believe there is a risk of suicide:
    • Ask them if they are having thoughts of harming themselves. This will not put the idea into their head or make it more likely that they will harm themselves.
    • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255)
    • Take the person to an emergency room or call 911.
  5. Follow-up. Check-in with your loved one. See how they’re doing. And continue to offer support.

Mental illness can impact anyone and everyone. It’s up to all of us to help those who are struggling.