Take time to learn about depression

I, like so many others, was stunned and saddened by the news of Robin Williams’ tragic death. Knowing widely publicized reports of death by suicide can sometimes result in an increase of suicide among people already at risk, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage us all to be sensitive in our discussions and to educate ourselves about depression and other mental illnesses.

Major depression is an illness which can affect the brain and other parts of the body. It can be triggered by biological factors, sometimes inherited, sometimes not. It can have many causes and contributors, including other medical conditions and illnesses, medications and chemical substances, and sometimes unknown elements that can alter the make-up of the brain. Robin’s wife, Susan, recently stated Williams was in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, “Parkinson’s affects many parts of the brain which controls mood.”

People experiencing major depression may exhibit a depressed mood, unusual anger/irritability, a sense of emptiness, and/or a loss of interest in normally pleasurable activities for at least a two-week period. This mood is different from the person’s usual temperament and it impairs their ability to perform some of the daily functions of everyday life. Changes in typical sleep patterns and appetite, difficulty concentrating, and chronic fatigue are also among the possible symptoms. Major depression is not just a more severe form of sadness, and admonitions from family members and others to “snap out of it” only result in frustration and, sometimes despair, for he or she can no more do so than a diabetic can command his pancreas to produce more insulin.

There are warning signs that may alert one to possible suicidal thoughts or plans, including a sudden upswing mood, an increase of alcohol or substance use, the giving away of prized and sentimental belongings, making arrangements for the care of important matters in anticipation of their permanent absence, seeking information about the means to kill oneself, and talking about killing oneself or wishing to be dead.

For more information, please call the Mental Health Association in Fulton and Montgomery Counties at 762-5332 or toll-free at 1-800-734-5864. For help with a mental health crisis, call the Mental Health Crisis Hotline of St. Mary’s Hospital at 842-9111 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

RENEE CARR

Community educator, Mental Health

Association in Fulton & Montgomery Counties