June 18, 2018
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Depression a treatable illness

By David S. Proffitt, Special to the BDN

In its simplest terms suicide is caused by a broken heart, a loss of hope and a lack of care.

To reduce the occurrence of these absolutely avoidable losses in our community, our goal must to be to get people talking about mental health issues and mental wellness.

As we, our families and our neighbors struggle during this economy, more and more of us are stressed. Many are under greater strains than ever before, and some of us don’t know these feelings of despair, hopelessness, desperation and misery may be signs of a mental health crisis.

Some are rich, some are poor, some are famous and some are invisible.

Kyle Jensen, 18, of Huguenot, N.Y., came out from under a platform at the last minute as a train was pulling into the station in New York one recent Tuesday evening and ended his life.

There were signs of trouble. Jensen placed somber lyrics of his own devising on his Facebook page and posted the song “Suicide Season.” “He would put on a cover and make it like he was not depressed but anyone could see through that he was depressed,” said a friend on his Facebook page.

Former Olympic sprinter Antonio Pettigrew, who admitted to doping and was stripped of a gold medal, committed suicide by overdosing on a drug commonly found in sleeping pills, according to an autopsy report released recently.

Or consider gifted football player Kenny McKinley. In college, just a couple of years ago, he broke most of the major receiving records at South Carolina University. He signed a contract worth almost $2 million a year. He was a father of a 1-year-old boy. Last month, he was discovered dead in the bedroom of his home. He put a pistol in a pillow and shot himself in the head.

Although he had made statements while playing dominoes with a friend that he should, “just kill myself,”no one believed he was serious. He had a great life full of promise, but that was not enough to keep him from ending it prematurely.

Like so many others, McKinley didn’t see depression for what it is: a treatable illness.

Depression and anxiety are underreported and undertreated, especially in men. Most often, it is seen as something to be ashamed of, to hide or risk ridicule, but rarely something to talk about.

Ricky Williams, NFL star running back and former Heisman Trophy winner, recently spoke about his time battling depression and anxiety. He claims there is a physical prejudice in illnesses. Teams address a physical, observable injury by doing everything in their power to make sure treatment occurs and works. Not so with an emotional injury.

Why is it easier to talk about torn knees than depression? Or to talk about lost jobs than lost hope?

What if it is not the illness that is so dangerous, it is our shared attitude? What if it really is stigma that is perpetuated in our culture that leads to death? Scary thought, isn’t it?

What if the cure is for all of us to recognize pain in others and support them as they seek sources of healing?

A lot of questions need addressing. Talking about it and exploring why are important first steps.

Perhaps the biggest leap in treating the depression and hopelessness of others is that we acknowledge it. We collectively support those affected by celebrating their worth by pointing them toward help and telling them they do not deserve to suffer. To seek help, regardless if that help involves talking to a friend, a pastor, a doctor or a mental health professional.

The message should be the same: You do not have to live in pain. Get help now.

David S. Proffitt is president and CEO of The Acadia Hospital in Bangor.

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