Depression, suicide and apathy
On August 11, the world got a little bit darker. We lost comedy legend Robin Williams to suicide. Along with the abruptness of the news, many were shocked to learn that he died after a long battle with depression.
Immediately after word was released, the Internet was abuzz with memes and memorials alike. Celebrities, friends and fans all took the time to pay tribute to the passing of Williams, expressing profound disbelief and sadness that such a thing could happen.
It seems beyond logic that someone who brought so much happiness to the world could have been so deeply embroiled in depression that he would take his own life. But the truth of the matter is very different.
“Sadness is an emotion, whereas depression is an illness,” according to Dr. Ken Robbins of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Although the two often correlate, they don’t have to.
Take the case of Canadian woman Nathalie Blanchard, for instance, who was clinically diagnosed with depression and took a leave from work.
In 2009, she lost her disability benefits because her insurer, Manulife Financial, discovered pictures of her on Facebook where she was shown smiling at her birthday party and on holiday.
They concluded that she was no longer depressed and therefore fit to start working again. Although this flies in the face of established psychology and modern science, it reveals the underlying truth of how we perceive depression as a society — that it’s just feeling sad, and that it’ll pass.
As a result, victims of this illness are often stigmatized for showing symptoms publicly, as if they somehow actively pollute their surroundings with their suffering.
This becomes increasingly problematic when you start layering on other social stigmas — men that seem helpless and self-loathing are perceived as weak, whereas women that outwardly show irritability are dismissed as “bitches.”
In addition, the disturbing perception that these people are only suffering from “first world problems” which aren’t real problems, and you’ve got a recipe for a dysfunctional culture that denies the symptoms and punishes the ill.
It is therefore commonplace for sufferers to conceal their depression, whether it is out of fear of being judged or a misguided belief that it’s a temporary condition.
As university students, we are seekers of truth. Whether you’re studying business, global studies or French, it’s important that you settle for nothing less than facts, while discarding old-fashioned generalizations about serious problems like depression.
When your friend starts acting strangely, take the time to talk to them and let them know that you’re there for them – they might not immediately open up to you, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Become familiar with on-campus resources like the Student Wellness Centre, as well as off-campus ones like Here 24/7 and take the time to try and let your friends know, too.
You never know who might need it, and you may have just saved someone a lot of grief and pain, even if they don’t show it.
The most important thing is to remove the blanket of ignorance surrounding this topic and to start talking about it so people care. As we’ve all learned from the recent ALS ice bucket challenge trend, awareness can be a very powerful force if utilized properly, and it’s our most effective weapon for beating depression and helping those that we care about.
The sooner we stop kicking people while they’re down, the sooner we can start reaching out to help them get back up.