By Rob Ficiur
Normally writers can’t re-use articles they have written in the past. Sadly this is the third column I have written on depression in the last five years. While that may seem like too many to some, it is a drop in the bucket to the need for public discussion and understanding of this devastating disease.
On February 15 the hockey world was saddened by the death of former Calgary Flame Steve Montador. While we did not know all specific details of his passing, depression was the word that those close to him kept repeating. Steve Montador, like many others suffered from and eventually died because of the symptoms from depression. His transition to being out of professional hockey had been a difficult as it is for many players (and others who are leaving jobs they have loved). Montador was also plagued with concussions the last few years of his career. One day we may have medical proof that there is a correlation between concussions and depression.
As we become more aware of the myths and realities of depression we can better help those around us deal with this misunderstood ailment that cripples many people.
A. Depression is a disease not a weakness. If I suffered from diabetes there would not be the stigma that I should “cheer up” or “get over it.” If my eyes are dysfunctional and I need corrective lenses to see properly no one would second guess my wearing glasses to correct my eye problem. (Nor would they tell me to cheer up and I could see better.)
B. Depression and mental illness carry a stigma that prevents people from seeking help. Michael Landsberg, host of TSN’s Off the Record said “When I say I suffer from mental illness or depression more than half of Canadians think that this is a weakness I have.” Uninformed people make false assumptions about a disease they know nothing about. Instead of seeking help, those suffering (who are already discouraged and depressed) are less likely to seek more help.
C. I don’t understand depression and neither do you. We have all been discouraged at times – but few of us understand depression. The following is a quote from a man in his twenties who was responding to the death of Robin Williams in August. His painful words made me realize how little I knew and understood about this plague that is sweeping our country.
“Having suffered from Depression for an extremely long time, I know firsthand the struggle of waking up every single day. I know what it’s like to have to turn to something, just to numb out the pain of reality. Feeling so alone, surrounded by billions of people. To consistently feel left alone in a dark room with no way out. To be filled with so much sadness and loneliness and not knowing how to stop it. To recognize that pain, yet know that there is nothing you could possibly do to make it stop. Nothing. To be by all these people you know, and silently wish, just wish that for a second they would notice you, and tell you everything will be just fine….
Why can’t people see this? Why do they think I’m just sad? Why do they think that with just the flip of a switch, I can change my outlook and be positive? How can people be so heartless and unresponsive to a quiet plea of desperation from someone in immense emotional and mental pain? How could they possibly think they understand because they’ve had some bad days also? You don’t know the pain of having to be burdened by such a trial. How tired you feel. How hard it is just to try like a normal person. How exhausting it is to just get out of bed. And do you know what the worst part of it all is? What people say about someone like me. That I’m selfish. I’m weak. “Other people have it much worse than you.” “Just think happy thoughts.” It hurts. It hurts a lot. You smile, smile constantly. But when you’re alone, you break down and just cry…”
There are no simple light switch answers; no polio vaccine that will wipe out this plague. The following suggestions can help:
1. Talk to someone – share your concerns. Let people help you. If we suspect a friend is struggling talk to them; sometimes knowing that one person cares makes all the difference.
2. Talking is not enough. Medication and professional therapy are often needed. Patience is also needed as people try to find the right combination of help that will deal with their personal case of depression.
3. Be Sensitive– Clara Hughes is the only Canadian to win Olympic medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympics. Her struggle with mental illness has made her a spokesman for the disease. She said “[Those who suffer from depression] are all walking a fine line and the smallest thing can set us in [the path to depression] that we would never have imagined.”
My eye glasses work great and I can see because I consulted a team of professionals and got them fit just right. If someone needs help with depression, trained professionals can help them.
A generation from now we will see people like Micahel Lansberg, Clara Hughes and others as pioneers trying to help this world stop a misunderstood plague.