Fighting the Stigma of Depression 

I want to take this opportunity to talk about something that's not often discussed. It's kind of taboo in some circles, and often avoided in most.

However, it's real and it needs to be talked about. It's something that impacts nearly 40,000 people of all skin colors, ages, genders, classes, and income levels each year in this country.

The "it" I'm talking about is suicide. September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. It's designed to help erase the stigma, shame, and hopelessness that surrounds mental illnesses and suicide. It's for people to share their stories and their proven resources.

It's an important month because 40,000 lives lost is a lot in a year's time — especially when those deaths could have been prevented.

Statistics show that the bulk of suicide victims suffer from depression, which according to the American Psychiatric Association, is defined as a serious mental illness that affects 16 percent of the population at one point or another in their lives and 14.8 million Americans yearly.

And while research shows that over 80 percent of people who seek help for depression are able to be successfully treated and, therefore, live a seemingly normal life, only half of the said 14.8 million Americans seek help.

If you or I had a physical ailment and had the means to get medical treatment, I don't think we'd think twice about seeing a doctor. And if we were to beat whatever the illness was, I don't think we'd hesitate to share our story either.

There's a stigma attached to mental illnesses, but it's time it was broken down, because why should those who suffer from depression or any other mental illness hide from their truth?

We're cognizant and alarmed by violence and low wages and racism and more — which we definitely should be — but I think it's time we became aware and sympathetic to the fact that about 105 Americans die by suicide every day (according to the Centers for Disease Control). That is not okay. And it can be changed.

Suicide, depression, and other mental illnesses might be foreign subjects for some, but for others they're all too familiar. It's the reality that we must face and overcome every day, sometimes more than once a day, for months, or even years. And that's why it has to be talked about and normalized.

click to enlarge CARLOS MORÓN VILLAR | DREAMSTIME
  • Carlos Morón Villar | Dreamstime

I was diagnosed with clinical depression my freshman year in college. Even surrounded by others, I felt loneliness, coupled with unwarranted sadness. Thinking it would never end, I felt helpless. After a while, I reached a low point when I thought ending my life seemed like a promising option.

But I'm still here. I'm not a statistic. I got help. And you can too. There are options and resources out there. There are counselors who offer talk therapy — 106,500 in the U.S. to be exact. There are psychiatrists who can provide medicine to make life more manageable. There are free public support groups like Suicide Anonymous, which meets in Memphis every Sunday evening at Hope Presbyterian Church.

In crisis, there are hotlines, like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is open 24/7 to give free, confidential support to callers. If you seek one or more of these options, you're not crazy, and you're not alone. You'd be one of the brave people who are doing it every day, maybe in silence but nevertheless, taking the steps to fight a hard battle and live a healthy life.

So what can the other 84 percent of the population who have never experienced depression or any other mental illness take away from this? I say we should all consider the old saying: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

Just love your neighbor, y'all. It's hard. I know. Literally speaking, your neighbor might be the slob who lets their trash overflow into your yard, or figuratively speaking, your neighbor could be the barefoot, homeless man you pass on the corner every day on the way to work.

Whoever your neighbor is, love them and love them well. Acknowledge them, empathize with them, and stand with them, for we never know what they might be going through. And we never know what a lending hand in their direction could mean.

And If you're depressed, seek help. If you think you're alone, you're not. If you're suicidal, don't give up. Your story isn't finished.

Maya Smith is a Flyer staff writer.

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