I was about to type up a linkblog and go to bed when I saw that the actor and comedian Robin Williams had died, and that the cause of death is apparently suicide (I’m not linking to any news articles, because everything I’ve seen has talked about the method, and that goes against the Samaritans guidelines on how to deal with this stuff). And this started my whole Twitter timeline talking about their experiences with depression and suicidal ideation.
Depression is a killer. Depression kills many, many people every year — it’s killed people I’ve loved, and I’m sure if you’re reading this it’s killed people you’ve loved too.
But there is still, even now, a stigma attached to the topic, one that means that those of us who suffer from this illness — an illness that nearly doubles the chance that we will die young — still don’t talk about it as often as we should. I recently had to take some time off work ill (and I’m still very far from well, two weeks after returning to work). The diagnosis on the doctor’s note read “Depression with anxiety”, but I talked at work about the physical symptoms — the high blood pressure, the insomnia, the headaches — because those seem “more real”, like a proper illness rather than just malingering.
Now the thing is, when we talk about depression in times like this, we always say “get help”, telling the people suffering to seek it out. What we do all too rarely is to offer help, so I thought I’d post an offer. If you’re someone I know, however vaguely, and you need someone to talk to about depression, I’m here. I may not be the best person to talk to — and I may well suggest someone better if I know of someone — but I’ve suffered from depression off and on for my whole adult life, and while I have no professional training (I REPEAT, I HAVE NO PROFESSIONAL TRAINING AND CANNOT OFFER MEDICAL ADVICE) I worked for several years on a psychiatric ward, which means I’m at least able to deal with the ways the human mind can go wrong without being all judgmental about it, and I can keep confidences absolutely.
But even more important than that, read this from Slate Star Codex. The author of that post *is* someone with professional training — a doctor who works in psychiatric medicine — and he’s also someone who’s interested in the possibilities of non-standard treatments, while having enough idea of the scientific method not to fall into crystal-waving nonsense. He’s gone through the actual evidence for all sorts of different treatments for depression and tells you, in simple terms, what sometimes works, what never works, what hasn’t had enough testing but couldn’t hurt to try, and so on. If you’re depressed and you haven’t found a treatment that works, or haven’t yet visited a doctor, read that, get some ideas, and then discuss them with your doctor.
Thank you so much, Andrew. Brave, honest and no mucking about – as always. Here in the U.S., people cannot believe he took his own life – depression is rarely discussed coherently in public forums in this country, and it sounds like this is the case in the U.K. as well.
Thank you for this post, and most especially for that link to Slate Star Codex. The pharmaceutical options have either not worked for my depression or have had completely unacceptable side effects, so I am always looking for more tools I can use to keep it at bay. There are some suggestions here I hadn’t heard before. I’m very, very grateful!
Glad to hear it was of use. Depression is an utter bastard, and we can only beat it by sharing information about its weak spots…
And on that list is “SLEEP.” Ha. That’s my cue. It’s way past bed time…. :)