I read an article today about a women’s choice to take her own life. I don’t know why this particular one hit so close to home but it did. Suicide, depression, mental health, these are all things that we find so hard to talk about, but they are the exact things we all should be talking about. The fear, the stigma of living with it, knowing or loving somebody with mental health issues all point to us as a whole to come to terms with the truth. Depression affects around 14.8 million individuals a year, and women are two times more likely than men to experience depression. With over 30,000 reported suicides every year, a shocking two-thirds of these are caused by underling depression. These are staggering statistics and along with the fact that depression is often over-looked, misdiagnosed or left untreated, is so disheartening at the thought of so many people struggling through life; embarrassed, hiding behind a false sense of self.
The cold reality about suicide is that it leaves such a hole in so many lives. The person is gone but the pain has just begun, and many times it is completely unexpected leaving a sense of anger and guilt with the ones left living. Feelings of “If I only knew”, “I wish I could have saved them”. These are the thoughts that eat away at the ones left to deal with the after affects. It is a selfish way to die but we need to stop using guilt as a way of solving the issue and instead be honest about the reality and open up a dialogue that is safe. If millions are affected by depression, and this causes two thirds of the suicides each year then imagine the immense number of people that are being affected by mental health issues by being a sibling, a parent, a spouse, a lover, a friend, a co-worker, a mental health professional. That is millions of people who can make a difference, who can be honest about living or dealing with depression, suicidal thoughts or about living with a person who has these issues.
Depression is not a weakness, instead it is a safety mechanism, a really screwed up one but it is one that only the few that suffer through it can see. For we feel too much, we feel everything too much, and as such we hurt more than normal, we are afraid, anxiety ridden, and just plain fucking sad. Depression is the trickster that tells you over and over that you are worthless, that life just isn’t worth it, That living is just too hard; it takes all of your fears and intensifies them, affecting your sleep, your appetite, things you love, it affects your relationships with everybody!! It makes you lie in bed in your pajama’s crying your eyes out because of a hallmark commercial, fills you with guilt when your dog whines to go out and you don’t even have the energy to play Frisbee or ball with your best pal. It makes you turn your phone off and hide from the people who will see the truth. Depression wants to alienate you, to have you all to itself so you will believe what it is telling you.
As a collective unit of humans we need to take the stigma from talking about it away so that living with it loses it sense of secretiveness. We need to allow people living with it to feel comfortable asking for help, without fear of judgement from family, friends, or coworkers. The ability to find help is so muddled, the resources available are convoluted, leaving the people searching for help like they are jumping through hoops, climbing ladders to nothing, doors to nowhere. The mental health community needs to be reformed, with the proper sources addressing the issues within to allow for help to be more accessible. Trying to find a psychiatrist mean first finding one that is excepting patients, then having to get on a waiting list to be seen, and the earliest is usually 4-6 weeks before you can even be initially seen. Trying to find a therapist you connect with and trust can takes one to many, and then the issue of any medications that are deemed necessary. This leads back to the need to find a doctor or psychiatrist who can prescribe, the waiting game and the circle of frustration is only beginning. If you find a great counselor, therapist or psychologist, a doctor who can prescribe anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications you made it through round one. Round two comes with the slew of medications, and finding the right one with the least amount of side effects, that is round 2 to infinity.
I gained a personal perspective on the mental health community as a whole when I moved to Portland OR. I had a mental break when life got too hard for me to bear in this state of my undoing. I was alone and without a support structure, with sadness and anxiety like I had never felt. I was scared at my own thoughts, and how I was feeling. I had never felt so dark and alone in all of my life so I drove myself to the emergency room to seek help with the idea I would see a doctor, ask about some anti-anxiety drugs to help me. That was the beginning of the one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. I will forever be filled with sadness when I think about this experience, I felt like a criminal. I do understand that medical care personnel have to be careful, their are many individuals who are truly suffering and try to hurt others or themselves. But I was not one of them, and I had to sit in the waiting room with a guard watching me, then taken to a room where I was forced to give all of my belongings, including my phone, and then undress in front of the nurses, and its not only women in there. They make you take everything off, jewelry, underwear,bra, and put on scrubs. I was so embarrassed, crying, saying this was making my anxiety so much worse. The rooms are glass so they can sit a orderly or guard outside to make sure you don’t try to leave, or hurt yourself. I tried to make myself so small, but I could not curl inside myself enough to hide from all of this. The looks, pity mixed with fear, maybe she really is crazy, feeling maybe I was. I sat in that room for four hours, locked inside my own head till a doctor and psychiatric nurse came in to talk to me. Then it was dolling out medications, quietly getting dressed, walking out in the drizzly dark, feeling the true sense that I was completely alone.
That was just the beginning for me, round one. Then it was calling my insurance, the employee assistance program through my work, and the local mental health facilities to try to get a psychiatrist appointment, the 4-6 weeks waiting game. I was lucky it only took me two tries to find my therapist, a psychologist who I love and has been the most amazing guide for me through this journey. Then it was finding a primary care doctor, who I too got very lucky on my first try. After that it was medications, after medications, trying to find the correct one, the correct dose, dealing with the side effects. I am left with the choice to either feel sadness so complete that I cant get up or with headaches, nausea, muscle pain, dizziness and hopefully this one no weight gain. This is real life, this is reality for millions of Americans, the ones who want to be better, struggle to find their way back and are trying to beat the odds. We are more than a statistic, we are warriors, we are fighters and sometimes we lose. I want less people to find it easy to let go, and more people to reach out. I want education about this, the connections between individuals suffering and those who can help, accessibility of programs, support groups, I want honest dialogue. I don’t want to win the battle, I want to win the war….