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article imageOp-Ed: See the Enemy

By Jimmy Reilly     Aug 16, 2011 in Health
Most of us would never turn our back on someone who has been diagnosed with cancer, or some other debilitating disease. But why are so many people willing to dismiss those suffering from depression?
I just want to preface this by noting that I am not a medical or mental health professional. I don't pretend to be able to diagnose or treat any form of illness.
There are numerous news stories surrounding the suicide of Russell Armstrong, husband of a "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star. The most noteworthy quote, to me, was given by Armstrong's lawyer. "I'm very shocked by this," Ronald Richards tells PEOPLE. "Besides being upset about his divorce and its effect on his kids, he didn't show any outward signs of depression." Unfortunately, a statement such as this seems very commonplace, due to a lack of awareness or understanding of depression.
Only recently has it been recognized that depression is more than just being stuck in a bad mood. Depression is a dangerous illness, enormously extensive and yet often ignored even by doctors, according to James F. Drane, author of "Finding Relief from Suffering and Depression," It has taken a long time for us to raise awareness for mental illness in this Country. The diseases have been with us as long as we have existed, but our interpretation, perception and handling of such maladies have differed over the ages. While we no longer burn people at the stake or dump people in asylums for life, there still seems to be a long way to go.
The biggest step still has to be a universal recognition that mental illnesses are diseases in the same way as physical afflictions. It's not wise to suggest to a Multiple Sclerosis patient that they "snap out of it, and move on," and it is not going to help someone suffering from clinical depression to tell them to "get over it." The Mayo Clinic staff recommends that you do not equate yourself with an illness, replacing such statements as, "I'm depressed," with something like, "I have clinical depression."
I believe in the public arena, we are a lot more tolerant of those suffering from afflictions such as depression or bi-polar disorder. We have all become familiar with the countless medicine advertisements which have helped ease the stigmas and raise awareness as to the effects of mental illness. But I believe that once we move behind closed doors, we are still behind the learning curve.
I have been party to many conversations on the topic of mental illness, and in particular, depression. And in private, it seems to me that people are still leery as to the validity of these diseases, as if the victim has somewhat chosen to be sick, or brought it upon themselves. We still seem to latch on to the "snap out of it" school of thought when we hear that someone is absent from work, or missing from a social event or some other obligation due to mental issues.
I have seen, first-hand, the effects that something like clinical depression can have on a person. It devastates lives every day. This disease can be merciless and in some cases physically painful to the sufferer, yet the stigmas attached to mental illness have to be causing people to hesitate when seeking assistance and treatment.
I've been there. I didn't ask for depression. It didn't happen to me recently, nor did it happen at a "bad" time in my life. I was fortunate to have a physician who was wise to the symptoms and got me the help I needed. And the treatment, for me, made a difference. I wasn't "sad" or "blue", as people might assume, and seeing a qualified doctor helped put it behind me. I didn't, however, get into the topic with anyone I knew because of the fear of being perceived as "weak", or "feeling sorry for myself." The stigmas.
I do believe we have come a long way. In my opinion, as a society, we have our tolerance and understanding of people who suffer from depression. However, I don't perceive compassion reaching the levels we have with those suffering from physical diseases. I hope we continue to move forward.
In the meantime, if someone is suffering, cut them a break. Lend an ear, a shoulder, and be of help.
If the Russell Armstrong case is representative of the problem, support can matter.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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