With all the news stories, social media posts and snippets of conversations I’ve seen and heard since Robin Williams took his own life, I’ve been thinking a lot about how depression and mental illness are powerful equalizers in this world. I’ve read several Facebook posts about his death that share a similar sentiment of “how sad…he had so much to live for” or “he was so well loved and well respected”. But it really doesn’t matter how loved you are, how much money you have, how successful or talented you are, does it? It doesn’t matter what race, religion, gender, socio economic status, or sexual orientation you are. When you are in the depths of depression, none of that matters and it’s very hard to see a way out. People who have not experienced this type of depression simply can’t relate. Don’t get me wrong–friends and family play an important role in the picture. They can be there to listen and support, help you make the call and find the help that you need, but it’s hard for them to truly understand how you feel.
When we don’t understand something we run the risk of making assumptions, applying stereotypes and creating stigmas. Why there is such a stigma around depression and mental illness? Why do we treat it differently than a physical illness? Why do we find it so hard to reach out and ask for help? Why do we see it as a sign of weakness? When you think about it, reaching out and asking for help is really a sign of strength, isn’t it?
I don’t necessarily have the answers to the questions I’ve posed in this post. Goodness knows I’ll continue to think about this and I’ll probably come up with more questions than answers. But I do know that I’m extremely proud and humbled to work for an organization that is here for people when they need someone to talk to, a place to connect. If you are feeling depressed or know someone who is, don’t hesitate to reach out — depression is treatable. It’s not easy to pick up the phone and ask for help, but I’m glad that we are here at the other end of the line when people do have the strength and courage to make that call.
Contributed by Kathryn Miles, Executive Director, JFCS