The day after news broke that actor Robin Williams died by suicide, a local TV news station interviewed me about my personal experience living with depression. (I like to say “living with depression” because you can still manage it and have a quality life.) Most of the responses to my interview have been positive and encouraging. I received an email from someone I knew from high school. She sang my praises of professional and personal success, especially since I was a black woman raised in East Oakland. She suggested that when I’m depressed to remember the women around the world less fortunate than I am who would give their right arm to have my life because of my achievements.
I know she meant well in her advice, and I appreciate that she has high regards for me.
But depression is not about being ungrateful.
Being successful doesn't mean that you're protected from depression or any other form of mental illness.
Depression is a health issue, and when it hits me, I go to therapy. I imagine Robin Williams knew he was extremely blessed. Unfortunately, he lost hope and couldn’t beat the illness.
Image: Lennart Tange via Flickr
During my early years of struggling with depression, I didn’t understand why I carried a deep sadness when I had so much in life. My issues with depression began during my freshman year of high school after being bullied in middle school. Depression resurfaced again in college because of a family conflict and academic pressures.
In my mind, I felt the good should’ve outweighed the bad. I went to great schools and was a strong student. I had a supportive family and friends. I wasn’t rich, but I had everything I needed. I was extremely grateful. It didn’t make any sense to me why I couldn’t kick the blues.
Like many people with depression, I beat myself up. I put myself down for being blessed, yet sad. I was ashamed for needing therapy and told myself I was a weak person. I sank deeper and deeper into an emotional abyss.
It wasn’t until I truly recognized that depression is a health issue that I began to have more compassion for myself. I don’t care if you have a corner office at JP Morgan or work the register at JC Penney -- depression can affect anyone.
According to the National Institute of Health, “major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States.” The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that 1 in 5 U.S. adults have a mental illness in a given year. That’s 20% of the country. Globally, nearly 1 million people die by suicide ever year, according to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. As you see, this issue affects nearly all of us. If you don’t have a mental illness, there’s a good chance someone you know does.
People must start recognizing that depression is a health problem. We go to the doctor for physical ailments. Why do we shame people for getting care to help ease their minds? Depression is not a choice. Trust me, nobody living with depression asked for this. Nobody likes lying in bed on a sunny day wrestling with sadness. Nobody likes feeling so worthless, they isolate themselves. Nobody wants to be in such emotional pain that they would rather not live.
Depression sucks, but depression is treatable. There is hope. For anyone reading this struggling with depression, I want you to know that you’re not the only one struggling with this condition. I want you to know that you’re not a weak person, because it takes strength to live with this. Give yourself credit for trying. Even if you pushed yourself to get out of bed for five minutes, you’re trying. Don’t be ashamed to reach out for help. This goes especially for those of us who people think have it all, or are the ones people often turn to. Sometimes we’re the ones quietly suffering but are too proud to ask for help. Talk to a professional. Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you’re having suicidal thoughts. Don’t be ashamed. It’s okay to ask for help. Life happens. You’re human.
For those of you who don’t get this depression thing, have some compassion. And don’t always assume you know why someone is depressed. Someone may have experienced something you have no clue about. If they’re reaching out to you, listen to them. As I always say, every person with a brain in their head needs to take care of their mental health and wellness. Everyone.
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