When It Isn’t Funny Any More

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Robin Williams referred to depression as a ghost – you never know when it’s going to come back. For those of us affected by depression, stress and anxiety, the spectre of the unknown can be an exhausting aspect of dealing with these mental health issues.

We live in a time described by some as the Oprah age – where talk shows, comedy routines and media coverage give the impression people are willing to bare all and talk about their challenges publically and in great detail. Not so in real life.

When things go dark for the one in five Canadians affected by a mental health concern, there’s still a tendency to withdraw, cover up and try to deal with things on our own. It’s easy to feel we live alone with depression; shame and secrecy is often still prevalent, despite valiant ongoing efforts to shine light on mental health challenges in the same way we accept other potentially life threatening conditions. For some, keeping an outward appearance that all is well, and strengthening that façade by building a false image and acting as if everything is okay, is a coping mechanism that can eventually lead to thoughts of suicide.

Robin Williams peppered his comedy routines with references to his depression and substance use challenges.  Yet, despite being aware of the very real dangers of substance abuse coupled with depression, he ended his life this week.  He wasn’t immune to the danger and neither are the rest of us.

Dr. Peter Shelby, Chief of Addictions at the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, says 50% of those of us dealing with depression use substances as a coping mechanism. No matter the debate of whether drugs and alcohol lead to depression, or depression leads to increased drinking or drugging, the result can be a downward spiraling cycle.

Don’t wait for a crisis to reach out if someone you know needs support. After a tragedy, it’s common to hear statements about a person not seeming like themselves before the incident, or that they were withdrawn, subdued or appeared to be working through something. Prevention includes helping family members and coworkers by speaking with them privately when you notice something’s not right. Signs of depression not easily covered up by a false front include a change of sleeping patterns, sudden weight loss or gain, an altered appetite, behavioural changes, feelings of helplessness, and memory and concentration issues.

We can do the most good by acting, instead of waiting for depression to go away. The ghost might retreat temporarily, but like a nightmare, can return again and again. Reach out with empathy and kindness.

Mental Health has been described as the final frontier – there is still so much to learn, so many boundaries to break down. We can all be pioneers by looking out for each other, learning more about this not-so-funny topic and accessing resources.

– No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world. – Robin Williams

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