Monday, November 5, 2012

Time For A Serious Talk About Depression

I hate going to funerals. Having been to so many of close friends and relatives I find each one gut wrenching.

For me, I always re-live the memory of standing at my father's funeral. Ten years old. Watching as the coffin was wheeled by down the church aisle. It was just before Christmas. A car accident took my father and resulted in a period of time that around the funeral that seems surreal and yet still haunt me. Bring nightmares. And make me question my own mortality.

As hard as it is to face a funeral resulting from an accident or illness, one where someone has taken their own life is simply beyond understanding. You can't help but stand by and ask, "What could I have done?"

I stood this morning at such a funeral. A young man, in his 30s. His three young children stood by, probably not understanding why their father was gone. They, along with their cousins, had written letters to their father which they placed those in the ground along with his remains. The minister noted that the young man must have felt tired and overwhelmed. He remarked that we all make mistakes, but some can't be fixed. Taking your own life is one which can't be reversed.

If you have never faced depression yourself then you can't possibly understand what it is like to feel so overwhelmed. So tired. So unsure what to do, or even if there is a way out. Perhaps many people won't admit it, but the fact is a very large number of Canadians have. The Public Health Agency says every year almost 5% of Canadians will suffer from depression. This almost certainly underestimates the numbers by a very significant margin. Some come through it on their own. Some get medical help. Almost 4,000 Canadians will turn to suicide each year.

Today was unfortunately not the first funeral I've been to where suicide was involved. I've had a few friends feel there was no other option over the past few years. In one case everyone saw the signs and we tried to prevent what ultimately happened. In another, there appeared to be no signs, but rather what seemed from the outside to be a perfect life, simply dissolved.

Some say suicide is a selfish act. I don't agree. I believe most often people feel they are doing the best thing for them and all around them. With depression people feel they are a burden on others as much as themselves. Today there was no doubt in my mind that all the people who surrounded this young man were supportive and loving, and saw him with great admiration. His inner demons were simply stronger than all of that.

It isn't anyone's fault that this young man or anyone chooses to end their own life. But that doesn't mean there is nothing we can do. As a society we continue to stigmatize people who suffer from mental illness. Depression is probably the most common illness, and the one that is also likely hardest to recognize. The result of stigmatization is simple. People are reluctant to ask for help. They feel they are somehow lesser if they talk about their feelings. They aren't man enough (or woman enough).

It has to stop. Its time that as a society we start recognizing the signs of depression before things go to far. We have to start becoming a more understanding society that celebrates people's differences and works together to help people overcome challenges. We have to support people when they are facing difficult times. We have to accept that not a single one of us is perfect. We all make mistakes. And while some of those mistakes may be bigger than others, we should try and help people avoid the ones that can't be fixed.

When my father died, my grandmother said that no mother should have to bury their son. We will continue to bury sons and daughters before their time as a result of depression until we learn to recognize the signs and try and help people realize there are options. We won't always be successful. But just because we can't win every battle, doesn't mean it isn't a war worth fighting.