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It shouldn't take a celebrity death to talk about depression, suicide: John L. Micek

August 14, 2014

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Robin Williams is dead.

And America is talking about depression and suicide.

But it shouldn't take a celebrity death to call attention to what is, in fact, an all-too-common problem. And it's a conversation we should be having all the time.

The numbers tell the story.

Some 30,000 Americans will commit suicide by year's end, according to data compiled by Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, which operates the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255).

Williams was in the prime cohort of those likely to take their own lives, adult men aged 25 to 65 years old. They account for more than half of all deaths, according to the group's data.

In Pennsylvania, suicide claims the lives of more than 1,300 state residents a year, an average of 3.5 lives each day, according to data compiled by Pennsylvania Recovery and Resiliency.

The group estimates that each suicide directly affects six people. That means more than 7,800 Pennsylvanians become survivors of suicide each year.

The strongest risk factor for suicide, unsurprisingly, is depression. And 15 percent of those who are clinically depressed die by their own hands, data indicates.

Substance abuse is also a risk factor.

I wasn't personally acquainted with the demons that reportedly drove Williams to take his own life.

But I recognized their profile.

They've chased me across my dreams for years, hounding me from sleep, as I stare at the TV in those hours when only second-run movies and infomercials rule the airwaves, waiting for exhaustion to claim me.

I've tried to outrace them on the banks of the Susquehanna River, pushing myself to the brink during nearly daily runs, my heart and breath thundering in my ears in time with the music in my headphones. Only to have them catch me at the fourth or fifth mile, my knees buckling and my will cracking.

We all know the famous names who have struggled with depression -- and, often, surrendered its darkness.

According to news reports, Williams spent much of his life battling depression and substance abuse. And he'd recently sought help for the former.

I watched and loved him in "Mork and Mindy" as a kid. And he held up a mirror to my own preppy adolescence in "Dead Poets Society."

He was almost inconceivably famous.

But far too many people whose names the world will never know -- friends, acquaintances, colleagues and family members -- will not find a reason, or a person to turn to, as they struggle against a horrible and implacable enemy called depression.

So if you're hurting -- seek help.

The Recovery and Resiliency group's website is a great place to start. It's jammed with data and contact information for all sorts of services. Your own employer probably has resources too. The same for your family physician.

Why seek help?

Because 80 percent of those who seek treatment for depression are treated successfully.

And you're far from alone -- one in 10 Americans will struggle with depression at some point in their lives. I am among them.

And I know that's a tall order.

Maybe you feel like you have no one left to talk to, no one who will understand your problems. And maybe you're dealing with it by staring down a bottle ... or something equally destructive and addictive.

There are a hundred reasons to give up. But just as many to keep going. And there are ways to cope.

I found one of my main outlets in in running. There's nothing quite like the freedom of the road or the rhythm of my sneakers against the pavement. It clears my head. It's one of the few places in the world where I feel truly myself.

The most gut-wrenching part of these celebrity deaths is watching friends gather around tables on television talk shows to pay tribute to a fallen colleague. They speak warmly, eloquently of their talents and gifts and the human qualities that made them uniquely who they were.

That happened on Tuesday morning on MSNBC, as I drank my coffee and watched James Lipton pay tribute to Williams' skills as an actor and comedian.

Would it have mattered if Williams had heard those words more often himself?

Maybe. Maybe not. By the time you reach the dark and cold place that Williams reached, it's likely that no amount of coaxing will walk you back.

But maybe it would have.

So, whoever you are, you're worth it.

There are people who love and care about you.

And there are more reasons than you think there are to keep fighting.

So, please, don't give up.



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