Robin Williams’ death puts spotlight on depression, treatment
Award-winning comedian and actor Robin Williams’ apparent suicide has raised awareness of depression, a prevalent disease, and the importance of seeking treatment.
The World Health Organization projects by 2030, depression will be the world’s leading cause of disability and death, outpacing cancer, stroke, war and accidents.
Every year, 34,000 people commit suicide.
Dr. Dominic Mazza, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst from Scranton and vice president of the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society, said fewer than 50 percent of people who commit suicide seek psychiatric help.
Treatment for depression includes medication or psychotherapy or both. Through psychotherapy, a person with depression talks to a mental health care professional who helps him or her identify and work through problems.
A problem many people face is health insurance barriers in getting help for depression and other mental health issues, Mazza said.
Mazza is concerned that Williams’ suicide could trigger more suicides. Studies have shown that celebrity suicides and suicides in schools, along with coverage in the media, could trigger copycat suicides. He pointed out Marilyn Monroe’s death was followed by an increase of 200 more suicides than average for that August.
He hopes that awareness may spark more people with mental illness to seek help. He also encouraged those to spot signs of depression in others, like those who say they don’t want to get out of bed and life isn’t worth living.
“Those kinds of comments should be taken seriously and they should seek treatment,” he said.
Dr. Marie Rueve, chief of psychiatric services for Geisinger Health System, said Williams’ suicide will have different effects on people and it’s difficult to say what impact it will have.
She said the message she also would like to get out is there is help for those experiencing symptoms of depression.
Symptoms of depression include having persistent sad, anxious or empty feelings, feelings of hopelessness or pessimism, loss of interest in hobbies and activities, decreased energy levels and thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts.
Rueve encouraged people to seek treatment for depression or whatever psychiatric issues they may have.
Laura Campbell, Ph.D., a psychiatrist for Geisinger Health System, said talking about depression openly is one step toward enhancing the public’s awareness and may even prevent suicide in some cases.
“Despite the prevalence of depression and other mental health conditions, mental illness is stigmatized in our society,” Campbell said. “This stigma creates the illusion that depression is uncommon and prevents people who are struggling with it from reaching out to their loved ones or seeking the help that they need.”
Despite the potential dangers of depression, it’s estimated that half of the people who suffer from it are never diagnosed, according to Geisinger Health System.
Williams apparently suffered from major depression, which is marked by severe symptoms that interfere with your ability to work, sleep, study, eat and enjoy life. The other type of depression is persistent depressive disorder, a depressed mood that lasts for at least two years, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
“Loved ones may worry that they did something to cause the suicidal thoughts or take them as a personal affront,” Campbell said. “But a person suffering from severe depression may become so consumed by feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness that they lose sight of all the meaningful things in their lives.”
If you think someone you know is depressed or contemplating suicide, contact a doctor to solicit their advice, or National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), which will connect you to a crisis counselor.