Published on June 21, 2018

Understanding Depression: How to Cope, How to Help

By F. Carl Mueller, MD, Associate Chair of Psychiatry, Stamford Health

We’ve seen two high-profile suicides over the last few weeks. First, Kate Spade, American fashion designer and businesswoman, followed by Anthony Bourdain, American celebrity chef, author and television personality. One thing these celebrities have in common is that they both suffered from depression up against the public image they put forward. When the news broke, and in the days that followed, the public was shocked. People envision this fantasy life in a social media run world in which they compare themselves to celebrities who seemingly have it all. But that’s usually more perception than reality, which is why tragic news like can have such a hard-hitting effect on the general public.
Depression is a disorder that is multifactorial and not uncommon. In fact, one in five people in their lifetime suffer from a depressive episode that can last anywhere between a month to five years. Simply put, those who are depressed and contemplate or attempt suicide are looking for a way to escape their pain. They don’t see any other way out.

People who are depressed are also not very resilient. They cannot usually bounce back easily from difficulties – but is it possible to teach resilience? As a clinician, I say it most certainly is. We can bring about greater resilience by engaging in connections with friends and family members, participating in groups and activities, even focusing more on hobbies that can make us see the world outside of our own problems. Practicing healthy habits in nutrition and exercise is also a good start.

Myself, I love gardening and the art of Bonsai. Growing Bonsai trees gives you full control over shaping and styling techniques. I am making changes now that I won’t see for 5-10 years. Things like this give us hope and excitement for the future, to see our changes come to fruition.

So, in the wake of these very public suicides, what can we do as a community? The focus of our efforts – beyond helping those we know who are in pain – must be to destigmatize depression. It is a disorder like any other, and it can be treated. It is not a defect, nor is it a sign of weakness to ask for help. We as a community need to diminish prejudice and let those who suffer from depression know that they are not alone.

The more we talk about depression, the more we can help those suffering from it. So that instead of making them feel more isolated, we bring them into the fold. Depression affects some 350 million people worldwide and it’s not going away. If we know a friend or loved one is in this kind of pain, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Talking helps and it could ultimately save a life.