As the wise proverb states, “laughter is the best medicine.” This week we mourn a man who healed others through his role as an actor, comedian and soulful citizen. Robin Williams shared the gifts laughter and inspiration through his movie roles, but on August 11, 2014 Robin Williams died tragically from suicide. The nation remains in shock. How can someone who brought light to so many hearts have suffered so much in the darkness of depression?
In one of my favorite movies, “What Dreams May Come” Robin Williams plays Chris Nielsen. He has left heaven in search of his wife who is stuck in the deep depression of hell. Robin shared a prophetic truth, “What's true in our minds is true, whether some people know it or not.”
That is an eerie truth for patients living with depression. Major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States according to the National Institute of Mental Health. According to the latest published research by NIHM in 2012, an estimated 16 million U.S. adults have experienced one major depressive episode in the past year.
As a physician who has diagnosed and treated depression patients, one trait is common- the feeling of isolation and thinking that no one understands your pain. While depression is more common in women, it presents very differently in men.
Depression is also often under recognized and under treated in men, and this is why I wanted to focus this article on the men in our lives.
1. What is the difference between sadness and depression?
We often say “I feel depressed today”, but this may be temporary sadness due to a change in your life circumstance that makes you feel sad or upset. It is a temporary reaction to external events. Clinical symptoms of depression extend far beyond feeling sad, and may include: loss of interest and pleasure in normal activities, irritability, agitation or restlessness, lower sex drive, decreased concentration, insomnia or excessive sleeping, and chronic fatigue.
2. Recognize that depression presents differently in men
While depression is more common in women than in men, it is often more severe and difficult to diagnose in men. Men with depression are more likely than depressed women to abuse alcohol and other drugs. Depressed men are more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as gambling. Men's symptoms of depression may be harder for other people to recognize, and the illness is missed more frequently in men. Men with depression are more likely to commit suicide than women who also suffer from depression.
3. Know that you are not alone, and there is no shame in asking for help.
Suffering from depression is not a sign of weakness, it is a disease of the brain and mind. Asking for help takes courage, strength and shows a willingness for self-growth. If you or a loved one is suffering from symptoms of depression, it is important to speak to a licensed mental health worker, physician and/or psychologist.
To treat depression effectively a combination of medications, cognitive behavioral therapy, and lifestyle changes will likely be needed. It is not effective to try to diagnose depression on your own or through reading symptoms on the internet. This is the time to seek guidance and help from a trained professional. If you have thoughts of suicide please reach out for help. You can speak to a professional on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and the phone number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Thank Robin Williams, for one of the lessons that opened my heart as a physician and healer,
“Our job is improving the quality of life, not just delaying death.” Robin Williams as Dr. Patch Adams
Rest in peace Robin Williams. May your legacy continue to heal through laughter, inspiration, and the difficult lesson of learning to recognize and respond to depression.
AS A HOLISTIC BRAIN DOCTOR AND MINDFULNESS TEACHER, DR. ROMIE WORKS WITH CLIENTS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD TO PROVIDE HEALTH COACHING ON HOLISTIC THERAPIES OF DEPRESSION.