The most painful news that I heard this week is the death of all-pro linebacker Junior Seau. It has now been confirmed that he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.
People will now look to tangible causes such as head injuries from playing football or the difficulties players often face after they retire from the sport. If this was all, we would hear about many more suicides due to head injuries, finances, and divorce alone among former NFL players. These are actually common for men in Seau’s position. Even though suicide does happen it is not the norm.
The big elephant in the room is depression and bipolar mental illness. While head injury may be related to depression in these cases, the idea of talking about depression still carries a stigma. Mental illness is often seen as a weakness of sorts and it was no doubt seen this way for Seau who was a leader in the locker room and on the field. The irony is that while we don’t like talking about depression or other mental illness due to others viewing us as “crazy” or “unstable” the numbers of people on psychotropic drugs is rather astounding.
There is still this confused notion that depression is just “feeling sad” and that one should just “chin up” or make better choices to be happy. All well and good for people who are not dealing with an actual, medical, chemical imbalance in the brain. Forms of untreated depression are the number one cause of suicide. That’s just a fact.
Depression and sadness or acedia are not the same thing and our language should reflect that. Depression is a medical condition that requires a medical solution and talk therapy to remedy. Feeling sad doesn’t need the chemical corrective. A friend and a bowl of ice cream often do the trick there!
Severe depression is always accompanied by a pervasive sense of suffering as well as the belief that escape from it is hopeless. The pain of existence often becomes too much for severely depressed people to bear. The state of depression warps their thinking, allowing ideas like “Everyone would all be better off without me” to make rational sense. They shouldn’t be blamed for falling prey to such distorted thoughts any more than a heart patient should be blamed for experiencing chest pain: it’s simply the nature of their disease. – Alex Lickerman, M.D.
Depression doesn’t care about how tough you think you are. It is a cunning disease that only leads to death if untreated. Most suicides are not at the hands of cowardly, self-centered people. They are at the hands of people who have been taken over by a disease they have not treated often because they aren’t aware that it is so treatable. That’s the saddest part of all.