On July 20th 2017 the music industry was again rocked by the suicide of one of its most prominent stars. Just under two months after the tragic suicide of his friend Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington – of Linkin Park fame – took his own life, having suffered with long-term depression.
It’s on occasions such as these that we’re reminded just what a devastating illness depression really is. For those of us that are lucky enough not to suffer with depression, it can be easy to forget the struggles that so many members of our society go through on a daily basis.
Up to one in five adults in the UK suffer with anxiety or depression, and rates of depression and anxiety among teenagers have increased by 70 per cent in the past 25 years. Whilst the severity of these illnesses may vary, these are troubling findings, especially considering the rates of self-harm and suicide that accompany these figures. According to the Office for National Statistics: “6,233 suicides of people aged 15 and over were registered in the UK in 2013, 252 more than in 2012 (a 4% increase)“. This increase has since continued, with suicide reaching a 20-year high in England and Wales in 2016.
Statistically, woman are more likely than men to develop disorders such as anxiety and depression, yet the suicide rate in men is significantly higher. Whilst recent years have seen an increase in suicide amongst British women, men still make up 75% of all suicides in the country. Most worrying of all, suicide is the most common cause of death among men aged 20-49 in the UK. Think about that for a moment. More 20-year-olds die from suicide than in car accidents, from cancer or from any other cause. In fact, approximately 25% of all deaths in men aged 20-34 in the UK are suicide.
What these figures suggest is that women are far more likely to seek help when it comes to mental health issues such as depression, whilst men may feel that talking about such matters is inherently “un-manly”. The biggest obstacle that a lot of men face is opening the initial dialogue with a doctor, friend, colleague or loved one. It has become so ingrained in our society that men are supposed to act in a certain way, and that particular feelings and emotions should be reserved for women, that men often feel they are unable to express how they truly feel. This likely also explains why men are more likely to turn to drink and illegal drugs than women are.
There is something else that we can take from this. Talking about depression works. It only works, however, if we all accept what depression is, and that it can affect anyone. It can be easy to dismiss certain people’s claims to have depression, especially if they earn more than you, or have a life you perceive to be better than your own. It’s important that we understand that money is not the cure for depression. Neither is fame or success. Robin Williams openly spoke about his battles with depression throughout his career and whilst he inspired many, there were those who questioned how a world-famous multi-millionaire could possibly be depressed. Those doubters were silenced in 2014 when he took his own life.
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Unfortunately, depression is so often mistaken for sadness that it is still ignored by many within our society. It’s not uncommon for individuals suffering with depression to be told to “cheer up” or “get over it”, although saying this is not unlike telling someone to un-break their arm or will the cancer from their body. Depression is an illness, and must be treated as such. Recognising depression for what it is, and talking about it properly can save lives. This has even been shown in the most extreme of cases, with suicide rates on British railways falling after the Samaritans trained rail workers in how to talk to vulnerable individuals that may be considering suicide.
Of course, much of the conversation is simply listening to a person who needs to talk about their feelings. According to Mind, the charity for better mental health: “the best things that friends and family can do is simply listen. They often don’t need to say anything, just being willing to listen to your problems makes you feel less alone and isolated. (…) Listen carefully, don’t judge, and most of all, don’t say “cheer up”. It’s just not that simple. Sometimes solutions are unnecessary, so don’t feel you have to provide one.”
This year’s annual World Health Day was focused on depression and suicide prevention. Using the hashtag #LetsTalk, it aimed to open up crucial dialogue regarding the illness and encouraged people suffering with depression to overcome their fear of prejudice and discrimination and to seek help. Another important aspect of the campaign was to raise general awareness, build understanding and reduce stigma of the illness, so as to create an environment in which people suffering with depression are able to talk openly about the condition. As more people within our society are introduced to the idea that depression is an illness, not an emotion or a choice, we stand a better chance of reducing the number of people going untreated, and the number of self-harm episodes and suicides.
The simple fact is, we need to talk about depression. All of us. We need to talk about it in our schools, in our homes and in the media. We need to create a better understanding of what depression is, what the symptoms are and how to deal with it. We need to dispel the myths surrounding the illness and break down any social conventions that prevent those affected from seeking the help they desperately need. We need to listen to our loved ones when they ask for help. Most of all, we need to create an environment in which depression has no stigma attached to it, and where those affected by it no longer feel so alone.
If you are feeling depressed, you are not alone. Please visit the websites linked below, and make sure you talk to somebody today.
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