Robin Williams’ death from an apparent suicide yesterday is an opportunity to raise awareness about some of the resources available for people struggling with depression. Depression is insidious; when you are inside it, you feel completely logical in your sadness and hopelessness. You may not believe you can get better, or you may be in so much pain that you don’t even want to try. However, depression is an illness that lies to you. It is treatable and there is help if you’re struggling with it.
Depression is still stigmatized. People are embarrassed to talk about it openly, and unfortunately, that means you may not be aware of the help that exists for you. I’m going to list some resources I know about.
It may help you to keep in mind that depression is an illness, not a weakness. It is a medical problem, and there is no more shame in having it or treating it than there is in cancer or pneumonia. Having depression does not say anything about your worth as a person, your strength, or your goodness. (By the way, even though depression is not something to be embarrassed about, you do have the right to keep it private just as you might keep any other illness private; don’t confuse a lack of shame with a lack of choice about whether or not to share your health information with others.)
Men, you may experience depression differently than women. Sometimes men who are depressed experience it as chronic anger and irritation rather than sadness. If you have any persistent change in your mood, if you don’t feel like yourself and it’s a bad change, it’s worth asking a doctor or other professional what they think.
Depression may start slowly and progress over time. At first, it may feel like a constant bad mood, or unexplainable bouts of sadness. You may find yourself being irritable or angry. You may be sleeping badly, or sleeping much more than usual. Your appetite may change. If you notice early symptoms, that’s the best time to get help. Because depression lies, it is much harder to reach out when the illness is at its worst.
Finally, if you have suffered from depression in the past, currently have it, or know you are prone to it, share some of these resources with your close friends and family (I think the personal stories do a particularly nice job of explaining what being depressed can feel like). It will help them better understand the disease and be equipped to help you should you need it.
In the US: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK
Metanoia.org on Suicide, with resources at the bottom of the page
What to do if you think a loved one may be suicidal, from The Glow (Australia–specific resources are country-specific but general advice holds no matter where you live)
Look at your health plan or employer’s online health offerings. Many of them offer private online programs to help with depression or mood. My company makes a program called Care for Depression that is distributed through health plans, and I know there are others as well. These can be a helpful start to working on your symptoms from home right away in a very private way.
If you are concerned someone you care about might harm themselves, call 911 to get them immediate help. You can also do this is you are worried you might hurt yourself.
If you are trying to make an appointment to speak with a therapist, you may want to look for keywords like “behavioral health.” Alternately, if you are not in an immediate crisis, your primary care doctor can help connect you with the right specialist(s).
Edited to add: Kat Kinsman on CNN lists several other excellent resources in her article, including many first-person accounts of being depressed and seeking help.