Why is Robin William’s cause of death so often overlooked?
Robin Williams, a great American actor, is dead after an apparent suicide by asphyxiation. His publicist said he was battling “severe depression.” Williams’ acting legacy will surely live on, but a discussion about his mental health state will likely fade. While seldom discussed, depression is one of the most debilitating public health pandemics in America. Take a look at these statistics:
- According to the World Health Organization, depression is the number one disability in the world.
- According to the CDC, an estimated 1 in 10 U.S. adults report depression.
- Depression’s annual toll on U.S. businesses amounts to about $70 billion in medical expenditures, lost productivity and other costs.
- Untreated depression is the leading cause of suicide in the US.
- Suicide takes the lives of nearly 30,000 Americans every year.
- For youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. It results in approximately 4600 lives lost each year.
So why is depression too frequently overlooked in the national public health conversation?
One word: stigma. According to a 2009 study in Britain, people are less likely to divulge they have a mental illness than to come out as gay in fear of even greater discrimination. Depressed individuals fear workplace and hiring challenges as well as a lower likelihood of maintaining romantic relationships if they are “out” with their mental health problems. A more repressed state-of-being frequently exacerbates depression, which only increases the downward spiral.
So what’s the solution?
It’s time to re-consider our “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward depression. Employers must recognize that their employees’ mental health well-being is imperative for good business. Families must discuss psychological health as openly and seriously as physical health. And then, of course, there is seeking counsel.
On the bright side, 80% of people that seek help for depression are treated successfully whether through medication or psychotherapy. Confidential online depression screenings are another positive first step in getting people to visit a medical professional. Finally, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free, 24-hour hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or distress.