How to Get Through Depression and Lower Your Risk of Suicide

Depression is on the rise world-wide and most of us know someone who has been seriously depressed at some time in their lives.  The World Health Organization World Mental Health (WMH) Survey Initiative, one of the most comprehensive studies ever done, found that over 120 million people suffer with depression and it is responsible for 850,000 suicides each year.  But most people with depression don’t seek help.

Stigmatization plays an important role in not getting proper treatment. Most people in depression or even the close family members who recognize the symptoms, do not seek help, due to lack of understanding and also negative connotations associated with depression.

Dr. Shekhar Saxena, Director of the Department for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, said, “We have some highly effective treatments for depression. Unfortunately, fewer than half of the people who have depression receive the care they need. In fact in many countries this is less than 10%. This is why WHO [World Health Organization] is supporting countries in fighting stigma as a key activity to increasing access to treatment.”

We Can All Help Prevent Suicide

The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) co-sponsored World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10th. The theme of this 11th anniversary event was “Stigma: A Major Barrier for Suicide Prevention.”  We all know people who are dealing with issues that make them vulnerable to suicide.  We can reach out, learn what we can do to prevent suicide, and help save lives.

One simple way to do that is to learn about the activities of World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10, 2013.  You can get more information here:

Depression is the Flaw in Love

I’ve suffered from depression throughout my life.  I’ve come close to suicide on more than one occasion.  I’ve been helped by therapists and I have used medications to treat depression.  We talk of depression as being caused by an imbalance in brain chemicals, but that doesn’t get at the heart of the matter.  What causes our brain chemistry to get out of whack? 

I’ve found when I have been the most depressed it was because I felt cut off from other people.  I didn’t feel loved and I didn’t feel I deserved to be loved.  I felt worthless and, at times, hopeless.  “Depression is the flaw in love,” says Andrew Solomon, author of Noonday Demon:  An Atlas of Depression .  “To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who can despair at what we lose, and depression is the mechanism of that despair.”

The one thing that has saved me from sinking so deep into depression that I would take my own life, was connecting with another human being.  I was in college the first time I became so depressed I wanted to die.  Luckily I had “hinted” to one of my fellow students that I was feeling desperate and she told another friend of mine and they reached out to me and supported my going to the student health center and seeing a counselor.

On another occasion I was in graduate school and had broken up with my girlfriend.  I went into a deep depression that lasted for more than a month.  I remember sitting alone in one of the student hangouts drinking a beer and eating a burger, feeling totally isolated and alone.  I saw another student I knew slightly sitting alone at another table.  I spent the better part of an hour trying to get up the courage to say hello to her. 

Each time I talked myself into walking over and starting a conversation I withdrew into myself giving myself all the reasons I would be rejected. At one point I felt if I didn’t make some contact with someone, I would surely die.  I finally walked over to her table, worked up a smile, and said some words of greeting.  Luckily she responded, and after some hesitation, she invited me to join her. 

Just a moment of human contact and kindness can be what it takes to break the spell of despair.  Sometimes someone reaches out to us.  Sometimes we have to fight the cloud of depression that envelopes us and reach out to someone else.  I remember hearing about a man who jumped to his death from the Golden Gate Bridge.  He left a suicide note saying, “If just one person looks at me and smiles I won’t jump.”  No one looked.  No one smiled. 

It doesn’t have to be like that.  Every day of our lives we have opportunities to give a little bit of joy to others.  I’ve found when I’ve been the most depressed reaching out to someone else in need always helps raise my spirits.  Even a smile can save a life.  And I’ve learned that we can smile, even when we’re deeply depressed.  We can reach out, even when we’re sure no one would care. 

Please share your story or lessons that you’ve learned. Together we can heal. If you feel comfortable please share your comment or question below. You can also join the ongoing conversation with me on Twitter: @MenAliveNow

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  1. Thank you for your insightful article. It would be nice if people comprehended your message – “Just a moment of human contact and kindness can be what it takes to break the spell of despair. ” I’ve asked for this from my friends for the last few years & gotten an almost unanimous reaction of patronizing condesension. They may start off sounding concerned but start asking questions (demanding answers), ultimately with the goal of unsolicited medical/legal advice, fault-finding, and backseat-driving. (?).
    Not sure it’s worth reaching out anymore. People’s attitudes are beyond belief, often the most negative responses from those who’ve confided in me and relied on me as a non-judgmental friend the most.
    Hitting Brick walls everywhere I turn.

    • R, thanks for writing. It really can be discouraging when people we care about are so wrapped up in their own lives, they aren’t sensitive to what is going on with us. I appreciate your courage in feeling sad, but still reaching out for connection. It takes a deep willingness to be persistent, but the payoffs are worth it. There ARE people who care and can get beyond their own barriers to show it.

      I’m glad you’re connected to our little community here. Thanks again for opening your heart.