With the recent apparent suicides of two very high-profile people, the public’s attention has shifted to this most serious and morose subject. Designer Kate Spade and chef/media star Anthony Bourdain had everything to live for, on the surface: wealth, power, fame and the privilege that all of that buys. But since no one is immune to illness, and depression is certainly a medical illness, it comes as no surprise that these two famous people suffered the same fate as luminaries such as Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemingway and photographer Diane Arbus.
Time Magazine covered this issue just last week. They quoted some grim stats:
* There has been a 28% increase in suicide rates from 1999 to 2016.
* Almost 45,000 people killed themselves in our country in 2016.
* There has been a 70% increase in suicide rates among girls from 2010 to 2016.
Having suffered from depression and anxiety much of my own life, I can understand first-hand the pain and struggle people like me go through. Those not afflicted cannot truly grasp what it means to be so anxious and depressed as to reach the point where Spade and Bourdain got.
But why the increase? Theories abound…
First, understand that depression, anxiety and the ultimate demon, suicide, have a neurochemical basis. Without getting too technical, our brains—all of our brains—are changing, and not for the better. Our chemicals that regulate mood and affect, including serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and others, are being messed with by our lifestyles. FOMO, or “fear of missing out”, is likely a culprit. People on social media are being fed a constant barrage of what life, in their minds, “should be” like, and anything that falls short means failure.
Also, the rise of obesity and its harpy-like sisters of cardiovascular disease, joint disease and diabetes, compels us to take more meds, and many of these medications, as reported in today’s multiple media outlets, can actually CAUSE depression.
Add the dire situation in the world, with the pollution-related assault on our planet, our lives under consistent threat (with the threat of weapons of mass destruction in these contentious political times), the toxic social environment of racism and injustice and guns killing our children, and it is small wonder people are depressed.
What to do? Well, if someone talks or threatens suicide, always take it seriously. Also, keep the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in mind: 1-800-273-8255. Encourage de-stigmatization of mental illness. Get help, in whatever way you can: psychiatrists, psychotherapists, social workers and related professionals are vital.
Medication can help but is not the answer in my opinion. A change in lifestyle is! Eat better. Exercise. Get sunshine. Get out of bad relationships. Have faith. Pray. Don’t live beyond your means. Keep your friends close. And look up cognitive behavioral therapy. Practice it!
Suicide can be defeated. I know; trust me.
For more with Dr. Sherer, click here for his podcast and video interviews, or purchase his memoir, The House of Black and White: My Life with and Search for Louise Johnson Morris.