Monday, March 13, 2006

Depression and Suicide - Don't Ignore the Warning Signs - By Angela Thompson

We hear a lot about depression today. I seems everyone is on some medication for depression, ADD, or ADHD, but do we really understand it or know what to do if we sense someone is severely depressed or suicidal?

I have suffered from depression for most of my life. I’m 50 now and just learning how to recognize the symptoms before they take hold and how to deal with them. When I was growing up, depression was not talked about. People feared they would be thought of as being crazy, so they never admitted to feeling this way. They thought people would look at you differently or be afraid to associate with you. They were too embarrassed to discuss their feelings, so they did not seek help. How sad was that? Do you know how different my life could have been had I or someone else realized I suffered from depression and I got help?

Depression was hereditary in my family so it would not have been unusual for me to suffer from it. My uncle tried to commit suicide several times and was institutionalized at one point. My aunt tried to commit suicide. My Dad was told he desperately needed help and my mother tried to commit suicide twice. Once was when she was pregnant with me and the other time was when my brother and I left home within months of each other and she felt she had nothing left to live for. Of course, I did not know all this until years later. Had I known, I may have recognized the symptoms. I would have been able to get help instead of struggling and not knowing why I had no energy, or slept all the time or had such low self-esteem. Medication may have helped. It is not the answer to everything, and in some cases can make things worse, but I would like to have had the option to know if it would have made a difference in my life. It would have made those years so much more bearable and possibly changed the course of my future.

If someone you know is, or might be suffering from depression, please urge them to seek help. You may think that suicide only happens in other families, but my daughter and I came dangerously close to losing her best friend this past week. Why? Because we did not take her talk of suicide seriously or realize just how depressed she was. Especially with children and teens, we tend to write if off as just “those difficult” teenage years. We may think they are just being moody. Do not take that chance. You do not want to wonder if there was some sign you missed or something you could have done and live with the guilt the rest of your life.

Here are some signs to look for:
  • Change in sleeping patterns. Sleeping more than usual or unable to sleep at all.
  • Lack of interest in anything or taking pleasure in things they once enjoyed.
  • Irritability. They are very sensitive and get upset at things or comments that normally would not bother them.
  • Withdrawal. Because they feel different and may not understand what is happening, they withdraw from their friends. They will not leave the house and feel it is easier to avoid their friends that to have them think they are crazy. They do not understand why they may sleep so much or feel so bad. My daughters' friend thought people would think she was just lazy and judge her, so she avoided contact.
  • Change in eating patterns or physical condition. They may stop having an interest in food, lose weight or vomit due to stress.
  • Talk of suicide. Do not make the mistake of thinking this is just talk. It may be or it could be a cry for help, but do not take that chance. Get them to a doctor or psychiatrist whether they want to go or not. You may risk making them mad at you or saying they will not forgive you, but the alternative is much worse.

I have experienced all of the above symptoms but like a lot of people, did not recognize them for what they were. I thought of suicide of but never voiced it. I almost followed through on it on a particularly bad day. It was only by the grace of God that a friend stopped by unexpectedly, which she never did, or I might not be here right now.

Many people at one time or another may have had thoughts of suicide. They may have made statements that they would be better off dead, but they were just fleeting thoughts for most, made out of anger or stress. For those that are deeply depressed, they are more than that. I wanted to think I would never really follow through. I could not hurt my family that way. I remember being furious with my Mom when I found out she had tried, yet found myself in the same situation years later. That is why it is so important to never take it lightly. We often do things we could not imagine in a million years doing. Yet, we never know when we will hit rock bottom and feel like we cannot get up. When you are in that place, your thoughts are not rational. You are not thinking of the people you would hurt, you just want out of your pain. After being “saved by the bell” when my friend stopped by, it hit me what it would have done to my daughter had I succeeded. She would have experienced the same anger I felt at my mother. She may have experienced guild and wonder what she could have done to stop me.

That was a wake up call for me. I had been in counseling before, but it had always left me more depressed than when I started. Focusing on where I went wrong and how my life was nothing like I expected, just left me feeling worse and guiltier than before. Of course, guilt was my middle name. I felt everything was always my fault and I deserved how my life had turned out. I must have been jinxed or being punished for something. It’s amazing the thoughts we have when we are in that frame of mind.

Last February was a particularly difficult time for me. Fortunately, I was now able to recognize the signs of depression and know when I was slipping into one. I knew I needed to seek help. I was hesitant because of my past experiences with psychologists, but I knew I had to try.

I was lucky enough to be referred by my family physician to a wonderful woman. I feel she truly changed and possibly saved my life. I am stronger now than I have ever been. I have learned not to define myself by my physical limitations and that I have a lot to offer. I no longer feel guilty for things I had no control over. She made me realize that the more I focused on what was wrong, the longer my life would stay in that condition. She taught me to let go of the past if I wanted to have a future. I could not change what had happened in my past, but I could change my attitude, accept where I was today and move forward with joy and anticipation.

If you or someone you know has been to counseling and feels it did not help, do not let that stop them from trying again. I found the key; just like in a friendship, is finding someone you connect with and feel comfortable with. Each relationship is different. Help is there if you really want it.

When suicide occurs, the worst part is that the family members are left to suffer with the guilt. They ask themselves if there was something that they could have done that would have made a difference. I have witnessed attempts in my own family and wondered the same thing. Had I done something to make my mother want to take her life? What had I missed? Why did I not look closer to see she was hurting? Once you have experienced this, you are never the same.

Never treat a statement of suicide lightly. Do not think it cannot happen to you. You do not want to be left asking “what was it I did not see? Why did I not try harder to understand?”

Life is a gift to be treasured. Each individual has something of value to offer this world. Do not take anything for granted. Live in the moment. Really see the beauty around you and never pass up a chance to tell the people you love how you feel about them. See each day as if for the first time, and live it as if it were your last. Tim McGraw sings in one of his songs, “I hope you get the chance to live as if you were dying.” If you knew you were, you would want to do all the things you never dared, see all the things you wanted to see, and tell everyone you loved how you felt. Today can be that day. Do it now. Cherish it and never forget how precious life is.

Angela Thompson is the owner of a cleaning company, has a Realtor’s License and has been involved in several home-based businesses. She and her daughter are currently independent distributors for Mia Bella Gourmet Candles. Her desire is to help people realize their potential and fulfill their goals.

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