I was preparing an alternative piece for this week. You were going to be reading yet another essay documenting my own progressive journey toward living — better.
Last night I began writing about work, financial, and optimal wellness goals for the year. I was looking into processes for improvement and motivation for staying focused on intentions for the new year. Basically, how do I get better at what I’m doing, and how do I remain motivated to keep moving forward when progress wanes.
With that, I woke this morning, made myself a cup of coffee, and opened my computer to edit and finish up the post for the week. As has become habitual, I began with an oft-regrettable peek at Facebook. Today, however, what presented itself was not the frivolous distracting dopamine hits to which I’ve become numb. The initial two posts that came across my feed were about suicide. The first was a news article about a young and successful college student who was found dead, beside him a suicide note. The second was from an acquaintance who’d been admitted to the hospital and was currently under suicide watch. Documenting my journey suddenly left a distaste in my mouth and an ache in my gut. I’m not typically an emotional guy, or rather I hide it very well. I’ve spent most of my youth and adult years burying emotions. Reading about these events made me deeply sad and equally angry. I surmise this occurs because sadness and anger incite action — my subconscious is telling me to do something. Perhaps some anger results from the frustration of being uncertain as to exactly what that action is to be.
“The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality…”
So I write. As this is my cathartic exercise which helps me purge thoughts from my head and formulate them into ideas, ideas that are hopefully useful to others. I use this space then, and take your time today, to share thoughts and information I believe important.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) suicide claims more lives than war, murder, and national disasters combined. Approximately 45,000 people died by suicide in 2016, and while male deaths outnumber female deaths by close to 4 to 1, twice as many women attempt suicide as men. Twenty-five million (25,000,000) Americans suffer from depression and 50% of all people who die by suicide suffer from depression.
Comparatively, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2016 an estimated 16.2 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. This number is up from 15.7 million reported in 2013. Thirty-seven percent (37%) of adults do not seek treatment, and 60% of adolescents do not receive treatment.
These statistics are strictly based on what’s occurring in the United States. They do not speculate on the toll mental illness takes on the economy and the healthcare system in our country. Statistics from a Canadian study estimate that 500,000 employees take a sick day every day in Canada due to mental illness.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 300 million (300,000,000) people around the globe suffer from depression.
What can we do? We can start with acknowledgement and awareness. We can acknowledge this as the significant issue it is. It literally impacts each one of us regardless of whether we personally know someone affected. We can also improve our awareness, and consequently our empathy for those who suffer.
Below are seven signs you may experience, or may notice in others who are suffering from depression or a depressive episode. The following were taken from a Psychology Today article. If these look familiar, try to be patient and empathetic with yourself and others. Often we don’t see what’s happening, or we spend our energy denying that we could be unwell.
This was a big issue for me, at the height of my own period of depression I was very irritable. My patience was extremely short— with myself and others.
It’s hard to say if sleep deprivation was a cause, or symptom, of my depression. I think it works both ways. Point being, don’t underestimate the importance of sleep.
Aches and Pains
I dealt with more aches and pains for certain, particularly in the lower back and knees. I eventually took a good deal of time off from training (running) to allow my body to recover.
“There’s an incredible link between your body and your mind. When you’re struggling with mental health issues, you’re likely to experience physical problems.” — Via Psychology Today
Well, this was a given. I felt I needed to sleep all the time—an hour after waking I needed a nap.
Feelings of Guilt
Yep. I still deal with these feelings.
People who look like party animals on the outside are often suffering from depression on the inside. Frequent gambling, risky sexual behavior, and substance abuse may be attempts to mask unpleasant emotions. — Via Psychology Today
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention the percent of people who die by suicide and suffer from depression rises from 50% to 75% if the number includes alcoholics who are depressed.
This was also a significant issue. I was forgetting simple things like where I put my keys (which made me very irritable) and I became absent minded. I tried chalking it up to aging, but my memory and concentration have improved since.
I’ll add an eighth sign. Disconnection.
Often when depressed we disconnect from people. We feel ashamed. We don’t want to burden others with our low energy, irritability, or pessimism.
Interestingly, the initial article I was writing spawned from an article I read in Outside Magazine written by Brad Stulberg. It begins with the above quote from Friedrich Nietzsche.
In the article Brad delves into the concept of being the best at getting better — focus on process rather than outcome. He identifies two factors to successful self improvement.
“You can train to make something feel easier—by getting fitter or improving a skill—or you can increase your motivation.”
Then specifically, to see improvement focus on what matters, to maintain motivation make it about more than just yourself.
The why, what truly matters then, is vitality, longevity and personal fulfillment. Not mine, but collectively — ours. I, we, need to identify the processes and habits that make us the best at getting better. Collectively we must adopt habits that build vital bodies, resilient minds and fulfilled spirits. Those of us who have suffered need to stand up and be counted. We need to unashamedly become the faces of depression that lead the quietly suffering out of the darkness.
I can begin with myself and the intentional purpose of being the best at living — better; each day embracing habits that make my life fulfilling and vital.
The National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255.