Posts Tagged 'antidepressants'

Thank You Henry Rollins for Your Offensive Comments About Depression and Suicide

Unknown(Reprinted from the Huffington Post)

This summer, Punk Rock icon, actor and writer Henry Rollins wrote a controversial opinion piece entitled ‘Fuck Suicide’ for the L.A.Weekly in which he viciously criticized those who commit suicide, including Robin Williams, who killed himself after a long battle with depression. “How in the hell could you possibly do that to your children?” Rollins wrote. “When someone negates their existence, they cancel themselves out in my mind. I have many records, books and films featuring people who have taken their own lives, and I regard them all with a bit of disdain.”

The article was shared 32,000 times on Facebook, and enraged thousands of readers who believed Rollin’s words showed a complete lack of respect for Williams and his grieving family. News outlets including the NY Daily News, Rolling Stone Magazine, Detroit Free Press, Washington Post, The Guardian and the Sydney Morning Herald also reported on the backlash. But he wasn’t the only public figure to comment negatively about suicide and those suffering from mental illnesses. The KISS bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons sparked outrage after saying he is “the guy who says ‘Jump’ to those who are suicidal.

Simmons then went on to imply that people with suicidal tendencies were attention seekers. He remarked “Shut the f**k up, have some dignity and jump.”  In response, several radio stations, including Power97 and BobFM in Canada declared that they will no longer play KISS music, as did leading Australian station Triple M – which owns five metropolitan stations across the country. After the fallout, Simmons also deleted his Twitter account to which he previously posted daily. Finally, last week So You Think You Can Dance judge and executive producer Nigel Lythgoe announced on the show that “committing suicide is both stupid and selfish.”

As much as I loathe all of these insensitive and offensive comments I am grateful that they have opened up an international dialog that is rarely that covered in our media and news outlets. However, amid the clamor, I believe that these public figures articulated some very real and strongly held beliefs that those who commit suicide and struggle with mental illness are weak, selfish and lack courage. That they should “pull themselves up by their boot straps” and “just snap out of it.” And that they don’t deserve our sympathy because “they did it to themselves.” I know that these horribly misguided comments are made over dinner tables, during happy hour and into cell phones because I have heard them. Most mental health professionals would agree that suicide is too often a result of mental illness.

There’s no “stupidity” involved when a disabling illness drives a person to take his or her own life.  The shame and stigma stat stem from these commonly held messages can cause a great deal of damage. Bruce Levin, psychologist and author of several books including  Surviving America’s Depression  wrote that people with mental illnesses “do not need positive-thinking or condescending advice, which assumes inaction stems from ignorance, creates only more pain. Instead, people need compassion, love, and various kinds of support.” In todays culture we hold our celebrities as up as role models, emulating their taste in clothes, music, homes, political causes, art, cars, food, reading material, and lifestyles. Their opinions are regarded by many to be the gold standard regardless of how ridiculous, misinformed or irresponsible they may be. These celebrities do not only echo public sentiment, they create it. Just consider Kim Kardashian and her empire.

However, most telling was how these three celebrities chose to respond to the public outcry against their insensitive remarks. Nigel Lithgoe took to Twitter and in three posts refused to apologize. He continued to blame the victims by saying, “I will not even begin to defend my feelings toward suicide. The belief that life is not worth living is wrong. Because a mentally ill person is incapable of judgement does not make the act of suicide any less stupid or selfish.” He also admitted that he has lost two people to suicide and perhaps his experience has impacted his misguided beliefs. It’s not for me to make this assumption. Rock star Gene Simmons has expressed regret in a Facebook message

“I was wrong and in the spur of the moment made remarks that in hindsight were made without regard for those who truly suffer the struggles of depression.” However, it was Henry Rollins’ reaction which surprised me the most. In addition to apologizing he also pledged to educate himself on the topic. After his original article, Rollin’s penned a follow-up titled, “More thoughts on suicide,” in which he took responsibility and thanked the people who sent responses.

“I appreciate them all because they were written with complete sincerity, even if some had only two words, the second being “you.” . . . I said there are some things I obviously don’t get. So I would like to thank you for taking the time to let me know where you’re coming from. None of it was lost upon me.” But then Rollins shared his own struggles with depression. “There have been some truly awful stretches, as I am sure there have been for anyone who deals with depression, that have at times rendered me almost paralytic.” Rollins wrote. It may seem appalling that he would make these derogatory remarks after suffering from depression himself. However, a research paper in the US National Library of Medicine entitled “Stigma as a Barrier to Recovery” noted the stigma may be so pervasive that “persons with mental illness may begin to accept these notions and internalize these stigmatizing attitudes and beliefs that are widely endorsed within society”.

Perhaps this was the case with Rollins but it wouldn’t be fair for me to make that conjecture. Rollins concluded with a message of regret and a commitment to learn from this experience: “I have no love for a fixed position on most things. I am always eager to learn something. I promise that I will dig in and educate myself on this and do my best to evolve. Again, thank you.” To be sure, there are many who believe that these all are just insincere apologies by celebrities who are interested only in protecting their image and endorsements. I do not know if Simmons or Rollins are being genuine. I hope so because people can change. I know it, in fact because I have.

It shames me now to admit that I once held similar misguided opinions about mental illness but this was before I got a Masters degree in counseling, before I worked with students in crisis at Northern Illinois University, Illinois State University and UCLA and before I lived with a decade-long diagnosis of major chronic depression. In other words I got educated, I learned and I changed. The concept that mental illness is a disease which twists reality and affects the way one thinks, perceives and remembers is one that is not often discussed. Blame towards the victim and a lack of understanding is what keeps so many alone with their secrets.

The World Health Organization estimates that one in four people will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lives. That is too many people who must bear the stigma and the judgement of the ill-informed. I am proud of the mental health community and media outlets who stood to be counted by taking these public figures to task. As a result damaging misconceptions were exposed and more importantly relevant information about mental illness and suicide was shared with the public at large. The  good news is that a more open conversation about suicide and depression may be on the horizon in this country, as the indie film, “Skeleton Twins,” a movie with suicide and suicide attempts at the core of the story, won big audiences in its debut weekend in movie theaters across the country. It is my hope that more people will get educated, learn and change.


No Winter Blues

1sun(Reprinted from Huffington Post)

I am a lucky person: My life is big and good. I am a playwright, actor and activist. I am also well-medicated and my brain has had a good winter.

A decade ago I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety disorder. The shorter days of less sunlight in the winter months terrify me because of the reality that is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It may exacerbate my depression and plunge me into the dark. I am braced myself and worked on a plan to avoid the hole.

I knew it is necessary because as most people were making New Year’s resolutions, taking inventory of their winter sweater wardrobe and gearing up for skiing or snowboarding last year, I stumbled into the hole after having a good spring, followed by a happy summer.

The invisible hand of depression pushed me down for almost four months. It felt like an eternity. I not only missed the sun and the deep blue sky, but I missed my old self. I slept 11 hours a day and woke up exhausted and ready for a nap. Sadness and despair gnawed at my brain, and because my depression manifests itself physically, I felt like a low-grade flu followed me around like a nagging child.

Prepping for the writing classes that I teach took twice as long and drained me, although I could always rally in the classroom. My classes were always full of talented, generous writers and for a few hours it would take me out of myself.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, SAD is characterized by recurrent and cyclical episodes of depression, usually in late fall and winter. It is estimated that 18.8 million people or 6 percent of the U.S. population suffers from SAD along with another 14 percent who suffer from a milder version we often call the “winter blues.”

By January, predictable symptoms may have existed for two months, as the sun’s rays are weaker and the darkness is longer. Symptoms including extreme fatigue, sadness, emptiness, anxiety, decreased energy, a lack of focus, productivity and pleasure in activities often subside in March or April. Many of us don’t feel fully “back to normal” until early May.

Another symptom that’s common with people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder is an increase in carb cravings. Me? I could not get enough cookie dough, linguine, warm French bread, mashed potatoes, corn chips, chocolate cupcakes, and finally, most embarrassingly, Cheese Whiz. On a cracker or straight from the can.

We don’t know exactly why Seasonal Affective Disorder occurs. The research says there are probably several causes. Scientists have discovered that a neurotransmitter called serotonin may not be functioning well in people with SAD. Also hormones like melatonin play a role. There is the eye’s sensitivity to light and the circadian rhythms, which involve sleep-wake cycles during the changing seasons.

Where you live may also play a factor. Experts contend SAD is influenced not by the cold, but by diminished light and latitude is part of that equation. The Cleveland Clinic estimates that 1 percent of Florida residents, 4 percent of Washington, D.C. residents, and nearly 10 percent of Alaska residents suffer from SAD.

In an attempt to combat this weather phenomena, Rjukan, a small town in Norway recently completed installing three 300 square foot heliosatic mirrors that will redirect the sunlight into the town. Not bad for a community of 3,000 people.

I live in Chicago, where my husband and I have an extended family and our work. I love it here. Chicago has a spectacular skyline, terrific theater and world class restaurants. But unfortunately 79 percent of its winter days are cloudy to partially cloudy. And this winter has been long and mean and relentless.

One gloomy afternoon in early winter as I tried to psych myself getting outside to shovel the sidewalk, I happened to flip onto an article on the website of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) on the benefits of prophylactic treatment for SAD. In other words, it suggested being proactive before the SAD symptoms sink in.

I am trying. This year I refuse to be bullied by SAD. I did some research, talked about it with my psychiatrist and got an OK.

So every day for 30 minutes I am doing phototherapy by sitting in front of a 12″ by 24″ metal box that contains two long tube lights behind a metal grating that delivers full spectrum 10,000 lux of light. My cat likes to sit in front of it too, so I let her, because who wants a depressed cat? The light board cost $139 and is designed to mimic outdoor light that researchers believe may lift mood and ease other symptoms of SAD.

I am not alone in my efforts.

The Memorial Hospital in South Bend has installed a Light Therapy Feel Better Center and offers complimentary 30-minute sessions.The counseling centers at University of Washington, University of New Hampshire and Macalaster College in St Paul, Minnesota provides light therapy to its students through their counseling centers. And the Lightbar in Portland, Ore. is a bistro that combines food, trendy cocktails and music with light therapy. Genius.

My psychiatrist suggested upping my supplements of Vitamin D and fish oils. We developed a modification plan for my antidepressant regime if I find myself going into the hole. I know from experience that altering your meds may be a complicated hit or miss, but I like knowing that I have a fall back.

He also told me to, “get somewhere sunny if you can. Some people say that they feel better after just a couple of days.”

So instead of going on our traditional summer vacation this year, I split up the time up into two short winter jaunts to visit warm weather friends in January and February. I know that Van Nuys, California and Houston, Texas are not glamorous, but they are hot and full of sunshine.

I am also more vigilant this winter about exercise and yoga and as difficult as it is, I am trying to regulate my sleep patterns.

Finally, most importantly for me, I am booking my calendar weeks and months in advance to get me up and out into the world when all I want to do is stay under the covers and mew. I am planning dinners out, movie night in with fun friends, actually showing up for holiday parties, entertaining weekend visitors, getting theater tickets and faithfully going to writing group, book club and visits with my parents and in-laws. I’ve even decided to throw myself a 1/2-year birthday party.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is real and dark for millions of people, and these measures aren’t for everybody, but for me it is worth a try.

I’ve never been a “just in case” kind of woman. I don’t carry antacids when I go to my favorite Mexican restaurant. I don’t bring an umbrella if it just “looks” like rain and I don’t stash an extra $20 bill into a secret fold of my wallet.

I don’t live in Florida or Rjuka, and I have not the time or inclination to erect giant mirrors on Willis Tower.  But I am going continue to be proactive. I have made do right here staring into the light and it has worked.

NOTE:  I start touring the solo show-“A Little Bit Not Normal”  A serious comedy about depression-  Fall 2014.  This Blog, the show, talk back sessions, community writing workshops, articles in publications & the book- is part of my iniative to become part of the national conversation around mental  Illness.  Kickstarter will be launched later this year.  I hope you’ll join me- because its 1 in 4 of us suffer sometime in our lives- and much of that time it is in silence.