Don’t forget about depression

Jack Reidy | Op-Ed Submission

Over the last few weeks, there has been an explosion of national awareness of LGBT issues, prompted by the suicides of several gay men. A multiplicity of memorials, reports, awareness days and other events have sprung up. I’m glad to see the nation taking action on the issue of LGBT issues and bullying in general. I find it odd, however, that there has been little awareness of another similarity between these men, one that caused their deaths as surely as bullying did: they all had hidden battles with depression, a secret that eventually led to their suicides.

I saw a similar omission at my floor’s “diversity meeting,” where we were asked about issues such as our religion, our race, if we’d been sexually harassed, or if we had physical disabilities; psychiatric disorders went unmentioned. Directly outside my room, brochures with phone numbers are hung on the wall: for rape hotlines, for SHS, for LGBT groups…but no numbers for a suicide hotline. In fact, throughout the information barrage that is the beginning of freshman year, I don’t think I once received information about depression or a suicide hotline. I have five diagnosed psychiatric disorders, including two forms of depression, so I know first-hand just how horrific dealing with despair, anxiety, guilt and a whole host of other negative feelings can be. The battle is even harder when it seems like you have nowhere to turn. As for those suffering from an as-yet-undiagnosed mental illness, a symptom of many mental illnesses is that you blame yourself for your misery and are reluctant to seek help, lest you “burden others.” Add to those worries the societal stigma of being diagnosed as “mentally ill,” and few people seek out the help they need.

With its mix of academic stress, social pressures, alcohol and unfamiliarity (for freshmen especially), a college campus can easily induce a feeling of hopelessness and despair for anyone suffering from depression, and becomes an incubator for suicidal thoughts. In fact, according to a Student Life article last March titled “Depression [and] suicide rising among college students,” suicide is the third most common cause of death among college students. Student Life also published an article six years ago, “Level of depression at WU surpasses national average,” in which a student mentions that she rarely spoke with others about her depression because of “the stigma” associated with it. As someone who struggles with depression and other mental illnesses, I feel that there is still a great stigma associated with mental illness, largely because so few people know what depression and other illnesses really are and how debilitating and miserable they can be. It seems that the only group on campus that really makes a point of offering help to people with depression is Uncle Joe’s; no other student group really reaches out to those with mental illnesses.

Depression is a major problem, and it can be treated with a high degree of effectiveness (studies show success rates approaching 90%). But first, we must all be accepting of mental illness and support those among us who are struggling. As a personal plea, I ask all of you reading this who have wondered whether you might be depressed to go to SHS and get information, and I ask all of you who haven’t wondered, to look at your life and decide if you should wonder. Now, we as a campus community must educate others and ourselves about these serious afflictions and take steps to combat them. If we fail, our campus could become the background for yet another all-too-preventable tragedy.

Jack is a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences.

  • Jerome Bauer

    Hear hear!

    St Louis has a chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (formerly National Alliance for the Mentally Ill): http://www.namistl.org. Let’s start chapter on all our St Louis campuses, and let’s focus on stigma-busting!

    In Spring 03 I first introduced myself to my “Theories of Religion” class without mentioning my brother’s bipolarity and paranoid schizophrenia. The next class I put “NAMI” on the board and corrected the omission, telling my students that my proud schizophrenic brother, an active member of NAMI, would want it that way. A few students sneered and dropped the class, but one met me after class to tell me how much she appreciated what I said. I know many others appreciated this as well.

    I NEVER write an unkind word on an exam or student paper, because I know how traumatizing that can be. What we say in and out of the classroom can have a profound effect on our students’ lives, years later. I know this from my proud schizophrenic brother’s experience. It’s too bad so many top scholars are, not to put too fine a point on it, emotionally retarded, and unkind. These are especially abundant at any top “research” university. One can never be too kind, or cut our students too many breaks, when they are depressed, or manic, or whatever. This I have learned from my proud bipolar brother.

    Please let’s not stigmatize any kind of illness.

    Lecturer Dr. Jerome Bauer
    Acting Chair (officially “point person”), Washington University Program in Religious Studies, 2002-2003 (as the war began…)
    Co-Founder, WashU Cooperative Network, Spring 03–present….
    Active Member, Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment