June 19th, 2018

A simple gesture can make a huge difference to someone suffering from depression

By Medicine Hat News Opinon on June 12, 2018.

It was startling news for many last week as famous chef and food writer Anthony Bourdain, 61, and iconic fashion designer Kate Spade, 55, both died by suicide.

Whether it’s Robin Wiliams or Alexander McQueen, Kurt Cobain or Hunter S. Thompson the deaths of famous, talented and celebrated people is a stark reminder that mental illness isn’t magically solved by finding success in life.

With the best of intentions, what inevitably follows these publicized deaths are people sharing suicide hotline tips and encouraging people to reach out if they’re feeling suicidal.

It’s an understandable sentiment. Yes, people use these helplines. Yes, these helplines have helped to save lives. But they’re also Band-Aids for a greater issue.

Because while progress has been made, there are still immense barriers those with mental health issues have in accessing supports — whether its waitlists, stigma, or troubles navigating what can be an overwhelming and confusing health-care system.

Saying “Reach out for help” is meaningless if the kind of long-term help a person needs isn’t readily accessible. A hotline isn’t health care.

So sure, share the phone number. But then also pick up the phone and contact your MLA, MP and government officials and call on them to take meaningful action.

Depression is an ugly beast that’s near impossible to explain to people who have never experienced it. It’s the sort of illness where even basic tasks — getting out of bed, showering, getting dressed, even eating —are on par with climbing Mount Everest.

Telling people to make a phone call or to ask for help is often asking for the impossible. It’s like asking someone who is drowning to try and swim to the shore.

Despite good intentions, “I’m always here if you need to talk” or “Call this helpline” are reactive.

People can step up and access the many resources available to learn about mental illness, to find out what supports are available, to listen to advocates and first-hand experiences, to learn the signs that someone may need help and how best to support them.

Reach out to people. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture or invasive. It can be as simple as being kind and considerate, of asking someone how they’re doing, how their day is going, sharing something positive with them, complimenting them, texting them a funny joke or how something you saw reminded you of them, running an errand for them, bringing them a coffee, listening to them, sitting with them in silence — whatever it is they need, hold that space for them.

Sometimes there aren’t signs. Which makes it just as vital to check in with people who seem strong and fearless, who are community leaders, successful, and seem to have it all.

It’s not enough to wait and hope when it comes to suicide prevention.

(Peggy Revell is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to http://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)

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