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24 August 2014

Depression requires more than awareness

T

he recent death of actor and comedian Robin Williams created a platform to raise awareness about depression and mental health. Journalists like Slate magazine’s David Weigel have come forward with their experiences with depression, and educational efforts such as AsapSCIENCE’s video “The Science of Depression” have gained traction through social media.

The worrisome characteristic of this phenomenon is its fleetingness: Why does it require a shattering tragedy, such as a suicide or a shooting, to direct the public’s attention to mental health? For a condition shared by more than 350 million people worldwide, how has depression managed to hide behind the closed doors of the therapist’s office?

The problem does not lie in the lack of outreach by community organizations, which have in fact increased in number over the past decades with the establishment of resources such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The larger obstacle is our response to this increased awareness; it’s making the connection between the people we see in articles to the people in our lives — perhaps even to ourselves. Throwing around hotlines and brochures is pointless if we insist on viewing depression as a distant concept rather than examining traces of mental disorders on a personal level.

The stigma behind coming out as mentally unwell stems from our fuzzy perception of the line where an individual’s personality ends and biological mental disorder begins. As a result, many individuals are quiet about their conditions, due to either confusion or fear of misunderstanding. This invisibility makes depression dangerous.

We are not all guaranteed to know someone who suffers from depression; 350 million is, after all, only five percent of the world’s population. However, it remains our responsibility to be aware, observant and caring, and to intervene when we see that our loved ones are incapable of making safe decisions for themselves.

Jackie Yang is a freshman majoring in Neuroscience.