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October 22, 2014

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OPINION:

Take it from one who knows: Nobody chooses depression

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)

• It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

• suicidepreventionlifeline.org

In the end, Robin Williams decided he didn’t have a choice.

The beloved comedian who hanged himself this month struggled with depression, and in his mind, the only solution was suicide.

That won’t make sense to the Facebook pundits, armchair psychologists and Internet trolls who have it all figured out in clear, black-and-white terms. Many of them declare that suicide is selfish, the last resort of cowards. Some of the more compassionate souls say Williams’ choice was one of desperation, a way out for someone in mental anguish.

Perhaps they are correct, but my own lifelong experience with depression tells me it’s not so simple. Those who have been led to death’s door by an evil form of depression understand that the clichés and stereotypes fall far short of reality.

That’s not to excuse suicide or absolve personal responsibility. Even in his disease, Williams had a choice and took the action that claimed his life. But he is also a victim. Depression is a life-and-death struggle that picks unwitting and unwilling targets.

And Williams’ suicide will leave other victims, including friends and family who struggle with what seems to be his sudden death. Many people undoubtedly are angry, wondering why he didn’t reach out to them and seek help, assuming they would or could have helped. But that’s not necessarily true.

If a person dealing with depression is able to muster the strength to call a friend for help, he may find one of the great tragedies of the disease: The most kind-hearted people — the ones willing to help — often make things worse with broad smiles and empty platitudes. Don’t worry, be happy, it will all be OK. You’re all better now, right?

Depression isn’t acceptable because who wants to talk about something so, well, depressing?

As a nation, our attitude seems to be that if you can’t suck it up, take a pill and shut up. But there are no happy pills. Medicine takes enough of the edge off to pull a person out of internal crisis, but it’s not a cure. The disease remains.

The horror of depression is difficult to describe. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not a matter of being down, it’s a million times worse, and suicide is often the last act of a person who already has died many silent deaths.

Our society sees depression as mental weakness or craziness. Be honest about your depression, and you could be locked up. Consider the woman who went to Montevista Hospital in Las Vegas in 2007 to get a referral for a therapist and instead was hospitalized against her will for five days because someone thought she might kill herself.

That’s part of the problem. Depression isn’t well understood, it isn’t tolerated, and you could end up in a straitjacket even in your search for help. It is a special type of evil that persistently whispers and cajoles: You’re a failure. No one cares. No one understands.

Those are lies, but in a depressed mind, they can take seed, especially when there aren’t many people who understand. Even the stoutest heart can fail as depression weighs it down, until there seems to be no way out.

More than 100 people make that final choice every day in America, just as Robin Williams made his.

I don’t agree with it, but with tears in my eyes, I understand. It could have been me or one of a million others, and it would have been shrugged off as just another tragedy in a country that sees too many already.

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