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Local opinion columnists

No shame in mental health help

By From page A11 | August 14, 2014

I began writing today’s column weeks before Robin Williams lost his battle with depression Monday. If anything positive has come from this tragedy, it is that people are talking about depression and mental illness.

Mental illness really wasn’t on my radar screen until my brother Ken killed his girlfriend and committed suicide in 1990. On the surface, it didn’t make sense. My brother had a good job, owned a home, drove a new Camaro, had tons of friends and never wanted from female attention. In retrospect, his depression and self-medicating with more and more alcohol is clear.

Just like many physical diseases, depression and other mental illnesses can be hereditary. A person with a depressed sibling is five times more likely to develop depression. I know my family is high risk. Our paternal grandfather was hospitalized in an asylum for months. He later committed suicide.

Suicide is often the end of untreated mental illness. While no one wants to die, they don’t want to live a continuing nightmare that they don’t believe will change. The facts are chilling. While we focus on the 11,000 homicides by firearms every year, the 39,000 suicides and 713,000 trips to the emergency room for self-inflicted harm goes virtually unnoticed. Every day, more than 22 veterans kill themselves.

By far the largest group at risk for suicide is white males. Men complete suicide at four times the rate as women.

Part of the reason may be that men are far more reluctant to seek help. There’s the mistaken belief that mental illness reveals some kind of weakness. Men try to “tough it out.” In all my years of participating and helping facilitate survivors of suicide groups, the survivors ran probably 95 percent female. There’s no shame in needing help.

Before Robin Williams’ death, the only time mental illness made the national news is when some crackpot committed a horrific crime. In the aftermath of the Aurora, Colo., theater shootings, Sandy Hook, N.J., massacre and the demented virgin killing spree in Santa Barbara earlier this year, there was talk of keeping guns from those with mental illnesses. But nothing concrete materialized about getting people help.

On the flip side, it’s a mistake to believe that those with mental illness are always dangerous. Most people with mental illness are only a danger to themselves while most murderers are angry, evil or vengeful, not sick. But the fact that a tiny segment of mentally ill people commit awful acts should be incentive to do better outreach, screening and treatment.

For so long, mental illness has taken a back seat to physical illnesses in research dollars and public awareness. That needs to change.

What’s more important is where people can turn to get help. Call National Suicide Prevention at 800-273-8255, Solano County Crisis Services at 428-1131 or visit www.NAMI.org.

One thing we can all do is talk to someone we suspect is depressed. Ask if they’re contemplating suicide. If someone mentions suicide, take him or her seriously. Direct them to help and support them. As with any illness, everyone isn’t going to recover, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Peace.

Kelvin Wade, a former Fairfield resident, is the author of “Morsels” Vols. I and II and lives in Sacramento. Email him at [email protected]

Kelvin Wade

Kelvin Wade


Discussion | 16 comments

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  • Rita GoldenAugust 14, 2014 - 2:42 am

    Great article Kelvin Wade. I was just having a conversation with someone on a Facebook site yesterday. She said that people with depression are demon possessed. I told her she needs to educate herself on the subject of depression and then she accused me of trying to stir up strife. How sad that many people label those with depression and never try to understand or learn the reasons that so many people suffer from it.

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  • KelvinAugust 15, 2014 - 7:22 pm

    Thank you. Demon possessed? Wow. Yes, people do need to be better educated about mental health issues and it should be seen as no different than a physical issue.

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  • rlw895August 14, 2014 - 3:23 am

    ObamaCare requires health plans to include depression treatment and counseling. Use it.

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  • Tony WadeAugust 14, 2014 - 7:03 am

    Outstanding, my brother. I love you.

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  • KelvinAugust 15, 2014 - 7:23 pm

    Thanks. I love you, too!

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  • JagAugust 14, 2014 - 7:56 am

    RW the rates are going up again and I think you will see a ton of people pay the tax and drop OC..... Kelvin it is sad to say but we live in the world of it is none of my business and people put their head down and look the other way,,,,

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  • rlw895August 14, 2014 - 8:22 am

    The rates are going up but less than expected. And the taxes are going up too. The trend will be the other way.

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  • rlw895August 14, 2014 - 8:27 am

    Jag: I can see from your comments that you believe people should be left to deal with their own problems more than I do. Does Williams' death or Kelvin's column cause you to recalibrate that?

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  • JagAugust 14, 2014 - 9:29 am

    It is not about what I believe it is an opinion that people turn the other way on crime because they don't want to get involved and I also think in this day people turn the other way with these issues for the same reason.

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  • rlw895August 14, 2014 - 10:29 am

    Jag: I'm not sure I get that. Should the government provide counseling and treatment for people with clinical depression?

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  • TJ BairdAugust 14, 2014 - 8:59 am

    Kelvin, well written. It does seem that the problem is escalating. Although we can't solve all societal problems, this is one that we need to put much more effort and more resources into as we educate the public. I so appreciate the transparency that you provide in your writing!

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  • KelvinAugust 15, 2014 - 7:35 pm

    Thank you. If we could somehow reach people before they go over the edge, especially if they're going to hurt someone, that would be great. People almost always voice their intention to someone. It's tough.

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  • gmlgAugust 14, 2014 - 10:57 am

    I too have experienced a suicide, my best friend Mark who had a beautiful wife (my BFF) & 4 children, we were like family. It really affected me, I didn't understand why, but 7 years later, I now understand why!! WHERE CAN THEY GO GO FOR HELP/TREATMENT, EVERYTHING COSTS MONEY?? A person can call the Suicide hot line, they can be picked up by police & taken/placed into a hospital for up to 3 days treatment, then what?? .Whether it's mental, alcohol, etc problem where can they go for LONG TERM HELP, if they're HOMELESS, it's worse :-( HELP/TREATMENT COSTS MONEY MAJORITY OF PEOPLE DON'T HAVE, THEY REAALLY HAVE NO WHERE TO TURN!!!! On FaceBook: Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk

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  • KelvinAugust 15, 2014 - 7:31 pm

    Sorry for your loss. It can be hard getting help. We used to just warehouse people with mental problems in horrible asylums. There weren't enough doctors for all the patients so they usually tried "narcosynthesis," just doping them up. For more severe cases they employed electro convulsive therapy and lobotomies. These hospitals and asylums were shut down and a lot of sick people ended up on the street. For the longest time many insurance plans barely covered mental health services if they did at all. It's gotten better but it's a struggle.

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  • JagAugust 14, 2014 - 10:57 am

    My comment was directed at Kelvin last paragraph (One thing we can all do) that is where I think people don't want to get involved, (sad to say) As to (should the Gov) be involved? that is another whole subject.

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  • rlw895August 15, 2014 - 1:33 am

    Jag: Given we can't count on self help, family, friends, or the charity of strangers, I was asking whether the government should strive to ensure every American has access to mental health care, particularly to combat depression.

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