The Stigma of Mental Illness and Clinical Depression

healthI don't suffer from clinical depression. Because I don't suffer from clinical depression, I can't imagine what it would feel like. There is clinical depression in my family, however, and I've seen loved ones suffering, so I'm naturally sympathetic to those who carry this weight.

I've heard clinical depression described as a debilitating black cloud that can't be shaken. We're not talking the blues here, or environmental depression following the loss of a job or loved one or the demise of a relationship or a blow to your dreams and aspirations, we're talking about mental illness.

There's a stigma associated with clinical depression that sincerely irks me. I recently wrote about Dani Stover, former producer of the Dean Blundell Show on 102.1 The Edge. She opened up about her battles with clinical depression.

The reason I feel the need to be open about this condition is because, with clinical depression comes a lot of stigma. And there's no need for it. One in five people suffer from some sort of depression. And I'm not talking about occasional sadness or periods of feeling distressed or miserable. I'm talking about feeling day-to-day sadness, anxiety, pessimism and helplessness.

One in five is a lot of people. Lately I've been wrestling with a domain name squatter, reseller agent and registrar over the ownership of martinstreek.com. Throughout this ordeal, Martin's naturally been on my mind. It was only last July when Martin took his own life. Martin quietly struggled with clinical depression and came to the conclusion he was better off dead. That's a jolting conclusion from someone so beloved and talented.

Just this weekend, another public figure passed away far too young. Eric Tunney was a talented comedian, who according to the Windsor Star, had been deeply depressed.

He began as a teenage comic in Windsor, Ont., performed in Toronto clubs and wound up in Los Angeles as a writer for the Fox Network.

But after his career bottomed out and his marriage failed, he returned to Windsor, doing the occasional show and working briefly as a telemarketer.

On Sunday, the 45-year-old was found dead in his Windsor apartment. Friends say he has suffered from deep depression the last couple of years.

"We were all really worried about him," said longtime friend Kelly Hoppe of Windsor.

There's no confirmation that Eric took his own life. Windsor police haven't disclosed that detail, but even before that Windsor Star article was published, I had emails from people purporting to have known him and anonymous comments left on this blog claiming Eric had commit suicide.

There's still an unfortunate stigma associated with mental illness and the resulting suicide. I've been receiving several anonymous messages via my contact form and unsigned comments on my entry about Eric's death that chastise me for "inaccurately" reporting Eric killed himself. The implication is that suicide as a cause of death tarnishes Eric's legacy and somehow detracts from the life he lived. I have a serious problem with that.

Eric Tunney died at 45 years old. To me, whether he died at his own hand or of natural causes changes nothing. It bothers me that the mere suggestion that Eric may have chosen to take his own life is suggested to add to the grief and anger currently afflicting Eric's loved ones.

It all comes back to the stigma of mental illness, and it's time we get over it. 20% of us suffer from depression. Dani suffers, Martin suffered and Eric suffered. If we talk about it and stop treating it like a personal defect or character flaw, we can reduce the stigma and make it easier for those like Dani and Martin and Eric to get the help they need.

To everyone who has lost a loved one to this disease, my sincere condolences. To those living with depression, I want you to know there's no shame in talking about it. You're not alone.


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Comments (14 - click here to join in!)

Sarah

Well said, Mike. I too have been trying to remove the stigma of depression since suffering from a severe case of it in 2001-02. It is very sad that something that is so common is still so stigmatized and shameful. The more we are willing to get information about depression out there, hopefully people suffering from it will start to realize they are not alone and we will have more Dani Stovers, and fewer Martin Streeks and Eric Tunneys.

March 30, 2010 @ 3:49 PM

Jill

Well said indeed.

Depression is not a sign of weakness. It is a major health problem and like other illnesses, depression can be treated very effectively. Unfortunately because of the shame affiliated with this illness people often go off their medication and most often it is done abruptly without consulting a doctor. It is because of the stigma and feelings of shame
that depression sufferers are so quiet. I have also been witness to people who are able to hide their depression and present well and go about their daily tasks....work, school, caring for their family while internally they are struggling and contemplating suicide and formulating their plan.
I actually believe the statistic you (Dani) gave may be a tad off and on the low side. We have to take into consideration that some peoples depression may go unrecognized. We have all come across people who consistently present with angry undertones....who are confrontational, critical of others and conflict seeking. I believe that alot of these people suffer from depression but are turning it outward. And then we have the people who manifest their depression into physical symptoms(things like headaches, ulcers or other stress-related problems) Even well-meaning clinicians may not realize a person is depressed, and just treat the physical symptoms. I applaud Dani Stover who is a well known person to many for opening up about her experiences with this very real & treatable illness.

March 31, 2010 @ 12:15 AM

CQ

I disagree with the emphasis of depression being someone's own "disease". On one hand, people are naturally supposed to feel an array of emotions at times. On the other hand, it is said that communication is only 10% verbal. People pick up on a whole lot of sh*t whether consciously or not.
Now, I've been a loser failure my entire life. That is just my lot in life and I have learned, over time, to accept it. Yet I cannot begin to count how many times I'll get the "how dare... he wasn't supposed to pick up on that.. from me" unspoken reaction from another. The snub. The snide. The disdain. The furtive. The tease unconsidered. The empty lead-up. The intended audience only.

Here's a common little story. One day as a teen, some of 'the guys' came over to call me for a road hockey game over at the local school. I went. Soon it outs that they'd been playing for a good couple of hours already and most were leaving if not left already. I was only thought of and asked to play so to be a spare body for the under numbered hangers on of the group. Had they actually meant it I'd have been called up that many hours earlier, if not relayed to the day before even.

One instance or one source likely doesn't affect anyone too grieviously. The problems arise however when a pattern imprints or is already entrenched. Everyone sez, oh I'm sure there's someone else (to pick them up). And everyone also sez, the lone putdown is just from myself. Except no one ever knows that for sure. Sometimes a negative pattern, often overlooked or unrecognized within its fullness, becomes too heavy a weight.
And then there are other rotten people, in life, at home, at school or at work, who feel completely self-entitled to shovel others around, absolutely callous of their direct effects or the other person's preaccumulation. Please don't regard Depression as an individual's disease. In my opinion, it is more that of a societal issue.

March 31, 2010 @ 9:55 AM

Tina

Terrific piece.

I've been struggling with low-grade depression for the past few years. I'm sure it's nothing like a major depressive episode, but it was still very difficult to take that first step towards getting help. I just couldn't think of myself as 'depressed'...that was too big, too scary, too concrete.

I did eventually contact a therapist and, though I've still got a long way to go, I'm beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes. Often enough that this no longer feels like a life sentence.

Thanks for a thoughtful and respectful post, Mike. And all the best to everyone trying to cope with mental illness. You aren't alone.

March 31, 2010 @ 12:49 PM

Coming Out Of The Dark

Thank you for this respectful post on depression and mental illness. The stigma doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon however, posts like this help the cause.

For those seeking help, many resources and info on http://www.comingoutofdark.com

March 31, 2010 @ 1:40 PM

MAC

I’m very depressed Mike.

I’m depressed that a jackass like you gets to speak about clinical depression, suicide, and Eric Tunney in a forum that depicts you as an intelligent person. You are nothing more than a pseudo-intellectual. You are everything that is wrong in this world my friend. Free speech; it is yours.

Allow me to assure you with undisturbed candour; you haven’t a clue. Or, perhaps, you do. Suicide in your future? Failure? Likely.

It’s not about the stigma. Read your own blog, and you’ll see what a real stigma looks like. It’s about hope, and trying to help those that are afflicted. Imagine losing someone you tried to help…

Imagine a loved one vanishing, AND THEN NOT KNOWING HOW THEY DIED.!! Are you idiotic? And yes. 1 in 5 is a lot… it’s like… 20%. No you can’t imagine.

April 1, 2010 @ 1:13 AM

Ray

WTF MAC!?! You come to MIKE'S blog and berate him for saying what HE wants, from HIS point of view (which happens to have best of intentions, but that not even relevant for my point). That's like interrupting a private conversation in a coffee shop to yell at somebody for discussing their opinion that world hunger is sad, just because they've never missed a meal. So what are your credentials anyway on being allowed to speak with authority on depression, free speech, modern communication, blogs, or anything else? Get your own F'n blog!

April 1, 2010 @ 11:33 AM

Ray

...Not to mention, I could barely understand your nonsensical rambling.

April 1, 2010 @ 11:35 AM

Tevster

Thank you for writing about this, Mike.

I don't know if you caught this in the Toronto Star the other day, but here is a link of story about TSN's Michael Lansberg and his battles with depression and what he's planning to do about it:
http://www.thestar.com/iphone/sports/tvradio/article/789290--zelkovich-depression-not-off-record-for-tsn-s-landsberg

I don't know anything else about the program so I guess we'll be on the look out for some info.

April 4, 2010 @ 1:39 PM

Toronto Mike Verified as the defacto Toronto Mike

The timing of that Michael Landsbeg article is amazing. He's saying exactly what I'm saying.

It's a subject near to Landsberg's heart. He's been battling depression for more than a decade and wants to make a difference for others.

``The message I want to get out is that it's okay for men to talk about it," he says. ``Men just don't feel that they have the licence to admit it.

``The biggest problem with depression is that people tend to blame themselves for it. You would never hide from somebody that you'd just got back to work after an appendectomy. Nobody's going to think that's your fault or a sign of weakness."

April 4, 2010 @ 2:16 PM

Anonymous

Mike says: "It bothers me that the mere suggestion that Eric (Tunney) may have chosen to take his own life is suggested to add to the grief and anger currently afflicting Eric's loved ones."

So it bothers you that a grieving family is upset by intrusive people who want to manage our grief for us? Who want to tell us not to be ashamed of something that did not happen? It bothers you Mike, that we want our privacy respected? Does our family deserve to be publicly chastised during our mourning period because, in the view of some, our family is perpetuating the myths and shame that surrounds depression and suicide? I am so sorry that you are bothered. I am sure your being "bothered" is of great solace to Eric's Mum and Dad. I find it patriarchal and arrogant.

Eric did not take his own life. Why can't we be left alone with our grief? Simple logic must indicate that his family is better informed than the Windsor Star, you, and the numerous colourless Madame Defarges'who stab at the hearts of the grieving with their knitting needles.

Eric's family has journeyed with him throughout his life; celebrating his joys and sharing his sorrows. It seems that the some of your disciples saw Eric passing by their windows or had a moment with him in high school and now claim intimate knowledge of the intimacies in his life.

There have been no pubic disclosures about Eric's medical conditions or medical history. Canadians enjoy a right to privacy envied around the world, but, apparently not mutually respected. Where are these Densa Members, and their perpetually lost followers, getting the information that enables them to diagnose Eric as suffering from depression; when there are innumerable medical conditions that mirror the symptoms of depression? It is amazing that all these hangers-on, celebrity seekers, and passers-by all have such highly developed diagnostic abilities. How have so many managed to rule out Multiple Sclerosis, Stroke, Addison's Disease, Cushing’s, adrenal, thyroid, or other endocrine disorders? It appears that because everybody had a friend or relative once....they now qualify for the Nobel Prize in Medicine?

At the end of the day many you are all just dreadful gossips. I am grateful for those of you who do "get-it" and I sincerely await they day when your kingdom comes. Mike you provide an electronic instant-gratification subsitute for old-fashioned leaning over the clothes-line malicious gossip that destroys reputations and takes delight other peoples business.

And you, Mike,have the audacity to assert dismay about some of the emails you have received from anonymous people complaining about how you perpetuate gossip? Mike your skin is too thin and clearly this is not your calling. I know you will probably have a tantrum about some of my remarks. I suspect then your highly developed sense of personal entitlement will have you lashing out against...well let's see you've done those who mourn and weep....so I guess that leaves captives, the poor, prisoners and the down-trodden. It must be fun being YOU given your dyslexic gift at connecting the dots of logic.

How dare you have dragged Eric and my family into your narcissistic drivel. How dare you have disrespected his memory. How dare you have judged our family. Sniffing around people in mourning, shock and grief: how low?

Lies and rumours of suicide hurt grieving families when confronted with a sudden death. It has hurt mine. It has caused us heartfelt injury while reading flippant remarks and being burdened by strangers with their perceptions of society's failings. Thank you for facilitating the blame game.

I am troubled by some your traveling companions who want to legitimize suicide as an “okay/cool” choice-driven outcome of clinical depression. Clearly there is a Jonestown-esque desire to to euthanize the mentally ill among some of your followers and indeed evenyourself....so glad, and most thankful, that you have each other.

April 5, 2010 @ 5:47 PM

Toronto Mike Verified as the defacto Toronto Mike

@Anonymous

An attempt to start a dialogue about the stigma of mental illness, specifically clinical depression, has inadvertently morphed into a "did Eric kill himself or now" guessing games. I'm sorry for this. The polic report is inconclusive and I certainly can't claim to have known Eric personally or have accessed his medical files.

I would never have dared speculate as to the cause of death being suicide if I hadn't received convincing intelligence to that effect and read in the Windsor Star that he had suffered from depression the past two years.

In all sincerity, I don't want to cause any additional grief to Eric's family. I'm certainly not trying to "euthanize the mentally ill". And I'm sorry I've upset you.

April 5, 2010 @ 6:00 PM

MAC

Hey Ray. Your're a great writer too! WTF - how profound?? Tool! Do you really want to know what gives me the right to be “interrupting a private conversation in a coffee shop to yell at somebody for discussing their opinion that world hunger is sad, just because they've never missed a meal. So what are your credentials anyway on being allowed to speak with authority on depression, free speech, modern communication, blogs, or anything else? Get your own F'n blog!”??? It’s quite simple RayGay: I came to this blog because my cousin died. I was trying to heal. I could easily have a blog, but I choose not to. If I chose to, I would have to speak to inane dicks like you. Nevertheless, we would never be in the same “coffee shop” anyway. You sit at a Coffee Time, yet you couldn’t afford to buy a franchise. Poor Wang.. Still, you remain such an amazing writer. BTW, your analogy is horrendous. I can only hope I have the opportunity to meet and pummel you someday, if someone doesn’t get there first. Best of luck with your forklift day-job!!

April 24, 2010 @ 5:53 PM

T.O.

I was just wondering if anyone felt the feeling of depression increase or lessen depending on the time?

I seem to feel much better at night, and I can't find a rational reason for it. Has anyone else experienced

December 16, 2010 @ 5:18 AM

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