What Andrew Koenig Can Teach Us About Depression

It’s sad news: Andrew Koenig, actor from the hit series “Growing Pains,” was found dead in a Vancouver park, a victim of suicide. Reading through the article, it kind of hurts me to see so many familiar quotes:

“He was obviously in a lot of pain” … “before you make that final decision, check it out again, and talk to someone” … “people who are depressed don’t realize there is help and they need help”

It’s the sort of thing that is said every time there is news of a young person who took their life, and it’s the sort of thing that, at any other time, seems like common sense, but in times of tragedy, is the most insightful advice anyone can give. But the thing that worries me the most about this sort of thing is just that: how something that is taken to heart in the first couple of days after a suicide is so quickly ignored afterward.

Depression runs in my family, and being someone who lives with depression, I know the feelings that come when I get into my “moods.” Musicians trying to raise awareness of depression can write all the songs they want to about staying strong, getting help, and not hurting yourself, but most of the time, it doesn’t even come close.

It’s a strange feeling when you wake up one morning and immediately know that, no matter what you do or how hard you try, the day is just going to suck. And when that feeling lasts for a week or more, and you constantly wonder why you even bothered getting out of bed, and you just feel like giving up and sleeping forever, it’s extremely draining. Sometimes the depression is simply just feeling melancholy, other times it’s violent, depending on the person. But the bottom line is, depression sucks, and it not only sucks for the depressed person, but the people around them, who see such a drastic change in character, but don’t know what to do about it.

I’m lucky to have the people around me that I do. I have a great girlfriend who hates it when I’m in a funk, but loves me all the same. I have wonderful friends who hate seeing me moping around, and make it a point to let me know that if there’s anything they can do, to call them, no matter what time it is.

But the quote from the article that tells it all comes from Walter Koenig, Anderw’s father:

If you’re one of those people who can’t handle it anymore, you know, if you can learn anything from this, there are people out there who really care…. You may not think so and ultimately it may not be enough, but there are people who really care.

This is probably the truest statement I’ve ever heard about suicide, and it’s the sort of statement that can only come from a grieving relative. I can feel it when I’m in my depressed moods: I know there’s help, but in my state, I just can’t reach out.

It’s a plea that comes not only from someone who lives with depression, but someone who lives in a world that has seen the consequences far too often: reach out. Even if they tell you that there is nothing you can do, reach out. Let them know that you’re there. And find that fine balance in persistence where they always know you care, but not too much that it becomes annoying. Initially, they may push you away, but by being active and being present, they’ll eventually open up.

And when they do open up, listen. I can’t stress this enough. Listen without interrupting. Listen without judging. Because the moment you interrupt or judge or offer advice they don’t even want, they will shut down and shut you out, and things like what happened to Andrew Koenig, and what happens to over one million people every year, may be the ultimate result.

For more information on depression, visit the Mayo Clinic website, or this article from HelpGuide.org.
For tips on how to help yourself or others with depression, visit this article from PsychologyInfo.com.
And when all else fails, make your presence known, and let them know that you care.

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