Archive for depression

Raising Awareness of Being Aware

Posted in opinion with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

Today begins National Problem Gambling Awareness Week. Did you know that a gambling addiction is just as detrimental as a drug addiction? It goes through all of the same steps: preoccupation, tolerance, withdrawal, escape, chasing, lying, loss of control, illegal acts, risked significant relationship, and bailout? Be responsible, and if you think you have a problem, call 1-800-BETS-OFF.

Last week was Eating Disorders Awareness Week on the Wartburg College campus. Did you know that each year, more than 8 million Americans are affected by serious and often life-threatening eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, binge-eating, bulimia nervosa, compulsive eating, obesity and pica? It’s terrible!

Two weeks ago was Sexual Responsibility Week. Did you know that there are many risks to being sexually active, beyond STDs and pregnancy? Get tested, inform your partners, be safe!

Somewhere in between that was To Write Love On Her Arms Day, where people write the word “love” on their arm to raise awareness for depression and self-harm. It happens a couple of times a year, but it’s a great cause to show people just how much you care.

The only problem with these sorts of awareness days/weeks/months is that, as far as I know, nothing comes from them. I know I largely ignored the Sexual Responsibility Week, and I’m avidly against TWLOHAD, simply because I don’t see how writing on yourself is useful. And I largely ignored the Eating Disorders Awareness Week, mostly because I’m fasting (which, technically, could be considered a religious eating disorder), but also because I know that raising awareness is one thing, but doing something about it is another thing entirely.

There is an awareness day or week or month or whatever for nearly everything at this point, and yet what is really being done about it? Americans are all about wanting to help out in any way they can without really doing much effort. It’s why we throw money at victims of natural disasters, but rarely do we get up and help out. It would be inconvenient to get up and sacrifice some of your job hours to assist in a humanitarian effort.

Personally, all awareness periods do for me is make me more aware of why I’m not helping out with that particular cause. Mostly this is because I’m a firm believer in “people choose their own destiny.” I can help out until I’ve sacrificed everything, keel over, and die, but bottom line is, if the group I’m helping out isn’t willing to do their part, too, then it is all for naught.

Take, for example, sexaul responsibility. I can preach abstinence, safe sex, STDs, pregnancy, condoms, diaphragms, birth control pills, morning after pills, babies, doctors, and the entire reproductive system until I’m blue in the face, but there are still people who will not take personal responsibility for their sexual activities. What good have I done? I’ve made them aware of the repercussions, but unless I go out with them and watch over their shoulder, reminding them to be sexually responsible, it doesn’t mean anything if they don’t take it to heart.

Same thing goes with writing “love” on my arm. I’ll gladly write “love” all over my entire body if it would actually do something.  But I prefer to be an activist in the way of depression and self-harm assistance by actually going out, talking with those I’m concerned about, and personally being a listening ear, a gentle embrace, and a shoulder to cry on.

I’m very aware of how self-centered and self-serving this makes me sound, and in all honesty, I’m okay with it. I actively see to make a difference in the world, and I would gladly drop everything I’m doing to rush off to Haiti and help them rebuild. But the Hatian community has specifically said that they only want monetary assistance, leaving myself, a poor college student, with nothing to do. Any “extra cash” I happen to have needs to go toward tuition, books, food, supplies, etc.  Don’t get me wrong, if I had a lot of extra income and nothing to do with it, it will go toward charitable causes. But in my current position, there is nothing I can do.

And recent events has shown that awareness is a two-way street. The recent earthquake in Chile was far worse than the earthquake in Haiti in terms of magnitude (8.8 magnitude compared to Haiti’s 7.0). But no one is aware of that, because Chile is a well-developed nation that didn’t suffer as much structural or human damage as Haiti did. Which is why there are still commercials to help out Haiti, while Chile is being largely ignored. The Chilean people need help, too, but pictures from Chile aren’t as heartwrenching enough to warrant international coverage, unlike Haiti.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that there is a difference between being aware of something and doing something. I’m aware of the people around me that are hurting or are in need. I see them every day, in person, on television, in magazines. But when I can, I do something about it. I’ll lend people money, I’ll drive people places, I’ll sit down and talk with someone if I have to. But I’m doing something more than just being aware, which, really, is the whole point in life.

Be aware, but also be active. You can throw all the statistics and money you want at a problem, but until you do something about it, nothing will change.

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What Andrew Koenig Can Teach Us About Depression

Posted in pop culture with tags , , on February 26, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

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.

James Cameron’s “Avatar”: An Equal-Opportunity Offender

Posted in pop culture with tags , , , , , , , on January 20, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

Before I begin, let me just clarify: I don’t get out much, which means that when huge blockbuster movies come around, I rarely get out to see them. I make a big effort to go out and see the “Saw” series (though I missed Saw VI) and the Harry Potter series. I’ve seen all three Lord of the Rings in theatres. But for some reason, despite it’s technological mastery and fantastic visual imagery, I have no desire to see “Avatar”, James Cameron’s latest epic about the friendly blue giants called Na’vi.

And from the looks of it, it’s probably a good thing, as this movie (that has already made over $1 billion dollars, I might add) has set out to offend everyone. James Cameron, what have you done to the world?

Special interest groups everywhere are up in arms about this movie because it has offended them. The Vatican claims that “Avatar” is offensive because it promotes nature worship over religion. The military claims that “Avatar” portrays soldiers as “fanatical crazed killers who have joined a military mercenary force to destroy a civilization so that corporations can capitalize on some rare commodity”.

But it gets stranger than that: anti-smoking groups claim that the movie promotes smoking as a positive trait. Left-wing groups claim that the movie is racist because an exotic culture needs to be saved by a white human. Disability groups are upset twice: first, because the synopsis for the movie describes Jake Sully, a disabled Marine, as “confined to a wheelchair”, and secondly because Commander Quaritch promises that Jake will “get [his] real legs back”.

But what is really mind-numbing is that LGBT groups are protesting “Avatar” because it depicts heterosexuality as continuing to be the sexual norm in the future. And what’s even worse that that mental health experts claim that the movie is causing depression in many who see the movie, because the world of Pandora is the perfect Utopian society, and as one man was quoted as saying, “I can’t stop thinking about all the things that happened in the film and all the tears and shivers I got from it. I even contemplated suicide thinking that if I do it I will be rebirthed in a world similar to Pandora.”

Really? All this over a sci-fi movie?

Of course, this isn’t the first time that special interest groups have rallied together to protest movies. A short list of movies that have been boycotted in recent years include:

  • Bruce Almighty,” which shows a human using God’s powers, despite being a lesson in letting God do God’s thing.
  • The Harry Potter series, which indoctrinates children into becoming witches and wizards, despite the fact that both the movies and books say that wizardry is hereditary.
  • “The Ringer,” which makes fun of disabled people, despite the fact that producers worked directly with the Special Olympics to avoid being offensive. And,
  • Tropic Thunder,” which uses the term “retard.” To be fair, it was used as a commentary on special needs roles as compared to Oscar wins–if you go “half-retard,” like Dustin Hoffman in “Rainman,” you win; if you go “full-retard,” like Sean Penn in “I Am Sam,” you lose.

The only problem with all of these arguments against James Cameron and his nifty little movie is one that nobody seems to see: the movie is science fiction. The key word in that last statement is fiction, a word that means, “It’s not real.”

The real issue behind all of this “controversy” is that people love to be offended, and nobody does it quite as well as Americans. The fact that we’re being offended by works of fiction, and quotes taken outside of the context of situation, character, among other factors, is disgusting.

Then again, look at the world around us: we’re recovering from a horrific economy. America is fighting two wars. Haiti is still recovering from that horrific earthquake. The world is an absolute mess, so maybe it’s great that we can escape to the perfect world of Pandora, and all the peace and harmony that it stands for.

But being offended by nearly every aspect of the movie? That’s ridiculous and unacceptable.

My suggestion to the world: snap out of it. Not everything has a hidden political agenda, and if you’d open your mind and stop trying to make everything politically correct, you might be able to enjoy yourself every once in a while.