Gary Speed’s recent, tragic, passing at the age of 42 has pushed one of the more delicate topics into the public domain, depression. Depression is not a simple feeling of unhappiness we all inevitably feel once in a while, it is an illness. This, in itself, is a difficult thing to comprehend; a feeling of malcontent so deep and all encompassing that it can, in severe cases, lead to suicide.
Clinical depression is often described as a silent killer; it can attack all that someone holds dear or enjoys in life, leaving feelings of hopelessness and self-loathing. It is not simply that something has upset the sufferer; it is a feeling of worthlessness that can infiltrate all facets of a person’s life, completely reshaping them and, often, making it difficult to continue or see a light at the end of the tunnel. David D. Burns, a professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University, noted “depression can seem worse than terminal cancer, because most cancer patients feel loved and they have hope and self-esteem”.
Despite this stark comparison, the outlook is far less bleak for depression sufferers; symptoms can be improved by medical attention in only a few weeks in up to 90 percent of cases, according to recent research by the American National Institutes of Health. If not treated, it has been found in an independent study by the World Health Organisation that those who suffer from depression or similar mental ailments are often more unhealthy physically. These effects can take a huge toll on all those who suffer from depression.
Unfortunately, in a number of severe cases these symptoms lead to suicide. Suicides will always be great tragedies, especially when, in the reported case of Gary Speed, that person contributed so much in their life. It is, however, a greater tragedy that the subjects of suicide and depression are not discussed to a greater extent in the public domain. Suicide is the second biggest killer of men aged between 15 and 24 in the UK, behind road accidents.
A staggering one in five deaths in this age group is due to suicide – much higher than prostate cancer which, throughout the month of November, has been securely in the minds of all who saw a moustached man. I am not for one second suggesting that the spotlight be taken away from prostate cancer, a more than worthy cause, it simply seems bewildering that an illness so prevalent and with such potential to destroy lives is not discussed in the same way as similarly devastating medical conditions like cancer and HIV/AIDS. Lack of awareness can be cited as a direct reason why as few as a third of those who suffer from diagnosable depression seek medical attention.
While Gary Speed will be remembered by all as the great footballer, manager and man that he was, it is a stark reminder of the devastation that suicide can cause and the need for greater discussion of this silent killer.
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