By Dr. Mallika Marshall

BOSTON (CBS) – Robin Williams’ suicide sparked a national discussion about depression and mental illness. Getting rid of the stigma is no easy task.

“People will say all the time about Mr. Williams, I’m sure, ‘it’s funny he didn’t look depressed,’ but in fact, that’s the mask,” Dr. David Gitlin said.

Dr. Gitlin, the vice chair of psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has treated patients with depression for 25 years. He says high profile suicides may lead to a brief increase in the number of suicides but more often encourages people to seek help.

“We see a pretty dramatic increase in calls to hotlines, seeking out kind of acute treatment in the emergency rooms. Those kinds of things go up,” he says.

Dr. Gitlin says depression is fast becoming the most common illness in the world, but that until society starts thinking of it like the treatable medical condition that it is, there will always be a stigma.

“No one would tell someone with diabetes, ‘just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and you’ll do better and get on with it and you won’t have diabetes,’ but we do that all the time with depression,” Dr. Gitlin says.

Patients with depression often report sleep problems, changes in appetite, trouble concentrating, and there’s often substance abuse. Thirty to forty percent of people who suffer from depression also have problems with addiction, whether from drugs or alcohol

But there are good treatments available and up to 80% of patients will have a significant response. Dr. Gitlin says patients just need to reach out.

“We get it. You’re putting on the mask. You’re fighting the hard battle right now but don’t feel like you have to fight that battle alone. There’s help out there and if you get that help, you can feel better. You won’t be suicidal down the road.”

Dr. Gitlin suggests that people reach out to family members early on for support. If you think you or your loved one is suffering from severe depression and is at risk of harm, get them to a local emergency room or call a hotline right away.

Samaritans Statewide Hotline: 1-877-870-HOPE (4673)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255); Press # 1 if you are a Veteran

The Trevor Helpline: 866-4-U-TREVOR (488-7386) – Specifically for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender youth and young adults


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