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Beloved comedian's death spotlights quiet crisis

By Wanda Moore
Published On: Aug 12 2014 09:03:51 PM CDT
Updated On: Aug 13 2014 03:31:21 PM CDT

NewsChannel 21's Wanda Moore spoke with experts about the mental illness and suicide prevention in wake of the death of Robin Williams.

BEND, Ore. -

The newsroom at NewsChannel 21 does not go silent very often. After we learned the news of Robin Williams' death Monday, it was one of those moments.

People all over the world are still in shock over the death of the beloved actor, which was ruled suicide.

Williams suffered from severe depression -- and he was not alone. According to the Oregon Psychiatric Physicians Association, more than 270,000 adults in Oregon struggle with an episode of depression every year. Less than half get treatment.

"It's a debilitating illness," Robin Henderson, psychologist and chief behavioral health officer at St Charles Health System, said Tuesday. "According to the World Health Organization it's the No. 1 disability in the world."

Link: What is depression?

Even so, the disease is still highly stigmatized. People have a hard time just talking about it.

"If someone gets cancer or has a heart attack, the community will rally," said Becky Dolf, a board member for the Central Oregon chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. "They bring casseroles. If someone needs hospitalization for mental illness, there are no casseroles. There are whispers."

"Somehow, we still see that depression is a choice and it's not," Henderson said.

If untreated, depression can lead to suicide.

Recent statistics from the Oregon Department of Human Services show suicide is the No. 8th-leading cause of death in Oregon. It's the second-highest cause of death for those between the ages of 10 and 25.

"It's really a serious epidemic here in Oregon, and that's why the task force is working very hard to see if we can make a positive impact," said Katherine Benson of the Deschutes County Suicide Prevention Task Force.

Warning signs a person might be suicidal include:

- giving away valued possessions
- withdrawing from friends and family
- a pattern of substance abuse
- sudden calmness

There is a huge correlation between addiction and depression.

"When we look at the number of people who self-medicate with alcohol and drugs to alleviate depression, bi-polar disorder and other mental illness, they're looking for that moment of relief," Henderson said. "Addiction is a disease, too, and those two diseases travel together."

If it's brought to light, experts say depression is highly treatable.

"Eighty percent of the people that seek treatment get better," Henderson said.

To make access to treatment easier, St Charles Health System has placed behavioral health consultants in primary care.

Experts say speaking openly about depression and suicide is one way to work against the stigma and raise awareness.

"I have a disease, and I can be a survivor, just like a breast cancer survivor," said Benson.

The most important thing is to go and ask for help. Here are some of the many resources in the community:

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255
http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

The Deschutes County Crisis Line 541-322-7500

http://www.deschutes.org/Health-Services/Public-Health/Suicide-Prevention.aspx

St Charles Behavioral Health 541-706-2768

NAMI Central Oregon is also hosting several events to raise awareness, including a fundraising walk on Sept. 6. For more information: www.namicentraloregon.org

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