Three sad stories from the celebrity world drive home the heavy toll that depression can take and highlight the desperate plight of those who suffer from depression or other mental illnesses. Fame, fortune and the love of friends and family proved powerless in the face of the crushing weight of depression for three young men who recently took their own lives:

  • Celebrated 40-year old British fashion designer Alexander McQueen took his own life. His mother had died a few days before and his friends were concerned at how hard he was taking this loss.
  • 41-year old Andrew Koenig, best known for playing Mike Seaver’s best friend “Boner” on the 80s sitcom Growing Pains was found dead in Vancouver after having been missing for several days. Family say that Koenig suffered from recurring depression.
  • Michael Blosil, the 18-year old son of Marie Osmond, took his own life after a battle with what friends and family members describe as severe depression.

In a heartbreaking video interview, Andrew Koenig’s parents entreated people to be vigilant about the signs of depression in loved ones. “Don’t ignore it; don’t rationalize it…extend a hand.” Walter Keonig cited the National Suicide Prevention Hotline as a resource.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), more than 33,000 people die by suicide every year in the U.S., making it the fourth leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 18 and 65 years, and the 11th leading cause of death overall. More than 90% of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death. Here are some facts about the role that depression and other psychiatric disorders play:

  • Over 60 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major depression. If one includes alcoholics who are depressed, this figure rises to over 75 percent.
  • Depression affects nearly 10 percent of Americans ages 18 and over in a given year, or more than 24 million people.
  • More Americans suffer from depression than coronary heart disease (17 million), cancer (12 million) and HIV/AIDS (1 million).
  • About 15 percent of the population will suffer from clinical depression at some time during their lifetime. Thirty percent of all clinically depressed patients attempt suicide; half of them ultimately die by suicide.
  • Depression is among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses. Between 80 percent and 90 percent of people with depression respond positively to treatment, and almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms. But first, depression has to be recognized.

When You Fear Someone May Take Their Life
According to ASFP, 50% to 75% of suicidal individuals give some warning of their intentions. The most effective way to prevent a friend or loved one from taking his or her life is to recognize the factors that put people at risk for suicide, take warning signs seriously and know how to respond. They issue a one-page guide with signs of imminent danger of suicide and steps that can be taken to respond to these warning signs.

Many suicide prevention groups suggest an easy mnemonic to remember warning signs: IS PATH WARM

Ideation
Substance Abuse
Purposelessness
Anxiety
Trapped
Hopelessness
Withdrawal
Anger
Recklessness
Mood Changes

Employers can play a role in prevention
SPCR suggests that employers can play an important role in helping to prevent suicide. Because people spend a significant portion of their lives at work, employers have the opportunity to see changes in behavior, personality or mood. Training managers to be alert for and make referrals when they observe signs of depression and other early warning signs of problems may save lives.
If you observe warning signs or changes in behavior or personality, don’t try to diagnose the problem or find the reason for the behavior changes, simply help the employee to find professional assistance through your EAP or an occupational health specialist. Work performance can be a great leverage for people who might otherwise be reluctant to seek help for a problem.

Additional resources
What Employers Can Do to Prevent Suicide
Preventing Suicide: A Resource at Work
Midlife Suicide Rate Spikes
Workplace tools: Depression Calculator
Mental illness and the workplace
Quickly Treating Employee Depression Helps Workers

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