Robin Williams' Death Shines Spotlight On Depression

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The death of Robin Williams is shedding new light on the realities of depression.

Roughly 10 percent of Americans are living with the disorder, and experts say 10 percent of those people will become suicidal.

The question many are asking about Williams in particular is how a man who made so many of people laugh could be so severely depressed as to take his own life.

Sally Anne Schneider, a Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist and administrative director of behavioral health services at Topeka's Stormont-Vail West, says his death gets to the heart of misconceptions about depression.

"Depression does not matter how you appear to the outside world," she said. "Depression is an internal, biologically-based brain disorder.

Schneider says the acronym "SIG-E-CAPS" can help people spot the signs of depression in themselves or others:

S - sleep changes
I - loss of interest in activities
G - feelings of guilt or worthlessness

E - lack of energy

C - inability to concentrate or focus
A - appetite changes
P - psychomotor changes, like anxiety or lethargy
S - thoughts of suicide

Schneider says if you notice three of more of these changes in a loved one, it's best to be direct. She suggests sitting down with the person and asking if he or she could be depressed, and express the changes that are noticed in the person, such as no longer wanting to go out.

Schneider says a love one or even the person himself or herself may not notice the changes because they often come on gradually and can be subtle. She says the stereotypical person sitting the dark, crying isn't necessarily what it means to have depression. She says it is often just losing daily activities and gradually withdrawing from life. While it may be an overwhelming sadness, it could also be post-partum in women or a young man who looks tired.

Officials say calls to the National Suicide Lifeline spiked in the wake of Williams' death. His family has said they hope their loss helps others reach out for the help they need.

Schneider says treatment begins with a screening by a family doctor, then can range from behavioral plans, like exercise and journaling, to inpatient or outpatient psychotherapy and medications. If medications are prescribed, Schneider says it is important to continue taking them, even if a person starts to feel better.

Schneider says people should keep in mind that depression is a disease, just like diabetes or high blood pressure. In fact, she says it is a leading reason for lost work time in the United States. She says every county in Kansas has a mental health center to treat patients.

The important thing, she says, is that depression can be treated successfully and there should be no stigma associated with getting help.

"People do not need to suffer in silence with depression," she said.