Robin Williams' death sparks debate about depression

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - In lieu of actor and comedian Robin Williams' death, the topic of depression as a disease has become a hot button issue all over the nation.

According to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, depression is defined as a medical illness that affects how you feel, think and behave causing persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. It also states that depression can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and is a chronic illness that usually requires long-term treatment.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, over 40 million adults in the United States suffer from depression. Many people who suffer with depression often go untreated, although the disorders are highly treatable.

According to Eric Nordmeier, Program Director of Inpatient Therapy Services at Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services, the stigmas surrounding depression are getting better, but still have a ways to go before people accept depression as a real illness.

"Depression is definitely a disease, it is a medical mental illness," said Nordmeier. "People are becoming more knowledgeable and accepting of mental illnesses. I would say that it is an improvement, but the stigma does affect how people will discuss how their illness affects them."

According to Nordmeier, the signs of depression can be a laundry list of symptoms to barely recognizable.

"Family and friends, or the ones who are around the most will generally recognize a symptom or two, but they may not know what to call it," said Nordmeier. "Even if it is subtle, they will know something is different and that they should help."

Some signs of depression include fatigue, feelings of helplessness, insomnia, irritability, loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, persistent aches and pains, anxious feelings, and suicidal thoughts. Nordmeier encouraged those who have depression, or may have a loved one that shows symptoms to be understanding, and not be afraid to confront the person about their condition.

"You can start by being compassionate, and not aggressive," said Nordmeier. "Reassure them that they can talk to you, and if you don't exactly know how to handle the situation, encourage them to seek professional help from a counselor or doctor. Don't' shy away from how they are feeling."

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, Nordmeier encourages them to reach out to the Pine Grove help hotline 1-888-574-HOPE (4673).