If there is one positive thing to come out of the tragic passing of Robin Williams, its the fact that so many people are talking about depression. There is a huge effort to help people to understand the dark insidious nature of this disease–and the fact that it is a real disease not just a feeling of melancholy that we all experience now and then.
Clinical depression is a prolong sadness that has a chemical component that most often requires specific medications to begin to improve. It requires the use of a medical doctor and can be physically debilitating.
The most interesting thing that I have read in the past 36 hours or so since I heard about Robin Williams’ passing is a debate that I hear in the world of diabetes all of the time–people would pay more attention to this disease if it had a different name. People think of depression as fitting things like “rain on your wedding day and a free ride when you already paid” to quote Alanis Morrisette. These are not exactly issues that lead a person to take their own life…unless they are already experiencing a much deeper pain. There is a feeling of a need to disassociate the mental illness from the emotion.
In the world of diabetes, we see this same desire often. People feel that the label Type 1 diabetes does not go far enough. It doesn’t show the true nature of this disease. It does not remove itself far enough away from another condition that is often associated with poor diet and the ability to be “cured” with diet and exercise.
Personally I am always led back to Shakespeare when this debate is brought up. “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.” Okay, diabetes is not as pretty as a rose and when you can smell “sweet” when dealing with diabetes we know that you are in serious trouble but you get the point. A name means nothing. It is all about the awareness.
Type 2 diabetes is not limited to people who are overweight. It is not magically cured by diet and exercise, but it is able to be managed that way unlike Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes will not be cured with insulin. Wearing an insulin pump does not mean that you don’t have to think about diabetes ever again. Misconceptions. Fallacies. Misinformation. It happens with every disease.
The general public is ignorant about many things. I knew nothing about diabetes until it tried to steal my son in March of 2000. I now know more than some medical professionals but I know little about Multiple Sclerosis or other diseases. We educate ourselves to what is important to us. It is our job as people who have become experts is to educate the outside world to the important parts of our conditions.
They do not need to know how to carb count but we must work to teach the general public that there is no known cure for diabetes…unless you are a mouse. An insulin pump does not mean that you have diabetes “really bad” and it does not cure your diabetes. It is a management tool that requires work and fine-tuning but is preferable by many to help maintain better blood glucose levels. Myths must be debunked to create better understanding and support.
Much of the same can be said for depression. It is important that the stigma be removed–just as the stigma of diabetes needs to be gone. No one “caused” either condition. Both require medical attention and serious work to be able to manage. Ironically depression is twice as common in people living with diabetes as it is in the general population and if you have depression but don’t currently have diabetes, don’t worry because people living with clinical depression are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes!
Robin Williams is getting people talking about depression. Mary Tyler Moore, Brett Michaels, and Nick Jonahs have all done the same thing in the world of Type 1 diabetes. Our goal as people who live with these conditions each day is to make sure that the conversations do not end and to take this opportunity to educate people on the realities and dispel the fantasies.
Please remember that if you are experiencing a prolonged sense of sadness that is impacting your daily routine or having thoughts of suicide, please contact a medical professional. If you are having trouble dealing with life with diabetes, a counselor or life coach may help you to find new coping mechanisms.