Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘mental health problems


Robin Williams’s death: a reminder that suicide and depression are not selfish

News of Robin Williams’s death due to apparent suicide (slit his wrists and hanged himself by a belt), said to be a result of suffering severe depression, is terribly sad.

To say taking your own life because of such an illness is a ‘selfish’ act does nothing but insult the deceased, potentially cause more harm and reveal a staggering ignorance of mental health problems

Robin Williams in Man of the Year (2006)
Many words can be used to describe Robin Williams. ‘Selfish’ should not be one of them. Photograph: Allstar/Universal PicturesSportsphoto Ltd.

Dean Burnett posted:   (on Twitter, @garwboy)

News broke today that Robin Williams had passed away, due to apparent suicide following severe depression.

As the vast majority of people will likely have already said, this was terribly heart-breaking news.

Such aniconic, talented and beloved figure will have no shortage of tributes paid to him and his incredible legacy. It’s also worth noting that Robin Williams was open about his mental health issues.

However, despite the tremendous amount of love and admiration for Williams being expressed pretty much everywhere right now, there are still those who can’t seem to resist the opportunity to criticise, as they do these days whenever a celebrated or successful person commits suicide. You may have come across this yourself; people who refer to the suicide as “selfish”.

People will utter/post phrases such as “to do that to your family is just selfish”, or “to commit suicide when you’ve got so much going for you is pure selfishness”, or variations thereof.

If you are such a person who has expressed these views or similar for whatever reason, here’s why you’re wrong, or at the very least misinformed, and could be doing more harm in the long run.

Depression IS an illness

Depression, the clinical condition, could really use a different name. At present, the word “depressed” can be applied to both people who are a bit miserable and those with a genuine debilitating mood disorder. Ergo, it seems people are often very quick to dismiss depression as a minor, trivial concern. After all, everyone gets depressed now and again, don’t they? Don’t know why these people are complaining so much.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; dismissing the concerns of a genuine depression sufferer on the grounds that you’ve been miserable and got over it is like dismissing the issues faced by someone who’s had to have their arm amputated because you once had a paper cut and it didn’t bother you.

Depression is a genuine debilitating condition, and being in “a bit of a funk” isn’t. The fact that mental illness doesn’t receive the same sympathy/acknowledgement as physical illness is oftenreferenced, and it’s a valid point. If you haven’t had it, you don’t have the right to dismiss those who have/do. You may disagree, and that’s your prerogative, but there are decades’ worth of evidence saying you’re wrong.

Depression doesn’t discriminate

How, many seem to wonder, could someone with so much going for them, possibly feel depressed to the point of suicide? With all the money/fame/family/success they have, to be depressed makes no sense?

Admittedly, there’s a certain amount of logic to this. But, and this is important, depression (like all mental illnesses) typically doesn’t take personal factors into account. Mental illness can affect anyone. We’ve all heard of the “madness” of King George III; if mental illness won’t spare someone who, at the time, was one of the most powerful well-bred humans alive, why would it spare someone just because they have a film career?

Granted, those with worse lives are probably going to be exposed to the greater number of risk factors for depression, but that doesn’t mean those with reduced likelihood of exposure to hardships or tragic events are immune. Smoking may be a major cause of lung cancer, but non-smokers can end up with it. And a person’s lifestyle doesn’t automatically reduce their suffering. Depression doesn’t work like that. And even if it did, where’s the cut-off point? Who would we consider “too successful” to be ill?

Depression is not ‘logical’

If we’re being optimistic, it could be said that most of those describing suicide from depression as selfish are doing so from a position of ignorance. Perhaps they think that those with depression make some sort of table or chart with the pros and cons of suicide and, despite the pros being far more numerous, selfishly opt for suicide anyway?

This is, of course, nonsensical. One of the main problems with mental illness is that is prevents you from behaving or thinking “normally” (although what that means is a discussion for another time). A depression sufferer is not thinking like a non-sufferer in the same way that someone who’s drowning is not “breathing air” like a person on land is. The situation is different.

From the sufferers perspective, their self-worth may be so low, their outlook so bleak, that their families/friends/fans would be a lot better off without them in the world, ergo their suicide is actually intended as an act of generosity? Some might find such a conclusion an offensive assumption, but it is no more so than accusations of selfishness.

The “selfish” accusation also often implies that there are other options the sufferer has, but has chosen suicide. Or that it’s the “easy way out”. There are many ways to describe the sort of suffering that overrides a survival instinct that has evolved over millions of years, but “easy” isn’t an obvious one to go for. Perhaps none of it makes sense from a logical perspective, but insisting on logical thinking from someone in the grips of a mental illness is like insisting that someone with a broken leg walks normally; logically, you shouldn’t do that.

Stephen Fry, in his interview on Richard Herring’s podcast, had a brilliant explanation about how depression doesn’t make you think logically, or automatically confide in friends and family. I won’t spoil it by revealing it here, but I will say it involves genital warts.

Accusations of selfishness are themselves selfish?

Say you don’t agree with any of the above, that you still maintain that for someone with a successful career and family to commit suicide is selfish. Fine. Your opinion, you’re entitled to have it, however much we may disagree.

But why would you want to publicly declare that the recently deceased is selfish? Especially when the news has only just broken, and people are clearly sad about the whole thing? Why is getting in to criticise the deceased when they’ve only just passed so important to you? What service are you providing by doing so, that makes you so justified in throwing accusations of selfishness around?

Do you think that depression is “fashionable?” And by criticising the sufferers you can deter others from “joining in”? Granted, we hear more about depression than we used to these days, but then we know what it is now. We see a lot more photos from Mars these days, because we have the means of doing so now, not because it’s suddenly trendy.

Perhaps you are trying to deter anyone else who might read your views from considering suicide themselves? Given that statistics suggest that one in four people suffer some sort of mental health problem, this isn’t that unlikely an occurrence. But if someone is genuinely depressed and feels their life is worthless, seeing that others consider their feeling selfish can surely only emphasise their own self-loathing and bleakness? It suggests that people will hate them even in death.

Maybe you know some people who have “attempted” suicide purely for attention? Fair enough; a debatable conclusion, but even if you’re right, so what? Surely someone who succeeds at committing suicide is a genuine sufferer who deserves our sympathy?

Perhaps you feel that those expressing sorrow and sadness are wrong and you need to show them that you know better, no matter how upsetting they may find it? And this is unselfish behaviour how, exactly?

A brilliant but tortured individual has taken his own life, and this is a tragedy. But levelling ignorant accusations of selfishness certainly won’t prevent this from happening again. People should never be made to feel worse for suffering from something beyond their control.

If you feel you are dealing with depression, the charity MIND has many helpful sources, but there are many other avenues you can pursue

Dean Burnett is on Twitter, @garwboy

City life-style: fattening, infertile, blinding, depressive…

Should cities carry a health warning?

A growing body of research shows that babies born in cities, and children who grow up in them, face a battery of health problems that afflict both their physical and mental well-being.

The problems pose a serious threat because ever-increasing numbers of us are spending our lives in cities.

JOHN NAISH updated his post on Nov. 21, 2011

Why living in a city makes you fat, infertile, blind, depressed and even causes cancer

The picture of happiness? Urban living is associated with higher risk of chronic health disorders, such as mental illness, immune diseases, arthritis, heart disease, cancer and fertility problems

Is this a picture of happiness?

Urban living is associated with higher risk of chronic health disorders, such as mental illness, immune diseases, arthritis, heart disease, cancer and fertility problems

In 1900, only 14% of the world’s population were city-dwellers. Three years ago, that figure had risen to 50%.

By 2050, the United Nations predict that 70% of people will be urbanized.

City-dwellers should be expected to have a better deal in life, compared with their rural counterparts.

On average, city-dwellers are wealthier and have better job prospects. They enjoy bountiful food, superior healthcare and cleaner sanitation.

But urban living carries a significantly increased risk of chronic health disorders, such as mental illness, immune diseases, arthritis, heart disease, cancer and fertility problems.

City life: Studies have found that pre-natal daily exposure to urban pollution can set us up for a lifetime of ill-health

City life: Studies have found that pre-natal daily exposure to urban pollution can set us up for a lifetime of ill-health

And as cities become ever more crowded, these problems are only going to get worse.

The latest studies indicate that daily exposure to urban pollution can affect us before we are even born — leaving us prone to a lifetime of ill-health.

Scientists have discovered that babies born in cities are bigger and heavier — normally a good sign — than those born in the countryside. But when they compared the placentas of mothers from a busy city and a quiet rural district, they found that the city mums had far higher levels of chemical pollutants called xenoestrogens in their blood — and in that of their unborn babies.

Xenoestrogens are industrial chemicals that affect our bodies in similar ways to the female hormone, oestrogen.

They are found in countless man-made pollutants such as petrol fumes, and are more abundant in industrial areas than the countryside.

As well as causing excess foetal growth, they have been linked to problems such as obesity, hyperactivity, early puberty, fertility problems and cancers of the lung, breast and prostate.

The researchers, from the University of Granada and Spain, found that although city mothers were older and weighed less than rural mothers, they still gave birth to larger babies.

Dr Maria Marcos, who led the study, says the toxic xenoestrogens seem to have a significant effect on the development of unborn children. Her report provides the latest evidence that city air can seriously hinder normal childhood development.

Tired and tested: Complete exhaustion is said to be a complaint caused by city life

Tired and tested: Complete exhaustion is said to be a complaint caused by city life

It doesn’t end there.

Last year, laboratory tests undertaken at the Ohio State University showed how urban pollutants may cause metabolic changes in toddlers that result in raised blood sugar levels and increased resistance to insulin — which regulates the way our bodies metabolize carbohydrates.

The university’s professor of environmental health science, Dr Qinghua Sun, has observed that these pollutants can lead to the development of Type 2 diabetes.

‘These fine chemical particles directly cause inflammation and changes in fat cells, both of which increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes. In cities, it would be very difficult to escape the pervasive influence of dirty air that begins early in life.’

Indeed, growing numbers of children never leave their city environment.

Figures from the pressure group Farming And Countryside Education indicate that one in 5 British youngsters has never visited the countryside. A further 17%  had only been ‘once or twice’.

Worse still for children’s development, city upbringings normally entail indoor lifestyles. Modern, concrete city-scapes are so unfriendly that only 20% of youngsters play in the streets, yet 70%  of adults can recall doing so when they were children.

Growing up indoors has its own health threats — not least to growing eyes.

Children who spend most of their day indoors have a far greater chance of suffering from ‘high myopia’, a severe form of short-sightedness. Half of sufferers become blind by middle-age.

Researchers at Australia’s Centre of Excellence in Vision Science believe that lack of sunlight is the culprit. They say exposure to sunshine causes the retina to release dopamine, a hormone that inhibits the excessive eyeball growth that causes myopia.

Their studies have found that children who spend time outdoors cut their risk of short-sightedness by a fifth.

City childhoods have also been blamed for the fact that urban youngsters are more likely than their rural counterparts to develop asthma and other allergies.

The theory — called the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ — suggests city children do not get to play in the mud, lie on the grass or splash in puddles and are therefore deprived of early exposure to relatively harmless microbes in the soil.

Fun? Young people who are brought up in cities can experience significant levels of stress. This makes them more likely to have schizophrenia and other anxiety disorders

Fun? Young people who are brought up in cities can experience significant levels of stress. This makes them more likely to have schizophrenia and other anxiety disorders

Instead, they grow up in over-hygienic homes — wiped down with antibacterial cleaning products and vacuumed religiously — that deny their immature immune systems the opportunity to develop a normal resistance to germs.

Recent research has indicated that city-dwelling mothers can even pass over-sensitive allergic reactions to their babies in the womb.

A study in the Journal of Experimental Medicine found that mothers who live amid farmyard microbes give birth to allergy-resistant offspring. This does not happen with mothers in cities.

Perhaps most disturbing is the toll on young minds that can be wrought by the stress of growing up in urban areas.

According to the hygiene hypothesis, because city children don’t play in the mud, they are more likely to develop asthma and allergies

A study by Dr Glyn Lewis, of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, shows that incidence of schizophrenia is twice as high in men who are born and brought up in cities.

People in cities also have a 39%  higher risk of mood problems such as depression and bipolar disorder, and a 21%  increased risk of anxiety disorders — such as panic attacks, extreme phobias and obsessive-compulsiveness.

Young women growing up in cities are 5 times more likely to suffer from the eating disorder bulimia, according to a 10-year study in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Earlier this year, German researchers reported that the brains of people born in cities actually operate differently from those in rural areas.

The study, based on brain scans, found that two regions of the brain, the amygdala and the cingulate cortex (both involved in regulation of emotion and anxiety), became overactive in city-dwellers when confronted with stress triggers.

The reaction in participants from the countryside was much milder.

Professor Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, of the University of Heidelberg, says: ‘We know what the amygdala does — it is the danger-sensor of the brain and is therefore linked to anxiety and depression.

‘The cingulate cortex is important for controlling emotion and dealing with environmental adversity.’

He goes on to say that this excess activity could be caused by growing up amid environmental stress, and may lie at the root of many mental health problems.

Urban over-crowding may be a significant cause of these problems. Meyer-Lindenberg adds: ‘If someone invades your personal space, the amygdala-cingulate circuit gets switched on, so the trouble could be something as simple as urban density.’

Childhood obesity is a major problem in cities

Childhood obesity is a major problem in cities

Packed public transport, busy pavements and heaving High Street shops are all culprits.

And urban upbringings may be contributing to the rapid rise of behavioural problems in children, particularly attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

American studies in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry have found a link between city childhoods and poor attention spans.

You don’t need to be a scientist to show how there is something about the countryside that soothes the human brain.

But one theory — called biophilia — is that over millennial of evolution, humans have developed a natural affinity for green surroundings, and we become anxious when deprived of them.

Research by Frances Kuo, an Illinois University environmental psychologist, supports this.

She runs a project studying hyperactive children who are brought out of the city to spend time enjoying the countryside.

She claims that just a 20-minute walk in the open air can yield a substantial improvement in a child’s attention-span.

The benefit of this short walk is equals the effects of taking Ritalin — the controversial behavioural drug often prescribed to children with ADHD.

However, most urbanites are too busy to seek out nature’s therapeutic influence.

The Government’s UK 2000 Time Use Survey shows that out of the 1,440 minutes each day, the average Briton spends only one minute in the countryside or at the seaside or even in a park or garden.

Not only should we slap a health warning on urban life — we should put a regular spell in the countryside on prescription.

Read more:




February 2023

Blog Stats

  • 1,516,181 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by

Join 822 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: