I vividly remember watching footage of the twin towers on 9/11 and how troubling it was to witness those who escaped the inferno by jumping to their deaths. Never once did I consider them cowards, weak, or selfish for taking their lives, given the hopeless situation they were in. I remember one of the firemen in a documentary saying, “How bad is it up there that this is a better option?” For those who are living with depression, they perceive their situation with the same sense of hopelessness as those people in the towers. Chances are good they are conflicted by the choice of leaving their loved ones to grieve or facing the inferno within their mind.
With the passing of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, we again find ourselves reflecting on our perceptions and beliefs about life, happiness, success, our value and state of mind. When someone takes their own life, whether it was someone close, within our community or someone famous, it can affect us profoundly but often for different reasons. When it was someone who seemingly “had it all”, it seems to some, a bigger tragedy or more incomprehensible.
With new data suggesting suicide rates are climbing, we are left with the burning question of: “Why?” What is the cause of depression? What is it that leads to suicide? Is it nature or nurture? What can we do to prevent it?
First, I think it is important to understand the frame of mind that leads to self-deprecation, depression, addiction, and potentially, suicide. As someone who struggled with anxiety, depression and PTSD from a very young age, I can only speak to what I have experienced and the experiences others have shared with me.
In the depressed mind, there is an overwhelming sense of hopelessness brought on by a slow deterioration of our thoughts and feelings over time or quickly by something that is situational. It can throw us into a dark pit of emotions that consume us and take control over mind and body. It is exhausting. The climb out of this pit is slow and seemingly endless. To compound the issue, the stigma that surrounds depression can cause us to hide behind false emotions and fake happiness. This leads to isolation and feelings of loneliness, which deepens the problem.
It's in the DNA or is it?
In an article in Psychology Today, “Nature vs Nurture” Emily Deans M.D. discusses a paper published by Avshalom Caspi in 2003 that links nature, nurture, and #depression. According to the article, we are each born with one of three types of DNA that dictate our risk for depression. This research provides proof that the type of 5-HTT (SS, SL, or LL) gene we have determines how life stressors such as abuse affect us. All three of the DNA types have a 30% risk of developing depression without a life stressor such as abuse. When abuse is introduced, the LL group saw no change, while the SL group saw an increased depression risk of up to 50%. Those with the SS version of the gene saw their risk rate increase from 30% to close to 70% likely to experience severe depression when abuse was introduced. Further, the study determines that race plays a significant role in which gene we have.
What this tells us is that contrary to the stigma surrounding depression, it isn’t something that we can simply stop, or that some are emotionally weak or unwilling to put forth effort to control it. It is our DNA and life experiences that can dictate our risk of depression. In severe circumstances such as #PTSD, it can actually change the makeup of our brains.
What we consume
Depression can be affected by several external factors such as the amount of sleep we get or nutrients we consume. We are, after all, a makeup of cells, chemicals and electrical impulses. If we do not consume the right nutrients or get the restorative sleep we need to repair our cells and recharge our bodies and minds, we are more susceptible to depression.
One of the most important minerals in our body is magnesium. Increased stress can deplete our magnesium stores and the current environment in which we live is less capable of providing the channels and amounts of magnesium to replenish what our bodies need. Environmental factors such as pesticides and over-planting deplete our soil of this essential mineral, as does modern food processing. Depleted magnesium can cause anxiety which depletes the the body further and the cycle continues.
In the Psychology Today article “Magnesium for Depression” Emily Deans M.D. explores a controlled study of how magnesium shows clinically significant improvement in depression.
So this begs the question: if we are born with the “wrong” DNA or experience life trauma, are we then sentenced to a life plagued with depression? Not necessarily.
Just as we have power over the amount of sleep we get or the foods we choose to eat, we also have power over our thoughts and emotions. Our brains are malleable in the sense that we can reshape them with the right tools and a lot of practice. These emotional tools are not something we are necessarily born with. They are learned. And if these tools were not passed on from generation to generation, the result of their absence often is.
One such powerful tool is cognitive restructuring. Through cognitive restructuring, we can create new neuro-pathways, thereby changing our thoughts, feelings, behaviors and outcomes, giving us power over our state of mind.
Suicide is 100% preventable. However, as a society, we must erase the stigma that keeps those afflicted with anxiety, depression, and PTSD from hiding behind the masks of external values our society associates with success.
In today’s society, money, looks, popularity, talent, performance, academics, and family are often the things we use to measure our value. Therefore, when someone who seemingly has everything to live for takes their own life, we ask ourselves, “how could they not value what they had when it is everything I want?”
Unfortunately, the external sources we rely on to obtain value can be lost or taken away. At the center of who we are is our CORE VALUE: we are each born lovable important and valuable. We do not have to do anything to earn this right as it is a birthright. It cannot be taken away by anyone, not even ourselves. We can only allow our perception of it to be diminished. Even if you do not feel worthy of love or deserving of value, it is there….always.
So how do we prevent #suicide?
First, if you or a loved one is having suicidal thoughts, get help immediately. What seems hopeless today will be a memory as time passes. Asking for help does not make you weak. It takes strength that you have within you. Call the National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 or text the crisis text line 741741. If you are suffering from anxiety, depression or PTSD, talk to a professional and get help. If this seems overwhelming for you, ask someone to do it with you.
Second, remember your Core Value. You are lovable, Important and valuable. Whether you see it or not, it is there. Trust me when I say, you cannot imagine how important you are to those around you. You cannot fathom how lovable, important and valuable you will be to so many throughout your life.
Third, give your body and mind what they need through proper nutrition, exercise and sleep. I can’t stress enough how important this is.
Fourth, living with anxiety, depression and PTSD is a battle everyday, so give yourself the emotional tools you need to have power over your state of mind. Identifying, understanding and gaining power over the sources of your emotions will help you win this battle. You can’t change your DNA or the trauma in your life, but you can change how you manage and respond to what life has given you.