Conversation overdue on depression, suicide

Thanks to The Garden Island for the front-page article, “Epidemic of suicide,” by Allan Parachini. It is time we started talking about this. The problem of suicide is very much related to other problems in our society, most notably drug addictions and crime.

At the root of suicide is the mental and emotional disorder: depression. I was a family physician at Kaiser Permanente for 35 years. I was also a professor of family medicine. A typical family physician will expect that about 60 percent of patient visits will have the primary diagnosis of depression. I used to teach my resident physicians look for it in every patient.

There are a few people who are born with a brain disease that causes them to be depressed, but for most people depression is something that can be completely eliminated. The reason I am writing this is because I want to warn people about medications that doctors prescribe for depression.

If you see your doctor complaining of weakness, tiredness, dizziness, low sex drive, headaches and low back pain, you will very likely be prescribed an anti-depressant pill.

If you tell your doctor you are suicidal, you will be sent to a psychiatrist and he or she will prescribe an anti-depressant pill. These medicines are not much more effective than a sugar pill (placebo). They are expensive and for many people they have uncomfortable side-effects.

The great danger is that when you stop these pills, oftentimes your depression greatly worsens and some people become suicidal. There are many other safer and more effective ways to deal with depression.

First, eat a good diet, stop the sodas and junk foods, eat salads and fruits and vegetables.

Second, increase your social activity. Get out and about, no matter how badly you don’t want to. Join a club, a church, take up a cause. Being around people is a known treatment for depression.

Third, exercise. Exercise is a known effective treatment for depression, far better than pills. Take up a sport that you will grow to love and do every day.

Last but not least, go to a therapist and start talking about your thinking and how it affects your mood. Cognitive therapy is known to help depression.

Most importantly stop alcohol, opiates (heroin, oxycontin, hydrocodone, etc.) and stop amphetamines (ice and crack cocaine). Alcohol, opiates and ice work great to alleviate depression. That’s why they are so popular. The problem is they are extremely addicting and have very dangerous side-effects including death.

Worse than that, our police department and county attorney will treat you as a criminal and throw you in jail. Going to jail will not help your depression. If you suddenly stop smoking ice or stop using opiates, you can become overwhelmed by suicidal thoughts. Do not self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.

If we are to start a dialogue on suicide, we need to start talking about depression. It is widespread and can be treated by simple lifestyle changes and counseling. Treating the mentally and emotionally ill as criminals doesn’t work. It is time we face this huge social problem honestly and straightforward.

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Gordon LaBedz, MD, is a resident of Koloa.

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