Substance abuse and depression are most often companions. They certainly can exist on their own but, like two one armed lovers, are stronger together.
The recent suicide of the much loved Robin Williams and the overdose a few months ago of Philip Seymour Hoffman are unfortunate reminders of the terminal nature of these two diseases if they are not properly treated.
Certainly not all people who suffer from depression abuse substances and just as certainly most people who abuse substances feel depressed or suffer from depression at some point. Any time we abuse a substance whether it is alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, opiates... it doesn’t really matter what the substance is, it causes a change in brain chemistry and function and depression is a result. The depression then becomes a driving force for using more of the substance, a vicious cycle. It is also true that many people who are suffering from depression will begin to self-medicate believing that it is giving them some relief when in fact it is making things worse.
I can’t presume to understand the motives of Mr. Williams or Mr. Hoffman but it would be fair to say that they were both hurting, feeling pain and darkness that seemed hopeless. Winston Churchill suffered from depression, he referred to it as being trapped in the jaws of a black dog; a strong image.
One of the things that tends to make both of these problems worse is the stigma that is attached to them. People are worried about what others will think if they admit they have depression or a substance problem, that some how they will be perceived as being weak or “less than".
Stigmatizing the stigma, to use a phrase from Clara Hughes, is a vital part of saving lives. September is a month set aside to celebrate recovery. The province of Saskatchewan and the mayors of our two largest cities are supporting this movement.
Please help us break this stigma; stigmatize the stigma.
Rand Teed - President, Saskatchewan Association for the Betterment of Addiction Services