Oliver: Be an ally for all who fight with depression, anxiety

Joan Oliver
Joan Oliver

Depression lies. Depression would like us to believe that we are alone. That we don’t matter. That our friends and family would be better off without us. That there is no way out of the pain and despair surrounding us.

But none of that is true. The challenge is helping those who are in the throes of such thinking, those who are battling an illness as real as cancer and diabetes, to hold on. The task is to help them see that this isn’t an insurmountable obstacle; it only looks that way at the moment.

How my heart breaks for the families of designer Kate Spade and television chef and author Anthony Bourdain. None of us can really know what led them to take their lives.

Media reports indicate Spade had been struggling with depression and anxiety for years and had been actively trying to address it at the time of her death. Bourdain was open about his struggles with drug abuse.

Yet for most of the world, they seemed to have it all. Spade was known for her happy and bright style. Bourdain had a dream job that took him around the world.

Depression doesn’t care what your life looks like. It doesn’t care whether you are rich or poor, famous or unknown. A new report issued last week indicates that suicide rates are up slightly in just about every state from 1999 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s now the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.

Depression is insidious. There isn’t one thing that causes it, but often a combination of factors. Information from coroners’ reports found that many suicide deaths followed relationship problems, substance use and financial crises. You know, life.

Having been at the side of several friends who have depression and anxiety disorders, I’ve felt the pain of wanting desperately to help but feeling powerless.

Yet, we aren’t powerless. The main thing is to recognize when a friend, family member or co-worker is struggling and to act, even when met with anger or hostility.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline ( offers five steps to help: Ask. Keep them safe. Be there. Help them connect. Follow up.

Other things to do:

• Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.

• Be willing to listen. Accept the feelings being expressed.

• Be nonjudgmental. Don’t debate. Don’t lecture on the value of life.

• Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.

• Don’t dare him or her to do it.

• Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you.

• Help the person call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. In McHenry County, help is available 24/7 at 1-800-892-8900. The “MCHELP” mobile app also allows people to text or call a licensed professional counselor in times of crisis.

Know that depression will fight back. However, it can be managed. There is hope. Those friends of mine are still with me, still fighting the good fight against their depression and anxiety.

If you are struggling, hold on. You are not alone. You can do this. Depression isn’t your friend. It’s a liar. Don’t listen to it. Hold on for another minute. For another hour. For another day.


• Joan Oliver is a former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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