It was six months ago tonight that I checked Facebook one last time before going to sleep, and my heart just collapsed as I read the status updates: RIP Casey, Casey I ❤ U, Miss U Casey, among others. I started texting friends, then making calls, then realizing that this world just lost a most beautiful person.
My life has not been the same since.
A couple of days later, I wrote a memorial to Casey in my own efforts to come to terms with her death. The writing helped me get through those tough hours, but sitting here six months later, the pain of her loss is still strong, the memories forever in my mind and heart of a loving individual who struggled with depression. She never asked for that; nobody with depression ever does. It is one of the most misunderstood illnesses that affects nearly 20 million Americans. Those who suffer with it find its grip unbreakable at times, and those who don’t understand it wonder why people who are “sad” just don’t get over it and be happy.
When will we recognize that depression is not something we just “get over”? Isn’t it enough that 20 million of us are struggling?
I want to put a few things in perspective for us to consider.
Less than three months after Casey died, on April 23, word of the Swine (H1N1) Flu traveled fast around the world after two cases were identified in California. Six days later and three months after Casey died, with 91 confirmed cases, the World Health Organization raised the worldwide pandemic alert level to phase 5, stating that this is a “strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.” The next day, April 30, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) posted this statement on their website:
The United States Government has declared a public health emergency in the United States. CDC’s response goals are to reduce transmission and illness severity, and provide information to help health care providers, public health officials and the public address the challenges posed by this emergency. CDC is issuing and updating interim guidance daily in response to the rapidly evolving situation. CDC’s Division of the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) continues to send antiviral drugs, personal protective equipment, and respiratory protection devices to all 50 states and U.S. territories to help them respond to the outbreak. The swine influenza A (H1N1) virus is susceptible to the prescription antiviraldrugs oseltamivir and zanamivir. In addition, the Federal Government and manufacturers have begun the process of developing a vaccine against this new virus.
On June 17, in addition to the $1 billion already set aside by President Obama to combat the flu, the House of Representatives approved nearly $8 billion in additional funds. As of July 24, 2009, 43,771 cases of the flu had been reported.
And to think that it all started, just three months ago, when two people were diagnosed with the flu.
Contrast those statistics with these. The UPLIFT PROGRAM published these statistics on their website about depression:
- Depressive disorders affect approximately 18.8 million American adults or about 9.5% of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year. This includes major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, and bipolar disorder. 
- Everyone, will at some time in their life be affected by depression — their own or someone else’s, according to Australian Government statistics. (Depression statistics in Australia are comparable to those of the US and UK.) 
- Pre-schoolers are the fastest-growing market for antidepressants. At least four percent of preschoolers — over a million — are clinically depressed. 
- The rate of increase of depression among children is an astounding 23% p.a. 
- 15% of the population of most developed countries suffers severe depression. 
- 30% of women are depressed. Men’s figures were previously thought to be half that of women, but new estimates are higher. 
- 54% of people believe depression is a personal weakness. 
- 41% of depressed women are too embarrassed to seek help. 
- 80% of depressed people are not currently having any treatment. 
- 92% of depressed African-American males do not seek treatment. 
- 15% of depressed people will commit suicide. 
- Depression will be the second largest killer after heart disease by 2020 — and studies show depression is a contributory factor to fatal coronary disease. 
- Depression results in more absenteeism than almost any other physical disorder and costs employers more than US$51 billion per year in absenteeism and lost productivity, not including high medical and pharmaceutical bills. 
Stunningly, despite these statistics, little is being done to combat depression, a disease that now affects directly nearly 10% of the American population. Programs such as Active Minds are struggling all across the country for funding to reach out to teens in need. Other wellness resources are being trimmed back because of budget constraints. School systems around the country, from preschools to universities, are being forced to limit, divert funds from, or eliminate entirely programs aimed to helping children and young adults cope with the stresses placed on them and manage their depression.
In other words, the message I get is this: Unless you can spend billions of dollars on it, make a vaccine for it, administer it quickly, and then move on with your life and look really good and heroic about how you saved us all from certain tragedy, it’s not a pandemic. Twenty million vs. 90,000 makes no difference if the results aren’t immediate and heroic, or fit nicely in a 4-year term or seasonal time frame.
Just weeks after Casey died, a few of us recognized that help wasn’t easy to find for teens suffering from anxiety, depression, and addiction. We started a foundation called Lines of Love to build a bridge to those resources, and we had several successful events this past spring to begin our outreach program.
We’re still in our infancy stage, but on this six-month mark of Casey’s death, I ask you to join me in making that commitment to do everything in our power to reach out to those in need. Become a line of love with us. Get involved with local wellness programs that can provide help for our friends and loved ones, if not for ourselves as well. Join the Active Minds chapter at your school. And, if there isn’t one, find out how to start one. Lines of Love is committed to supporting you in your efforts to be that bridge to our loved ones suffering.
More than ever, in the memories of all of the beautiful people who have lost their battle with depression, I am committed to building this bridge.
Please join me. We cannot wait for federal declarations of emergencies or impending disasters. We’re already there, and our loved ones need help today.