Thursday, November 22, 2007

Believe in brighter days

I was telling someone the other day about my arrival in Detroit a few years back. I remember riding a cab through downtown and noting how incredibly dismal the sky looked compared to Chicago, where I’d relocated from just a few hours before. I wondered if the sun ever shined here.

Well, of course it does.

But, at that snapshot in time, I doubted I’d ever see the blindingly bright days I’d grudgingly left behind. In the months and years afterward, hydroplane races, riverfront festivals and long hours in my urban garden were enjoyed beneath record high temperatures and southern-style humidity. I soon got over the gray skies that I thought would rule my life here.

I thought of that uncertainty when I first heard Joss Stone’s song, “Bruised But Not Broken.” It’s a tale of love gone awry – as love is known to do – and the wounded woman’s promise to herself that, “the pain will fade. . .I’ll get back on my feet.”

What struck me most is the wisdom in that song sung by someone so young. What is Joss? 20? At that age, many young lovers don’t believe that the sting of betrayal or crushing hurt of a broken heart will ever go away. They don’t have enough experiences behind them to know that there really are more fish in the sea (oh, so many. . .). Some of them lose their will to swim back out into the world all together and we lose those very young people to despondency, depression and suicide.

The holiday season is upon us, a time of year when joy is supposed to abound. But for the despondent during these days, pain can be easily ignored in the bustle of spending, cooking and kissing under the mistletoe.

The Mayo Clinic web says that “holiday stress and depression are often the result of three main trigger points. Understanding these trigger points can help you plan ahead on how to accommodate them.” (Learn more about dealing with relationships, finances and physical demands this time of year. )

“It's OK to feel bad, but try to separate your emotions from your actions for the moment. Realize that depression, other mental disorders or long-lasting despair can distort your perceptions and impair your ability to make sound decisions. Suicidal feelings are the result of treatable illnesses. So try to act as if there are other options, even if you may not see them right now.” (Source: Mayo Clinic web site)

According to National Institute of Mental Health statistics:

In 2004, suicide was the third leading cause of death in each of the following age groups. Of every 100,000 young people in each age group, the following number died by suicide:

· Children ages 10 to 14 — 1.3 per 100,000
· Adolescents ages 15 to 19 — 8.2 per 100,000
· Young adults ages 20 to 24 — 12.5 per 100,000

As in the general population, young people were much more likely to use firearms, suffocation, and poisoning than other methods of suicide, overall. However, while adolescents and young adults were more likely to use firearms than suffocation, children were dramatically more likely to use suffocation.

There were also gender differences in suicide among young people, as follows:

· Almost four times as many males as females ages 15 to 19 died by suicide.
· More than six times as many males as females ages 20 to 24 died by suicide.

The NIMH cites symptoms of depression as including the following (though all symptoms may not be present):

· Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood
· Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
· Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
· Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
· Decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down"
· Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
· Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
· Appetite and/or weight changes
· Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
· Restlessness, irritability
· Persistent physical symptoms

If you feel that someone you love is depressed or suicidal, click here to read how family and friends can help or call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889) for immediate crisis help.

I think it’s true that challenges can make us stronger. Through experience, we can better cope with the hills and valleys life throws our way. You can’t avoid the bruises, but you don’t have to break.

Just as new activities, interests and friends helped change my perception of Detroit’s different environment, a kind word, keen eye or quick call might keep someone you know or love from succumbing to the belief that their sun will never shine again.