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Depression Health Center

When Depression Becomes Deadly

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Williams had been open about his rehab efforts to combat alcohol and drug use. He reportedly made at least two trips to rehab centers, most recently earlier this summer.

"Much depression is part of bipolar illness," Schneider says. Bipolar disorder is marked by wide shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels. People diagnosed with it tend to have many more depressive episodes than manic ones, Schneider says. It wasn’t known if Williams had bipolar disorder.

Williams was also in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, his wife said in a statement released Aug. 14, according to media reports. He was not yet ready to share that publicly, she was reported saying.

People tend to want an explanation for suicide, Schneider says. While it’s true that physical illness can worsen depression, “it’s not explanatory,” he says. “It’s a risk factor.”

People often don’t take medicine correctly, Krakower says. His patients tell him they don't want the side effects of the medication. "People don't want to be labeled as being mentally ill," he says. When they take the medication, some feel that way, he says.

Even if they take the medication, once they start feeling better, he says, "they think they don't need their medicines." So, they stop taking them, and are worse off when depression hits again, he says.

The risk of suicide may rise when people first start antidepressant medications, according to the FDA. Some patients who stop taking their antidepressants may have suicidal thoughts, even when weaned off, Schneider says.

Why does depression turn deadly for some?

The pain of mental illness, often not understood by those not affected, can be unbearable, Schneider says. Those affected can have feelings of hopelessness and emptiness that many others can't empathize with, he says.

"Severe major depression can be just profound," he says. Some commit suicide not so much to end their lives as to get rid of the pain. Even with treatment, the feelings can persist, doctors know. ''Some people develop depression that is treatment-resistant," Krakower says.

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