Stella stood looking over the edge of the famous ‘The Gap’ cliffs in Sydney Harbor. A plunge of about 300 feet down onto flat rocks peeping above the splashing waves. A bone shattering death.
She’s 27. Beautiful and smart. Lawyer. Loving family. Great boyfriend. She left a note saying, “If this is all there is, then I can’t bear it any longer.”
Stella isn’t her real name but that’s a true story. A friend in Sydney who knew her told me the story. He was showing me around the cliffs and I was wondering why people left flowers on the fence.
What a way to go, I thought to myself then, looking at the rocks below.
No one guessed. Everyone thought she was happy. Friends envied her. The shock to her family was jarring.
300 million adults, or 4% of the world’s population, has depression. Close to 800,000 people die from suicide every year.
For the last 20 years, I too had friends and family around me, close to me, who are clinically depressed. They struggle and rely on drugs every day to stay functional and productive.
But many other people suffer from depression in silence, unknown to their closest. Some decide to end it at their peak.
Anthony Bourdain. Celebrity chef with his own hit TV shows. He dined with Obama. He traveled the world doing what he loves. He hung himself with his bathrobe belt at the age of 61 in a hotel room.
Kate Spade. Founder of a luxury bag brand almost every woman would have heard of. Sold her company for US$2.4 billion last year. Hung herself in her apartment. She was 55. She had a 13-year old daughter.
6.7% of American adults have had a major depressive episode in the last one year. 15% is estimated to suffer from depression at some point in their lives.
Globally, the number of people living with depression has grown by 18% between 2005 and 2015.
If that doesn’t sound like the greatest disease of our time, then what is?
Is there no cure? Especially for those who are suicidal despite counselling and anti-depressant drugs.
Peter Thiel, venture capitalist and best known as co-founder of PayPal, is funding research in psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression (from traditional therapy and medication). Psilocybin is the psychedelic compound in ‘magic mushrooms’.
CBD, a compound extracted from Cannabis (otherwise known as marijuana) , is increasingly being backed by medical research as effective against depression and anxiety.
These are potential new cures, that could save lives. Let not the stigma of where they come from be a factor slowing down their adoption. Chinese medicine basically takes all its ingredients from plants and animals. Its knowledge has survived 5,000 years and is still thriving.
One of the other reasons impeding progress in detecting and treating this epidemic is because of the stigma attached to it, especially in Asia. You get labelled ‘crazy’, and become practically unemployable.
As a result most sufferers stay silent. They pretend to be fine even in front of their own friends and family.
In Singapore there’s been a campaign to try and change that stigma. They shot one of the most touching advertisements I have ever seen.
Do watch it if you have some time, or share it with a friend who you think may be clinically depressed. You just might save a life.