Ask a Doc: Wil Cardon suicide sheds light on depression
Question: The death of Mesa businessman and politician Wil Cardon has put a spotlight on depression. Some may ask, “How could someone so successful and so well educated commit suicide?”
Answer: Mr. Cardon’s family should be applauded for being so open about his struggles with depression, which can affect anyone.
Depression is common and most of us have either had the problem ourselves, or know someone among friends or family who has. Being open about this conveys that depression is nothing to be ashamed of.
People from all walks of life, including politicians and professional athletes, suffer from depression and other mental illnesses. Depression is an illness of the brain and, just like cancer or heart disease, being wealthy and successful is no protection from getting it.
In the midst of a severe depression, people's thinking can become very distorted and they can feel their pain is intolerable and there is no hope for improvement, leading them to think of suicide.
Cardon’s wife, Nicole, said in a statement that Wil Cardon fought "mightily" to overcome depression.
"We are proud of how he faced this disease with openness and honesty," she said. "Today, it finally took him, as it takes far too many."
Q: Why is depression so misunderstood?
A: Unlike other serious health problems, depression is not immediately obvious to see, and some people think it is not serious, or that the person can “just snap out of it.” We all have periodic times of feeling sad, but major depression is persistent, has many other symptoms beyond just sadness, and has significant effects on a person's ability to function day to day.
Q: What are signs and symptoms?
A: Feelings of sadness, emptiness or hopelessness; decreased interest in activities the person used to enjoy; changes in appetite or weight; too little or too much sleep; loss of energy; restlessness or a feeling of being slowed down; feelings of worthlessness or guilt; decreased ability to think or concentrate; and recurrent thoughts of death. The symptoms must be present for at least two weeks and cause significant distress or impairment in functioning of the person.
Q: How can I approach a friend or loved one who may be suffering from depression?
A: It is important to take the initiative to approach them because depression can affect a person's ability to act on their own to get help. Often the suffering person needs others to assist them get treatment. One can begin by saying, "I notice you just don't seem to be yourself lately, and I'm worried about you."
If a person with depression is having thoughts of suicide, it is important that those who care about them make sure they get evaluated by a professional, and don't leave them alone until this happens.
Dr. Carol Olson is the chair of the Department Of Psychiatry at Maricopa Integrated Health System.