Saturday, January 26, 2008

Heath Ledger, depression and mental illness

There's some great discussions going on at Beyond Blue, concerning Heath Ledger's Death and the stigma surrounding mental illness. Theresa is an inspiration to me. She recommend a book, by William Styron called "Darkness Visible", which I've been reading, and found useful in this discussion.

Theresa's post here, inspired me to give my opinion when it comes to mental illness and the "realness" of it

Heath Ledger’s death or maybe the reaction to his death has struck a deep chord in my soul. Whether he intentionally overdosed on drugs or his death was an accident, hasn’t been determined yet, but that doesn’t stop the speculation. Reading a couple of articles about Heath Ledger’s death and how some of his family are quick to say, “oh no, he wouldn’t do that, “ in regards to him committing suicide, makes me ponder about why they would rather believe he died accidently as opposed to him taking his own life. Either way, he’s still dead. I get that with suicide, family and friends are left to deal with the implications of guilt and blame, and the unanswered questions; Could I have prevented this? Could I have helped them? But, say they did commit suicide. Does that mean they have a lesser character than the person that accidently died? Does it mean they are damned to hell? Or does it mean something else?

I’ve been reading a book called “Darkness Visible; a Memoir of Madness” by William Styron. He recalls his personal struggle with depression and the struggles of those surrounding him in the literary community. One story he recounts is of this professor that died when his car swerved into a semi. He was killed instantly. The coroner’s report ruled it a suicide. The community rallied and protested, saying he was, “a good man”, with “strong moral fiber”, and he just wouldn’t have done something like that. The coroner, weeks later, changed his report to saying that the death was “accidental”. Styron talks about how everyone that was close to this professor, knew he was depressed, and had in fact attempted suicide a few months earlier than the car crash. Styron wrote,

“Randall Jarrell almost certainly killed himself. He did so not because he was a coward, nor out of any moral feebleness, but because he was afflicted with a depression that was so devastating that he could no longer endure the pain of it.”

Heath Ledger’s death caused me to pause and consider the stigma surrounding mental illness. Some people might not “believe” in depression or they might encourage their friends that show signs of mental illness to “snap out of it”. Or they might accuse those on medication of “rely(ing) on pills for every little emotion” or “sickness” that comes their way.
I think there’s wisdom in the words of William Stryon in an editorial to the New York Times after the death of his friend:

“The pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those that have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because it’s anguish can no longer be borne. The prevention of many suicides will continue to be hindered until there is a general awareness of the nature of this pain. Through the healing process of time, and through medical intervention or hospitalization in many cases, most people survive depression, which may be its only blessing; but to the tragic legion who are compelled to destroy themselves there should be no more reproof attached than to the victims of terminal cancer.”

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the subject of mental health. I’m only on my way to getting a bachelor’s in psychology. And I’ve also struggled with depression from an early childhood age. I just feel that I need to convey what I and countless others have experienced. Depression is real, and can make a huge impact, even take a life.

Whether you want to call mental illness such as depression or bipolar or schizophrenia a disease or a disorder, I don’t care. But, DO NOT DISCOUNT IT. It’s been my personal experience that mental illness is absolutely real, and absolutely CANNOT be ignored. I have a message for those of you that are sick and tired of people “relying on pills”. For those people that consider depressives to be “lazy” For those that think that mental illness doesn’t exist. Listen up:

How dare you judge me or anybody else for taking medication to better my psychological and physical health. I take my medication for my own well-being, and for the people that love me, and want to see me succeed in life. I take it to live a productive life. It would be irresponsible of me to stop taking the medication that I take, simply because it’s “frowned upon” or taboo in casual conversations. I could go along with the crowd, and try to “think positive thoughts” or fall in line with everybody else while a storm rages on in my brain. I could go along, unquestioning life, perhaps Brave New World style, but I choose to improve myself. For those people, and you know who you are, I’m asking that you show compassion for your fellow man. I’m asking that you treat every human with the dignity they deserve. And don’t we all need to take the plank out of our own eyes, before we attempt to take the speck out of someone else’s?

Thanks for listening (or reading, I guess) I’d love to open a dialog about this subject. Feel free to comment or question or shout, or anything like that.

P.S.: I’ll get off of my soapbox now :)

Now playing: Kings of Convenience - I Don't Know What I Can Save You From
via FoxyTunes


Johnny Ong said...

was a shock to me when i found out that it was the same hero as found in the knight's tale.

depression is a big issue if not handled properly

A fan of truthiness, that's who I am! said...

yeah, he was definitely a talented actor. Hopefully our society will learn something from his death, and we can work towards better treatment of depression.

Thanks for your comment!

Untreatable said...

Whether it was suicide or an accidental overdose all that should matter is a young man is dead way before his time. People need to realize that major depressive disorder is not the same thing as a minor case of the blues even though one word is used to describe both, one may cost you a box of tissue but the other is capable of ending your life. Good post

A fan of truthiness, that's who I am! said...

thank you!

Anonymous said...

There is also "the dark night of the soul", which may also be defined as a clinical depression. Or, it is also described, as a seperate experience , all of its' own. Thomas Moore has written an excellent book titled,"Dark Nights of the Soul", exploring this topic. In a society which relies usually on drugs to solve many of a persons pains, sometimes I wonder how much more therapeutic, human compassion and a sense of community, caring and watching out for each other,when someone has spiralled down, can be a saving grace and help those who have lost their way. Mr. Ledger gave much to his art, I wonder how much of this busy superficial world has as much dedication,patience and understanding or a willingness to learn, for how he or others, sadfully, lose their way?

Anonymous said...

It was a big shock for me to know that he was dead. I still cry when I saw some videos or films. It's he was depressed. Depression exists. I have a case in my family, and it is hard to handle for everybody. My sister has a depression, she has to take lots of pills everyday, it's possible she will never recover, but it's not a taboo in my family, it's an illness not a shame.

But we have to think about is what's wrong in our society. Why there's so much people suffering of depression. Everybody can suffer of it.

catherine Angel said...

I have been following Heath Ledgers life’s story since his passing on the 22nd.
I am from his home city in Perth Western Australia, and like many others enjoyed watching his movies. As a recently qualified Natural Health practitioner in the areas of Homoeopathy, Naturopathy and Western Herbal Medicine, there still are several unanswered questions concerning Heaths condition prior to his death.

He was seen by a medical practitioner in London shortly before his return to New York for a cold or possible Walking Pneumonia as discussed in the media. I believe that yet another pharmaceutical prescription (possibly anti-biotics) was also made for his flu like symptoms after filming in the cold and wet in the U.K.

Heath appeared to already have a history of recreational drug use and was known to use opiates and barbiturates and stimulants from time to time. Withdrawal symptoms from these substances may also be quite similar to symptoms of pneumonia such as sweating, aches and pains, low energy, no appetite, low blood sugar (dizziness), insomnia depleted vitality and so on.

It is possible that his use of painkillers, sleeping and anti-anxiety medications were a product of him trying to seek assistance for his withdrawal from recreational drugs, also known to be used by him as a means of coping with his recent relationship breakdown but also his lifestyle choice.

One can imagine that in a jaded physical and emotional state an accidental excessive ingestion of each of his prescribed medications remains a viable possibility, especially in a drugged and confused state; one can imagine him trying to get sleep and relief from pain, and anxiety. Pneumonia I believe can be just as physically painful and debilitating as drug withdrawal and depression.

Sufferers of depression are known to commonly experience physical pain in their bodies their solar plexus, backs, muscles, some associate it with the feeling of hopelessness produced as a mental symptom arising from grief, loss, repressed anger and an inability to find a way out of an enigma in ones life and experience.

Triggers for depression could be considered an accumulation of a lifetime’s experience of negative experience, creating a depressed and saddened mood, a compression of all those combined negative experiences occurring at the same time triggered by a one off event.

Depressive states can also be similarly triggered by life’s experiences, so that life events can be seen to connect directly with a person’s sense of reality at a particular time and may serve as triggers for the onset of both mental and physical symptoms commonly seen in these cases.

It is possible that Heaths choice of character (sinister and isolating) in his last performances aggravated his depressive tendencies to lowered mood states triggering further negativity and decline in his attitude toward his life experiences during his final days. The theory of method acting often requires that an actor revisits painful experiences in their life events in relation to past experience. An actor will often revisit past pain and desperation to connect with these feelings on stage to enhance the depth and reality of character portrayal. The same goes for more positive roles.

How can we prevent cases such as Heaths from escalating into tragedy?

Which way out?

A possible pathway would be to change the way we view our health care system.
New models have been discussed for some time and it is time to implement new health care models that combine the duty of care of medical and other allied health practitioners to provide a level of care to holistically and responsibly promote the best possible outcome for of the individual with broader health concerns at a particular time. It may mean recommending that a person is guided into a treatment regime that embraces and assists lifestyle choices and practices for best possible outcome for the survival of the individual and family unit.

This health care model could include a greater balance of cross referral such as;

-Consultation and cross referencing with a medical partitioner who is seeing the same person medically for continuity of care and prescription issue.

-Psychotherapy to cater for the underlying psychological causes/ triggers in past present of the person. Addressing addictions and their origins.

-Counselling to enhance relationship integrity and cohesion and life skill education, social environments and networks; community and family support.

-Spiritual guidance whether religious, meditative or other.

-Naturopathic and Homoeopathic consultation to recognise and treat the whole person in achieving optimum health and aiding full potential. Lifestyle and dietary support assistance with supporting routines and energy demands including substance abuse energy depletion and deficiencies due to lifestyle and environmental influence including nutritional and supplementation advice.

-Analysis and monitoring of environmental exposures to toxic substances, chelating therapies.

A successful outcome could be considered one that has experienced and worked toward each level of their health and lifestyle challenges. The human life cycle does present the necessity of guidance with life’s endless rites of passage.

Perhaps awareness and use of holistic models of health care will enable change so that we can enjoy the successes of the upcoming generations without such unfortunate and preventable losses.

God Bless