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Find a cure (05/13/2012)
By Frances Edstrom

For the record, I donít approve of bullying†ó†of anyone at any age.

But I canít help but be disappointed that bullying has become a rallying cry in our schools. Certainly schools must address bullying. But by giving bullying an elevated status as the premier problem in our schools, we are whitewashing other, more urgent problems.

In recent reports of youth suicides in this area, bullying has been blamed. But bullying does not cause suicide, no more than a breakup with a girlfriend or boyfriend, no more than taking drugs, or any of the myriad things the public and the media like to blame.

What almost inevitably causes suicide is untreated depression or another mood disorder. Over the vast history of humanity, people have been bullied. People have had rough breakups with girlfriends, boyfriends, and spouses. People have taken recreational drugs. And the great majority of us have not committed suicide.

But the great majority do not suffer from depression. Depression, like any illness, weakens our bodies, makes us less able to fight off the pain. So a person suffering from depression may attach too much importance to things such as bullying, or breakups, and may be more susceptible to the mood swings caused by drugs. Or those might simply be scapegoats.

Whatís the difference, you might ask. The difference is when we come up with a pat answer to a difficult question ó what causes suicide? ó we shut the door on the efforts of the medical community to find the real answer. Without an answer, we will continue to lose loved ones to suicide.

It wasnít all that long ago that we had no idea what caused infection, that we didnít know that without treatment, infection would kill us. In the olden days, people thought tuberculosis was caused by vampires. They thought breast cancer was caused by a milk clot in a mammary duct.

I hope it wonít be too long before a surefire way of diagnosing depression ó even in those without obvious symptoms ó†can be found, followed hard on the heels by a cure that works for everyone suffering from the disease. One day, I hope that it will be rare that a person commits suicide.

Until then, we need to bring depression and suicide out into the open. We should talk about it the way we talk about breast cancer, heart disease, lung disease, the dangers of texting while driving. Depression and suicide are still in the dark ages, like dementia was until recently. Until we can talk about mental illness as a community, there will be scarce resources to find a cure.

Letís stop talking about suicide in hushed voices. Letís stop hiding it behind bullying or mean girlfriends. Letís stop implying that a person who commits suicide is immature or weak of character. Letís not blame it on illegal drugs, but ask instead if a person who turns to drugs is perhaps trying to hide the pain of depressive illness.

A mind that suffers from mental illness may not work the way a rational mind does. But do we blame a person for having the breast cancer gene? No, we wear pink ribbons and the NFL players wear pink on the field to draw our attention and our dollars to finding a cure. Would we blame a child for contracting leukemia? No, of course not, even when we ourselves donít understand how it happens.

Sure, stop bullying. But donít divert precious resources to a societal ill that most people can live through and learn how to ignore. Letís put those resources to work finding a way to prevent suicide and other horrible effects of mental illness.  


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