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Depression killed my ND classmate

| Friday, August 25, 2017

Summer is supposed to be our romanticized season of outdoor fun, vacations and relaxation — a time of fragrant meadows full of flowers with flickering fireflies and floating butterflies. However, on one of those idyllic days, my Facebook account exploded with the sad chatter that a Notre Dame classmate succumbed to a bout of depression. It was a shock for us who knew him as a bright, witty, regular guy during his days on campus. We still struggle with understanding how a friend, father, husband and valued family member could come to a conclusion that the best for him was to leave everything behind. His roommate’s eulogy likened our classmate to a butterfly that could not see how magnificently beautiful its wings appeared to the world.

I personally had not been in contact with him for several years, so it is difficult for me to attempt to analyze the whys behind his loss. At times as a student, he seemed to be uncomfortable in his skin, but not more so than any brilliant young person placed into the Notre Dame academic pressure bowl. He was a prankster who could hang with the best of his section — and that dormitory section boasted one of the best all-time prank-minded students to ever have tiptoed around du Lac. My creative classmate, 24 years ago after the University’s sesquicentennial commemoration, helped design a “Notre Dame 151” t-shirt parodied after the Bacardi 151 rum bottle design. He also attended Notre Dame with other family members so that he, unlike most of us, could depend on a blood relative if necessary.

Depression is a mood disorder that does not discriminate. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, at any point in time, 3 to 5 percent of adults suffer from major depression, while the lifetime risk is about 17 percent of the adult population. In 2014, nearly 16 million adults in the U.S. experienced at least one major depressive episode in the prior year. My classmate was most certainly one of them.

The disorder causes a persistent feeling of sadness leading to a loss of interest in activities, which in turn causes hopelessness and a significant impairment within a person’s daily life. Major depressive disorder, or clinical depression, harbors feelings of severe despondency and dejection that can last for varying periods of time. Dysthymia, however, is a persistent and chronic depressive disorder characterized by a depressed mood that lasts for at least two years. Eventually, the disorder kills.

Statistically, about 44,000 persons each year end their own lives in our nation. On average, men — most often middle-aged white men — commit suicide nearly 4 times more often than women, combining to account for 121 suicides per day. In 2015, Caucasian males accounted for 7 of 10 deaths. My classmate followed those trends without any of us recognizing any warning signs.

Educating ourselves now may not return our classmate from the heavens, but educating others may prevent another friend, classmate and family member from an early departure of this realm. Be aware that a zombie-like personality is not the only tell of depression. Nine unusual symptoms include lower back and neck pain, excessive weight gain, a quick temper, overall numbness and feelings of blah, excessive drinking, indecisiveness, lack of focus and daydreaming, dramatic decline in grooming and an excessive compulsion usually on social media. Any of these individually or any combination can forewarn of the disorder.

Researchers have listed 5 strange triggers of depression, some of which go hand-in-hand with the unusual symptoms. Recognize that a carb-heavy diet triggers a hormonal response that affects mood. A middle management position brings with it more stress. Stress then may affect the thyroid, which secretes hormones that regulates the metabolism. In an effort to better socialize, people excessively watch the news and become obsessive users of Facebook rather than actually socializing with others. Yet, treatment can be successful in normalizing brain changes associated with depression through medication, talk therapy or a combination of both.

Our minds are mysterious mechanisms that baffle and bewilder but can also amaze us. My classmate’s loss reminds me of lyrics to the Simon & Garfunkel song, “Richard Cory,” which best describe my inexplicable feelings:
They say that Richard Cory owns one half of this whole town,

With political connections to spread his wealth around.

Born into society, a banker’s only child,

He had everything a man could want: power, grace and style.

 

The papers print his picture almost everywhere he goes:

Richard Cory at the opera, Richard Cory at a show.

And the rumor of his parties and the orgies on his yacht!

Oh, he surely must be happy with everything he’s got.

 

He freely gave to charity; he had the common touch,

And they were grateful for his patronage and thanked him very much,

So my mind was filled with wonder when the evening headlines read:

“Richard Cory went home last night and put a bullet through his head.”

 

But I work in his factory

And I curse the life I’m living

And I curse my poverty

And I wish that I could be,

Oh, I wish that I could be,

Oh, I wish that I could be

Richard Cory.

 

Gary J. Caruso, Notre Dame ’73 American Studies major, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director at the U.S. House of Representatives and in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. Contact him on Twitter: @GaryJCaruso or e-mail: GaryJCaruso@alumni.nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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