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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Columns

Depression, addiction should not be taboos


Day in and day out, I see the devastation that addiction and depression cause individuals.

Addiction and depression, especially among youth, may lead to suicides that could have been prevented if our society did not make them taboo topics. We need to learn how to talk about these things in a constructive manner so that those who need help can get it.

I am from Columbia, Missouri — a small college town. The students from the three colleges there come and go, but those born and raised there sit next to the same people every day from kindergarten to senior year of high school. In Columbia, everyone is connected with the rest of the population. Rumors spread fast.

As my classmates and I got older, we began to be personally affected by the toll addiction and depression had on people’s lives.

The first time I saw a family devastated by suicide was in 8th grade. A senior football player took his life.

Everyone knew him. His sister was in my grade — she was my softball teammate and a good friend. It seemed like the whole town crammed itself into the halls of the Catholic church for his funeral.

No one knows what his thoughts were in his last moments. Why would someone so young — with so much potential — make that decision?

In high school, people partied hard. Students threw parties because there really wasn’t much else to do, especially when the college students were gone.

I heard stories about alcohol, marijuana and even cocaine. No one really thought anything of it. No one told anyone to stop. No one thought it would be a problem.

I don’t know exactly why things were this way— they just were. Those who weren’t into the party scene remained ignorant to what happened, and those who knew about it felt it wasn’t their place to meddle in the affairs of others.

People are afraid to talk about addiction and depression because they are taboo. They often see addiction and depression as weaknesses and are afraid to talk about it for appearing weak or not being taken seriously.

As I made my way through high school, I lost classmates. Some, I barely knew; the deaths of others affected me greatly.

The summer before my senior year, the class clown took his life.

He grew up going to the small Catholic school and transferred to public school in 7th grade. He was the new kid, but he made friends quickly. He had a goofy smile and a smart mouth. He was the type to comically roast anyone and everyone. No one was safe from his comical attacks, but no one left his jokes without a smile, either.

His death had an effect on anyone who ever met him. No one can say what he was thinking or why he made that choice. We were all so close to graduating and moving on to new beginnings. Why would he make such a permanent choice?

Was there something we could have done to save him?

In the summer after my freshman year in college, and I stayed back home with some old friends. My Facebook timeline filled with posts mourning the loss of a classmate. He was popular and I had seen him walk around the school surrounded by his soccer teammates and friends, but I didn’t know him well.

This popular, young boy’s life was claimed by heroin. I was really taken back. How does someone at that age get their hands on heroin?

Just a few weeks later, a friend of the first boy was found dead in his apartment. Again, overdosed on heroin.

I realized there was a problem. I asked one of my friends, who was much more engaged with people in school: “How many people do you know from school who do heroin?”

“Eleven off the top of my head,” she said. “But there are probably more.”

This story is not just mine, my school’s or my town’s. Across the nation, addiction and depression are claiming the lives of young people at a rapid rate in small-town America.

In Beaumont, La Grange, Laredo, Waco, Corsicana and even Houston, the effects of drugs, addiction and depression are clear. The use of meth and opiates like heroine are on the rise in Texas, and Mayor Sylvester Turner even declared that there was a mental health crisis in our state.

Opioid abuse is a serious problem. A growing number of people in the state are becoming addicted to and even dying from the use of heroin and prescription pain medications.

One of the ways that advocates in Texas are fighting against addiction is by supporting the expansion of the use of naloxone, a life-saving drug that reverses the effects of opioid use.

Communities face tragedy because of a lack of resources, a lack of funding and a lack of awareness. According to NPR, drug overdose is now the leading cause of death by unintentional injury in this country — more than gun deaths and more than car crashes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention record “unintentional injury” as the leading cause of death in the 15-24 age group.

In that same age group, suicide is the No. 2 cause of death.

The solution begins with making these subjects less taboo. People need to be able to talk openly about their struggles with addiction and depression without the fear of judgement.

We need more accessible treatment centers for both addiction and depression. Small towns often lack the resources to help those in need. In Houston, a plethora of nonprofits and programs can help those affected. But small towns do not often have that luxury, and it puts its community at risk for tragedy.

For those who are struggling with addiction or depression, please make an appointment with the Counseling and Psychological Services by calling 713-743-5454. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.  If you are looking for help battling addiction, call the Recovery Centers of America at 1-855-780-9700 to find help. For emergencies, please call 911.

Columnist Delaney Catlettstout is a political science senior and can be reached at [email protected]

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