Pubdate: Fri, 15 Aug 2014
Source: Press and Guide (Dearborn, MI)
Copyright: 2014 Press and Guide
Author: Tom Watkins


Tragedy always reminds us of how precious life is, how important
people are to us, but it is also a time to take a closer look at
ourselves and face our own demons. The recent loss of actor and
comedian Robin Williams brings increased attention to an illness that
far too many people suffer from - substance use disorder and
depression. Williams battled an addiction to drugs and alcohol for
decades. Williams was quoted in an ABC News interview as saying that
"drinking presents another side of yourself that even you don't know."

Some people turn to drugs and alcohol to combat depression. For
others, the drugs and alcohol lead to depression. Any addiction can
trigger a multitude of negative feelings such as guilt, sadness,
shame, hopelessness, helplessness, powerlessness, anger, anxiety and
fear. These emotional experiences are very similar to those found in
episodes of depression that occur without addiction.

Substance abuse and mental health issues impact every zip code, race,
gender and socio-economic status. Sadly, none of us are immune. I know
all too well, having lost two siblings who struggled with mental
illness and substance abuse and tragically took their own lives. I
watched them struggle with depression and substance abuse and benefit
from treatment and revel in recovery. Hope, treatment and recovery are

If you, or someone you know needs help, please call the Detroit Wayne
Mental Health Authority's 24 Hour Crisis and Referral Hotline
800-241-4949 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at

Numbers soar for those in need - help is available

According to Dr. Carmen McIntyre, chief medical officer at the Detroit
Wayne Mental Health Authority "emotional disorders and addictions are
very treatable; however, many people don't realize that they need
help, and many others are ashamed to seek help. The loss of Robin
Williams, like Philip Seymour Hoffman earlier this year, help
highlight the seriousness of these disorders, and give us increased
opportunities to educate our community about the severity of the
illness and services available to them."

Roughly 16 million adults in the U.S. suffered from major depression
in the past year, and 12 percent of adults were addicted to alcohol,
with 2 percent to 3 percent addicted to illicit drugs such as heroin
and cocaine. Yet less than 50 percent of these people received any
treatment at all. Of those who received some treatment, less than 50
percent of those got adequate treatment.

In Wayne County, for the first time, DWMHA has integrated our services
to deliver substance abuse treatment, relapse prevention as well as
services for depression and other mental illnesses all within the same
system. Mental health should be seen as a priority in the lives of
everyone, and treated just the same as physical and behavioral health.

As U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, a true champion of quality mental
health services, likes to remind us, "We need to treat diseases from
the neck up the same as we treat those from the neck down."

We need to stop the stigma often associated with reaching out for
mental health and addiction services.

Be aware and care

Recognizing signs can save a friend, family member or

Suicide attempts and depression should not be taken lightly. Bridging
a gap between a healthy mind and body is a community responsibility
that affects everyone. Noticing the signs of mental illness and
substance use are key in preventing suicides and injuries as a result
of attempted suicide and substance use disorder. The stigma around
mental health and those who suffer in all forms of mental illness
desire a need to be put to rest in order to improve community mental

Not recognizing a need for treatment or being ashamed of mental
illness is not a good enough excuse to risk the lives of those who are
in need of help. Education on suicide and depression is key to saving
lives. Common factors of depression that lead to suicide are having a
family history of suicide, a major loss, family history of depression,
and exposure to suicidal behavior and depression, and alcohol and drug
abuse. Addressing the factors and identifying community safe havens as
well taking control of the situation can exude massive effects.

Alcohol and substance abuse often lead to depression; however these
are not the only factors that are contributors. Physical, biological
and sometimes environmental factors can cause depression and result in
suicide or substance abuse. Fatigue, anxiety, restlessness, thoughts
of suicide, loss of appetite and many more reasons are signs of
depression. Anyone can be subject to becoming depressed and therefore
seeking treatment and community outreach can aid in combating stigma
on mental illness.​

The tragic loss of Robin Williams is a powerful reminder that even the
most gifted are not immune from the power of the diseases of mental
illness and substance abuse; and that success and money are not the
key to happiness.

A mind, and good people, are terrible to waste and lose. We can and
must do better.


Tom Watkins is the president and CEO of the DWMHA and served as
Michigan's state superintendent of schools, 2001-05 and deputy
director and director of the Michigan Department of Mental Health,
1983-90. He can be reached  and follow on
twitter:  Visit the DWMHA website at for
more information about programs and services in Wayne County.