Charting the Depths

Reflections on the science of depression.

Do We Have the Will to Stop the Depression Epidemic?

Don't let Sean Moylan die in vain.

"The poor kid was a very troubled young man," he said. "He was generous and good natured, but he just had that demon in there. There is no blame in this at all. It's not the bridge's fault, it's not anybody's fault. It's just that he was a very troubled young man. He had a problem and that's it."

The man who spoke these words was John Moylan, 85. John Moylan had been a prominent advocate for a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge and he had served as the bridge district director. The poor kid was Sean Moylan, 27. Sean was John’s grandson. Sean jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, to his death, on Thursday afternoon, June 5th, 2014.

Sean Moylan’s death is a straw in the wind in the depression epidemic. His death is our problem.

And it’s a very big one.

Best estimates are that about 35 million American adults will struggle with the demon of depression, nearly ONE in five people. One of these ones is surely a person you know. The one may be your grandson. The one may be your teacher, your neighbor, your doctor, your friend. Odds are good that you might not know the full extent of the depression in the one you know. Depression is so often hidden.

The untimely death of Sean Moylan is, sadly, part of a trend. Last year was a record year for suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge, one of the most popular structures in the world for

Sean Moylan
people to jump from. More than 40 individuals died jumping from the bridge, and another 100 were prevented from doing so by police officers or bystanders. In the US, 38,000 people died by suicide last year, more than died from car accidents. The suicide rate for adults has increased 25 percent since 1999. While suicide results from many factors, its main driver is the same demon that stalked Sean: depression.

John Moylan
John Moylan’s inability to prevent his grandson’s tragic plunge into San Francisco Bay did not receive wide coverage in the news, despite being both a keen public health and human interest story. Every detail I could glean was wrenching: Sean Moylan had tried to kill himself before, only four months back, while walking his dog, stepping into the path of a commercial truck. Suicide had visited the Moylan family previously. Before losing Sean, John had lost a grandnephew. Will Sean’s death prompt progress on the long delayed suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge? Time will tell.

The delay on the barrier is par for the course. There’s surprisingly little social mobilization about America’s biggest public health emergency. The World Health Organization has projected that depression will be the world's most burdensome health condition by 2030. Some people, when they hear such projections, just shrug. Others would choose to think about it later: 2030 sounds a ways off. But the reckoning of the depression epidemic is already at hand. Just recently, another WHO report concluded that, "depression is the predominant cause of illness and disability for both boys and girls aged 10 to 19 years." Suicide was ranked the number three cause of death in this age group. In 2012, across the world, the report continued, unipolar depression took away 14 million years worth of healthy life from youth.

It's high time to summon the courage and the will to stop the depression epidemic. Please help people like John who are working to contain its human costs. Don't let Sean die in vain.

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Jonathan Rottenberg is the author of The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic. Follow Jon on Twitter.

 

Jonathan Rottenberg is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of South Florida, where he directs the Mood and Emotion Laboratory.

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