After Son's Suicide, Milwaukee Mother Fights Depression's Stigma
Depression affects nearly one in ten Americans at some point in their lifetimes.
The Centers for Disease Control report five percent of people suffer from major depression.
But despite its prevalence, many experts say stigmas around depression continue. And it’s one of the reasons half of those affected by depression never seek help.
That was true for Charles Kubly. The Milwaukee man suffered from depression for years in silence. He committed suicide at 28.
"Last person anyone would have expected, and he covered for years," says his mother, Billie.
Since her son's death, Billie Kubly has worked to bring awareness to depression through a foundation in Charlie’s name. That includes helping sponsor today’s second annual Depression Recognition Day at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Kubly says she didn't become aware of her son's depression until he was 23, and it left her shocked. She and her husband got him under psychiatric care immediately.
But she says it did take a while for Charlie to find someone he felt comfortable with for talk therapy. When he found one, the psychologist asked if he was suicidal.
"Charlie said, 'I think about it all the time, but I'm not going to do it because of my family,' and then six weeks later, he died," she says. "So somewhere along the line he gave up hope."
"I thought he was getting better, but it didn't happen."
Dr. Jon Lehrmann, professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at the Medical College, says it's common for those suffering from depression to try to hide it.
"Oftentimes, because they are embarrassed about it, they know something is wrong, they are afraid to share it with people, afraid of what people are going to think of them," he says. "They also tend to isolate when they're depressed, so they put distance between themselves and loved ones."
That's exactly what Kubly's son did, because, she says, he was embarrassed about his depression.
"It's not a weakness, it's not an embarrassment, it's not their fault," she says. "If he had mentioned it, he would have had five friends or more that would have been there. That’s what’s so sad about these people who suffer from depression – they can’t open up so nobody knows and they don’t have a support."
Kubly says depression often isn't accepted the same way a physical disease is. But Lehrmann says we've made some progress in understanding it as a brain disease today and treatments have come a long way.
"It's not something we can cure, it's not a one-time treatment and you'll never have it again, but we are very effective at treating depression," he says.
Lehrmann warns it does take a while to find the right medication and dosage, and it often takes weeks before meds will take full effect. He says talk therapy, or a combination of therapy and medication, can usually help most cases of depression. However, not all cases respond to medications.
But there are other treatments out there. Electro-convulsive therapy is actually the most effective treatment, but because of the stigma behind it, most people won't consider it. Additionally, it is fairly invasive, so it used for severe cases or those that don't respond to medication.
Other new treatments involving neuromodulation, like transcranial magnetic stimulation and deep-brain stimulation, are also proving to be effective in treating depression.
The point, Lehrmann says, is there are options and there is hope. The challenge is getting through that message through to someone who is suffering.
That's why Kubly says she has to continue her work with the foundation and to tell Charlie's story.
"I've got to get it out there," she says. "I don't want a family to go through this again."
The Depression Recognition Day at the Medical College of Wisconsin on Oct. 10th features two lectures on depression and treatments, as well as other resources and self-rating tools.