There’s not a day that goes by wherein I’m both surprised and not surprised about how far-reaching opioid use and depression is, both in the US and abroad. When you add addiction into the lethal mix, the impact on society is horrific.
As I have written about in both parts one and two of this series, I can relate directly to using opioids and being depressed. Thankfully, I am not addicted to anything but I can understand how easy it is to become addicted.
Taking an opioid (Narco or Hydrocodone Acetaminophen, in my case) helps me deal much better with both the pain I have in my lower back and my overall feeling of depression and, at times, lack of motivation and hope. I also take something else for the anxiety and depression (Fluoxetine). It helps my brain’s circuitry play nice with one another. I guess that’s what I get for having so much bad crap going on in my life these past few years.
Those of you not knowing my recent background should be aware that in 2014 I was diagnosed with Leukemia (CLL) and late that same year my wife suffered a stroke. Presently, I’ve attained Complete Remission status and my wife is still rehabbing. Life has not been fun and remains so.
Serving, in part, as a counter balance to this “bad” is why I develop and write these blog posts. They help me keep my creative juices flowing, and I feel a responsibility to share information on certain topics with those who may find them useful, perhaps even entertaining. I have another blog dealing with creativity and innovation.
One thing I have learned these past few years is this: Addiction and depression do not discriminate. They don’t care who they attack or whose bodies they overtake. They don’t care about one’s celebrity or lack thereof.
Going back in time to the small screen and a “little” franchise known as Star Trek, there came to be a new generation: Star Trek-The Next Generation. Onboard that starship Enterprise was a young doctor’s son, Wesley Crusher. The actor who portrayed him is Wil Wheaton.
Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET
Depression knows Wil well. Too well. His story is remarkable and probably relatable to many of us around the globe. Here is some of his story, excerpted from Medium.
Photo by Kaelen Barowsky
Hi, I’m Wil Wheaton. I’m 45 years-old, I have a wonderful wife, two adult children who make me proud every day, and a daughter in-law who I love like she’s my own child. I work on the most popular comedy series in the world, I’ve been a New York Times Number One Bestselling Audiobook narrator, I have run out of space in my office for the awards I’ve received for my work, and as a white, heterosexual, cisgender man in America, I live life on the lowest difficulty setting — with the Celebrity cheat enabled.
I struggle every day with my self esteem, my self worth, and my value not only as an actor and writer, but as a human being.
That’s because I live with Depression and Anxiety, the tag team champions of the World Wrestling With Mental Illness Federation.
And I’m not ashamed to stand here, in front of six hundred people in this room, and millions more online, and proudly say that I live with mental illness, and that’s okay. I say “with” because even though my mental illness tries its best, it doesn’t control me, it doesn’t define me, and I refuse to be stigmatized by it.
So. My name is Wil Wheaton, and I have Chronic Depression.
When I was a little kid, probably seven or eight years old, I started having panic attacks. Back then, we didn’t know that’s what they were, and because they usually happened when I was asleep, the adults in my life just thought I had nightmares. Well, I did have nightmares, but they were so much worse than just bad dreams. Night after night, I’d wake up in absolute terror, and night after night, I’d drag my blankets off my bed, to go to sleep on the floor in my sister’s bedroom, because I was so afraid to be alone.
When I was around twelve or thirteen, my anxiety began to express itself in all sorts of delightful ways. When I was thirteen, I was in an internationally-beloved film called Stand by Me, and I was famous. Like, really famous, like, can’t-go-to-the-mall-with-my-friends-without-getting-mobbed famous, and that meant that all of my actions were scrutinized by my parents, my peers, my fans, and the press.
All the weird, anxious feelings I had all the time? I’d been raised to believe that they were shameful. That they reflected poorly on my parents and my family. That they should be crammed down deep inside me, shared with nobody, and kept secret.
When I tried to reach out to the adults in my life for help, they didn’t take me seriously. When I was on the set of a tv show or commercial, and I was having a hard time breathing because I was so anxious about making a mistake and getting fired? The directors and producers complained to my parents that I was being difficult to work with.
When I was so uncomfortable with my haircut or my crooked teeth and didn’t want to pose for teen magazine photos, the publicists told me that I was being ungrateful and trying to sabotage my success. When I couldn’t remember my lines, because I was so anxious about things I can’t even remember now, directors would accuse me of being unprofessional and unprepared. And that’s when my anxiety turned into depression.
I was miserable a lot of the time, and it didn’t make any sense. I was living a childhood dream, working on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and getting paid to do what I loved. I had all the video games and board games I ever wanted, and did I mention that I was famous?
I think it was then, at about 34 years-old, that I realized that Mental Illness is not weakness. It’s just an illness. I mean, it’s right there in the name “Mental ILLNESS” so it shouldn’t have been the revelation that it was, but when the part of our bodies that is responsible for how we perceive the world and ourselves is the same part of our body that is sick, it can be difficult to find objectivity or perspective.
And that’s the thing about Depression: we can’t force it to go away. As I’ve said, if I could just “stop feeling sad” I WOULD. (And, also, Depression isn’t just feeling sad, right? It’s a lot of things together than can manifest themselves into something that is most easily simplified into “I feel sad.”)
People who reach out to get help for their mental illness are brave. I’m not brave. I’m just a writer and occasional actor who wants to share his privilege and good fortune with the world, who hopes to speak out about mental health so much that one day, it will be wholly unremarkable to stand up and say fifteen words:
My name is Wil Wheaton, I live with chronic depression, and I am not ashamed.
Wil’s complete remarks are available through Medium.
The United States of Worry
Though Mr. Wheaton is but one individual, albeit a famous one, millions of others around the world suffer. Remember the citizens of Nigeria discussed in Part Two? In a recent study by Good Rx and Tori Marsh of its research team, domestic use of anxiety and depression prescriptions is on the increase.
Anxiety and depression are closely related but distinct conditions; people coping with these conditions are often prescribed several medications before finding an effective therapy that helps them. These medications include commonly prescribed drugs like diazepam (brand name Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax) for anxiety and sertraline (Zoloft) and fluoxetine (Prozac).
Of all depression and anxiety medications, sertraline (Zoloft) is the most widely prescribed, accounting for over 1.5% of all prescriptions in some regions. Zoloft is an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) used to treat depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and social anxiety.
Northeast (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Jersey, Pennsylvania)
Of all regions, fills for anxiety and depression medications are the highest in Northeastern states, accounting for almost 10% of total prescription fills. New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island fill the highest amount of depression and anxiety medications.
This trend resembles recent data from the CDC revealing that suicide rates are increasing at an alarming rate especially in Vermont and New Hampshire.
Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota & South Dakota)
Just like the northeast, the Midwest has also seen high fill rates for depression and anxiety medications. In April, fills accounted for 9% of all fills in the midwest, and that number has only continued to increase.
According to prescription fills, midwestern states like North Dakota and Iowa cope with the highest rates of anxiety in depression. What’s more, compared to all regions, the Midwest has seen the highest increase of fills for depression and anxiety medications; in just four years, fills increased by 17%.
This data aligns closely with CDC data indicating that people in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky experienced a higher number of mentally unhealthy days characterized by feelings of stress or depression.
South (Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma & Texas)
In the south, fills for depression and anxiety medications accounted for 8% of all prescription fills, a rate that has been steadily increasing since 2016. Alabama, Kentucky, and West Virginia saw the highest fill rates, while fills for anxiety and depression medications accounted for only 6% in Georgia.
These results are supported by research done by the American Psychological Association. The survey also found that people in the south understood the impacts of stress and how to manage their stress more than participants in other regions.
West (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon & Washington)
States in the west fill the fewest amount of depression and anxiety medications, about 6% of total prescriptions. Unlike the other three regions, where fills have been steadily increasing, prescriptions for depression and anxiety medications have remained relatively consistent in the west coast, hovering around 6% over the past four years. Of all states on the west coast, Montana fills the highest amount of prescriptions for depression and anxiety. Not surprisingly, Hawaii seems to be a relatively happy state, as only 4% of prescription fills are for anxiety and depression medications.
NOTE: If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations.
Previous posts in this series can be found in Demons: Part 1 and Demons: Part 2.
To be continued . . .