Tim Burke: Losing a friend to depression


We had been childhood friends since we were six years old. Bob (not his real name) and I grew up in small-town Nevada.

We were in 4-H clubs together, on the state livestock judging team together, rodeoed together, hid in his room from his parents listening to Cheech and Chong albums together, went to high school dances to meet girls together, and dragged main street in his El Camino together. We roomed in the same dorm in college, joined the same fraternity, and went to the same parties.

He was a second-generation American, his family had immigrated from Italy and ended up in Nevada, where they established a ranch and raised cattle. His family was strict Catholic and about the only thing we didn’t do together was go to elementary school because he had to attend Catholic school. Socially he was a bit awkward at times. He was extremely smart, but also a bit shy. Girls were scary! Then one day at a college fraternity party he met the girl of his dreams. They hit it off and were soon engaged. Not long after graduation from college they got married.

After college, he returned to the family ranch with his new bride. Ranching in Nevada is not easy and it’s certainly not going to make you rich. Taking your new bride from the big city to small-town Nevada might alone be enough to cause the marriage to get a little rocky, taking her to a small ranch where you work hard and live frugally makes it even tougher unless you are both dedicated to that lifestyle.

We stayed in touch after college but we were going in different directions. I was busy raising kids and working my way up the corporate ladder. It seemed like I was always working at least a job and a half to make ends meet. What little spare time I had was devoted to my family. We would talk on the phone occasionally and get together every few months for a quick visit but never got to spend enough time just talking.

Within a year his marriage was over. His wife moved out and divorced him. Ranching just wasn’t for her. He was completely devastated and heartbroken, she had meant the world to him. He became more reclusive, spending most of his time on the family ranch. I saw him less and less. I had no idea that he was suffering from depression. I don’t think I even knew what clinical depression was.

One day he went out into his front yard, put a gun to his head, and killed himself. My childhood friend was gone.

Suicide from depression is at an all-time high in this country. It seems like we hear reports of a celebrity suicide every week. This week we learned that former Fox News correspondent Eric Bolling’s 19-year-old son died shortly after his father was terminated from Fox for as-yet unsubstantiated claims of sexual harassment by a colleague. Of course, the mainstream press wants to blame Bolling for his son’s death stating that his father’s firing must have been too much for the young Bolling so he must have committed suicide.

How predictably shallow of the mainstream press. Suicide from depression does not happen because of one particular incident that sends someone “over the edge”. Suicides from depression generally take place after years of suffering from the depression.

Eventually, that person reaches the point where they no longer want to hurt and decide to end their life to stop the pain.

Why does it seem like we are having an epidemic of suicides in this country? It is because U.S. suicides have reached their highest peak in 30 years, with middle-aged Americans making up the largest part of the growing epidemic, according to new federal data.

Suicide is often referred to as a selfish act. But those who call it that have never experienced the pain of clinical depression. All you want is for the pain to go away. You want relief. Eventually, it seems like the only answer is suicide. You really don’t want to die, you just want to not hurt anymore.

The good news is that there are now very effective treatments for depression. The real challenge is first convincing the person suffering from it to seek help. It can also be difficult to diagnose. Depression is not like a visible injury that can be seen and treated according to the injury’s severity. Often seemingly perfectly normal and well-functioning people have severe depression hidden behind a façade.

The treatment for depression generally starts with a doctor prescribing an antidepressant medication. Quite often someone with severe depression wants to do nothing more than stay in bed or at least stay inside their house. They don’t want to face the world. As part of their treatment, it is important that they have regular contact with someone that can get them to talk about what is bothering them.

Many treatment plans call for a licensed counselor to go to the person’s home, often several times a week to help try and motivate that person to get out of the house. Exercise has been found to be very effective in helping depression symptoms.

Virtually anything that can raise someone’s endorphin level is beneficial. Left untreated, it’s not uncommon for someone to try to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. They know something is wrong, they just don’t know what so it’s difficult to ask for help. They use the alcohol or drugs to try and numb the pain that the depression is causing.

If you have a friend or family member that might be suffering from depression, get them into see a doctor that can do an assessment. You just might save their life.

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at timstakenv@gmail.com