I was as shocked as everyone else yesterday upon hearing the news that beloved actor/comedian Robin Williams had died. The fact that it appears to have been a suicide makes the news that much more devastating. It’s jarring to think someone who was so vivacious and seemingly full of joy could have that dark place inside his mind, and that it was powerful enough to overcome him in the end.
There are days when that oft-repeated quote, “A canter is a cure for all evil,” seems absolutely true. Eventually it’s time to go home or back to work and deal with whatever was stressing me out, but I have no doubt that spending a couple of hours with my equine “therapist” is good for my health.
But that’s a lot of responsibility to put on a horse. The fact is, sometimes it takes more than just a canter down the trail to work through tough times. A nice ride or a long grooming session can help distract you from stress or sadness, but sometimes it’s not that simple.
Despite how widespread it is, depression is still pretty misunderstood. It isn’t just a mood that you can pull yourself out of by thinking positively, exercising, taking your vitamins or even spending time with your horse. It’s an illness that affects your brain the way other illnesses affect your body. You can’t just will yourself out of depression any more than you can will yourself out of a cold or appendicitis.
I think that misunderstanding can make asking for help even more challenging for horse people with depression. Being a horse owner or even having the opportunity to ride regularly is a pretty privileged position to be in. From the perspective of someone with no understanding of the disease, it’s hard to comprehend how a person could be depressed when they’re lucky enough to have a horse.
And when you hear people say things like, “my horse is my therapist,” it can make you feel like you must be doing something wrong. You love your horse, you’re spending time with your horse, but you’re still hurting. Or maybe it’s reached the point where you can’t even make yourself go out to the barn, and that’s the real jerk move of this disease. It can take away the will to do the things that would normally make you happier.
Horses are wonderful, beautiful additions to our lives, but they can’t do it all. Even when horses are used as part of equine-assisted therapies, it’s under the guidance of qualified (human) therapists. So I’m going to use this little platform I have here to do what a million other people are doing today, because it’s important. If you’re having trouble with depression, anxiety, stress or whatever else your brain might dish out, or if someone in your life is going through this, know that there are people out there to help you.
In the U.S. or Canada, call 1-800-273-TALK. There’s a helpful list of suicide crisis lines on Wikipedia for resources around the globe. You can find more mental health resources from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
The video below came through my Twitter feed today. I think it’s a pretty good explanation of depression from someone who’s been there.
Back to The Near Side