Recognizing the signs and symptoms of depression

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- The shocking news of Robin Willliams' untimely death has many talking about the dangers of depression.

Do you think you know the typical person suffering depression, addiction and suicidal thoughts?

“There's no pattern who comes to see us; it's virtually from the ghetto, to the White House. It's an equal opportunity disease and it hits the most melancholy personalities and the funniest personalities,” says licensed mental health counselor Bob Piper.

He says many people start with drugs like alcohol, which is legal, as a normal rite of passage in our culture. Most mature out of it. “But those with a brain-based disease will not, and they will be the people who will then progress on to serious consequences.”

Although the situation is much improved, says Piper, the Suncoast has seen its share of loss from prescription pill addiction. “Horribly, we lost 455 lives in a two-year period in Sarasota, Manatee, and DeSoto about four years ago.”

Neither living in paradise nor bringing laughter and joy to others is a guarantee of being untouched from depression, addition or suicide.

“Oh man, why aren't you happy? You make everybody else happy, you seem happy when you're up there?” Comedian and club owner Les McCurdy says he's seen comedians suffer from depression. “Why can’t you take that happiness that you're doing onstage and take it off stage and apply it to the internal part of your life? Well, it's because it's all a mask.”

Richard Jeni, now deceased, is one comedian McCurdy says suffered mental illness. “Mental illness very often leads to drug and alcohol addiction because you're trying to self-medicate.”

Substance abuse can take the form of legal drugs, alcohol, cocaine, to narcotics to the pills, says Piper. Where as depression is a biochemical imbalance in the brain. “Substance abuse and depression can exist as separate entities within a person, where they are being affected by both of them.”

Which comes first may be confusing. “Substance abuse can cause what looks like depression, and depression can cause people to drink.”

There is a common thread. “People who have addictive disorders are just coated with shame. As I said, they've just let themselves down and others down so many times they're just hugely shame based.”