Do it for Daniel

“Stopping Stigma Starts With You.”

An all-state athlete from Ishpeming High School in rural Ishpeming, Michigan, Daniel was an overachiever and all around great guy who loved to help people. He was devoted to his family and friends, and was a beloved member of the community.  On July 19, 2012, Daniel Olson ended his life after a lengthy battle with depression. Outside his family, few people knew of Daniel’s suffering with night terrors, crippling anxiety, insomnia and suicidal thoughts. His father, shared the following Message of Hope.

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Our son Daniel suffered from severe anxiety and depression alone from 6th grade to 11th grade. He was a very personable person with lots of friends and a great athlete. He ended up being an All-State quarterback and led our team to the State Championship game his senior year.  However, he was suffering and had no clue what was wrong. He couldn’t understand why he felt so bad when everyone else was happy. He began to feel ashamed of who he was, because he thought he was weak or crazy. He also thought he was letting us down.

He asked for help in 11th grade when he couldn’t take it anymore. He had been suicidal for 2 years. I remember sitting in the waiting room of the doctor’s office scared to death because we didn’t know anything about this disease. We were clueless, and so was he. We were hoping the doctor could define what he was suffering from and praying that there was a way to treat it. We wanted and needed hope. We got that hope but had to decide if we were going to tell people about his disease. We decided to hide it because everyone hides it and it’s not common to talk about this and be open about it.

After his first suicide attempt a few months later, we were hit with the same question of “do we hide this”. The answer again was, absolutely, because everyone hides suicide and is afraid to talk about it. He then had to spend 1 of his 2 admissions in the psychiatric ward. Everyone was wondering where Daniel was. We had to decide again if we were going to hide it or tell people about him spending time on the “Psych” ward. The answer again was, absolutely hide it, because there is such a stigma attached to the psychiatric ward that everyone who is there is crazy in some sort of way. In reality, it is just a safe place to be while doctors try different medications and counseling. A year later on July 19th 2012 my son Daniel couldn’t take the pain any longer and completed suicide. We had to again decide if we were going to hide the fact that our son took his life. This time the answer was ABSOLUTELY NOT!  Everyone hides anxiety, depression and suicide because there is such a huge stigma that you are weak, crazy, or faking something. This needs to change so people aren’t afraid to ask for help because it is treatable in most cases.

What my son had was the inability to feel happiness and joy. It is like if you go on vacation in the winter where the weather is beautiful and you get off the plane and it is 85 degrees and sunny and you still feel terrible while everyone is happy and having a great time. When you have the flu, you’re laid up on the couch and your friends may be outside playing, laughing, and having a great time. But you don’t have the energy or desire to go out with them. This is similar to what depression is. You can’t feel that happiness and there is no blood test, thermometer, or understanding from others to tell you that there is something wrong. Then the anxiety and negative thoughts really begin to fester and get worse. You feel ashamed.

Our son Daniel suffered all of this. We believe that, if depression and anxiety were understood as a common, MEDICAL illness that can be treated, he might have asked for help sooner and received treatment before it got too severe. That is why we are coming forward.  It is time to eliminate the stigma.  It is time to help those who are struggling in isolation.  It is time for dialogue and education.  We have created a documentary about Daniel’s struggles.  We are showing it at high schools and communities, and talking about depression, anxiety and suicide.  We are bringing this issue into the light so that people will better understand this disease, and those who are suffering will seek help.

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