Depression can push anyone over the edge

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Initial news reports indicate Dr. Rita Payne’s death in Austin, Texas, last Friday was a suicide. Every single person I’ve talked to is shocked and wants to believe this couldn’t possibly be the case. That it must have been an accident. That something else happened. That the police will surely come up with a different answer soon.

I feel the same way. The only difference is, I know how easy it is to reach the point where you see no sense in living. Where death seems such an easy way to stop the pain.

Dr. Payne possessed incredible insight that one doesn’t often see in a physician—doctors these days rarely spend more than a few minutes with each patient, so it’s no surprise Rita saw more than the average doctor. It takes more time than a few minutes to see something that triggers your senses telling you something is amiss.

Rita spent enough time with her patients that she saw things many doctors surely miss. I know this because when I began having health problems in 2007, a friend recommended I see her, and that’s how Rita treated me. When a friend told me to call and see if Rita would take me on as a patient, she told me Dr. Payne was the best OB/GYN around. That she would get to the bottom of my problem, whatever it was. That I could trust her to do her very best, and come up with the right answer. Not to do anything that would harm me.

And she did. She took many more minutes than the specialist I saw two weeks ago, who was in and out of the exam room in under five minutes flat. During the times I saw her, she actually read the chart—and asked me corresponding questions. When she heard I was having personal problems unrelated to my health, she made sure I was okay, and in a safe place, physically and emotionally. In short, she cared, and I knew it. I have no doubt that every single one of her patients knew the same thing, because that’s the kind of doctor—the kind of woman—Dr. Payne was.

At the time, I had two unrelated health problems. The first was my gallbladder. The second was where Rita came in. When I ended up in the ER on Saturday, Sept. 15, and learned the gallbladder had to come out, I realized I would need two surgeries. But after talking to Dr. Payne, she agreed to change her own schedule to accommodate me. She would operate first, then the internal medicine doc would remove my gallbladder. That way, I had less expense and—more important—I would only go under the knife and the anesthesia once.

Ironically, I was then working at the Cumberland Times-News, and one day Dr. Payne’s office called me at the office. A coworker who worked across from me asked me if it was Rita’s office. Turns out, she had worked with Rita for many years. What she told me convinced me that Rita was a unique physician, and I would have a hard time finding a better one. If I even could.

The coworker said that nurses from the local hospital knew Rita’s reputation and her skills, and they would show up on their lunch hour or after work, hoping to be seen. The line of women wound around the office and far beyond the door, and Dr. Payne would do her very best to see every single woman.

Finally, the support staff had to put their collective feet down, and act in Rita’s best interests—so she had some time for herself. Women were turned away, but I doubt that was what Rita wanted.

According to the people I spoke with today, Dr. Payne had gone through a divorce several months ago. But she was in good spirits following this, as well as the death of her mother–better spirits than in a very long time.

That’s why I have to wonder if Dr. Payne had a diagnosis of depression, and if she was taking an antidepressant. A few years ago, there were headlines around the country claiming that these drugs cause people to commit suicide.

What’s been found since then, though, is that suicides related to antidepressants occur because depression saps your energy, making you too exhausted to plan and carry out suicide. But after a certain time on meds, depressed people begin to feel better and have more energy—enough to then end up committing suicide.

Rita was a very strong woman, but I have a feeling that—like so many of us—she may have been hiding her true feelings from the world. She projected an air of total capability, of being in control. And she certainly was, in her professional life.

But as with many gifted people whose professional life is stellar, it could be her personal life was less so. I have no clue. I only know this: when I was in her office one week ago, I thought about giving her a copy of my book. The only thing that stopped me was knowing that Rita’s colleague had just released her second book. I didn’t want to seem like I was trying to compete, or “one up” another author, so I didn’t leave a copy for Rita like I now wish I would have.

There are many things in life that can prevent a person from committing suicide. Fortunately, I managed to overcome my own clinically-diagnosed severe depression and suicidal thoughts. Given my circumstances at the time, it’s amazing I succeeded. But I wanted to live, like most depressed people, at heart, do. I just needed help figuring out how to do that.

I guess the reason I’ve been kicking myself all day is because, had I left a copy of my book for Rita last week, she might still be alive. That’s based not on my own arrogance, but on what people wrote to tell me, after I covered La’Shanda Armstrong’s suicide, and the death of three of her four children.

There are things each one of us can do to help prevent one more gifted person from taking their own life. We can look beyond their professional success and try to see if their personal life has flaws that might be harder for them to handle than they want us to know. Most of the time, the signs are there. We just have to be brave enough to speak up and ask them what’s going on and then, find out how we can help.

Especially gifted people like Rita are a treasure, and we need to realize this. They are few and far between, and it’s up to us to help them—as well as anyone else who suffers from this silent killer—survive their illness. They can’t do it on their own.

Categories: Depression

1 Comment

Sue Amos · June 19, 2011 at 6:10 PM

Hello Nellie,
Thank you for beautiful words. I just learned about Rita’s death from a friend in Mgtn.-I moved to Md. last Nov. I photographed her daughter’s
high school portraits. I’m going to read your book. I’ll send money tomorrow. Peace, Sue

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