Franklin James Cook

Columnist’s Story of Depression and Suicide Hits Home

In Mental Illness, Prevention on July 23, 2009 at 9:04 am

Marc Hansen

In a column in the Des Moines Register, Marc Hansen tells the story of a 46-year-old man who died by suicide and, in doing so, clearly describes how clinical depression can be both insidious and undetected — and fatal.

The suicide of Matt Duncan garnered the columnist’s attention because he is the son of Randy Duncan, a University of Iowa football standout who played in two Rose Bowl championships. Hansen describes Matt Duncan as “big, strong, smart, compassionate” and as a person who appeared healthy and exuberant:

After turning 40, he decided he’d train for a Toughman competition. Why not? He had a blue belt in tae kwon do. At 6 feet, 3 inches and 225 pounds, he was in great shape.

When people asked Duncan how he was doing, he’d say, good, great, couldn’t be better, when nothing could be further from the truth.

But Matt’s case is one in which “depression … wears a mask,” writes Hansen. “There’s no pool of blood, no broken bones, no scar tissue.” He tells the story of Matt’s depression through the reflections of Matt’s father:

“Growing up, he was a normal, great, happy kid,” Randy Duncan says. “There were no signs at all.”

But then Matt took a high-pressure job with a big law firm in Washington, D.C. All he did was work. He had no social life.

“It kind of started then. He became more of a recluse. He wasn’t going out with friends or answering phone calls. We got him to a psychiatrist. Doctors made the diagnosis in 1998.”

Matt moved home and took a job with his father’s firm and tried to stay on top of it.

“He did everything you’re supposed to do,” his father says. “It was a chemical imbalance.”

Hansen notes that this same type of “chemical imbalance” is present in “millions of Americans [who] suffer from clinical depression,” and he goes on to summarize the malady’s symptoms.

According to guidelines set forth by the American Psychiatric Association, depression is diagnosed when at least five symptoms are present for most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks: Constant sadness, irritability, hopelessness, trouble sleeping, low energy or fatigue, feeling worthless or guilty for no reason, significant weight change, difficulty concentrating, loss of interest in favorite activities. At least one of the symptoms must be persistent sad or empty feelings or loss of interest in activities.

He closes his column by recommending that anyone who experiences those symptoms should seek medical help “immediately, if not sooner.”

By making the direct link between clincial depression and suicide using the example of a man who is the son of someone who is known and admired by people across the state, who is truly a “son of Iowa,” Hansen renders a valuable service to his readership. There are too many men like Matt Duncan — men in their middle years who are known for showing up and taking care of business in every aspect of their lives, but who are struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts — and hopefully his story will encourage them to seek the help they need.

[The abridged URL for this post is .]

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