WEST JEFFERSON-I remember when I got the call.
For two weeks, I had covered the story of a missing local college student for another High Country media outlet.
She left with little clues of her whereabouts and shrouded language of intent.
The community had been worked into a frenzy of sensational reports of false sightings and even fears that a killer was in our midst.
TV vans and search parties across the region converged on the High Country in hopes of finding this missing student.
In the end, the true culprit might have been even more familiar and sinister in its own right.
For me, the story hit close to home. It appeared that depression had ravaged and robbed the life of another young person.
The community wanted to believe it was something more sinister, like a brutal murder, as if that was more benign than dealing with an issue all too commonly overlooked.
In Ashe County, this issue, which in its own right could be viewed as an epidemic when you take into consideration how long this problem has affected the community, continues to be overlooked and downplayed.
For consecutive years spanning back to the early 2000s and possibly beyond, Ashe County has held the state’s leading suicide rate per capita. Theories on the cause of the issue abound.
A hard scrabbled life forged by a sluggish economy with lack of opportunity with even fewer prospects is a common thread in discussions by awareness advocates. Accessibility to firearms and self-medicating have also worked their away in the conversation.
Then, of course, there is the stigma. People are afraid to seek help or even discuss their fears and thoughts with those closest to them out of fear of being judged or viewed as being weak or having a flawed character.
Men appear to even be more hard pressed to talk about depression. Perhaps it comes down to maintaining a macho persona in a mountain town that prides itself on folks being able to pull themselves up by the bootstraps when faced with adversity. But this is one battle we are losing and the score’s not even.
The stigma, itself, can be daunting to overcome.
This can lead to feelings of isolation and despair, worsening whatever symptoms that person might already have.
We all have times when we feel down, isolated and alone. Some suffer for much longer than others in the form of clinical depression.
For years, I’ve written about the county’s climbing suicide rate and struggles with depression at arm’s length for the very stigma that local advocates have warned about in the articles where I quoted them.
But I’ve seen firsthand the effects of depression and ultimately suicide. It’s touched nearly every family in this county, including my own.
It has become a constant in my life, as well. I remember my first anxiety attack at age 7 and it continues to re-manifest itself in various ways even today.
Many others struggle in their own way, yet remain silent. They are left to their own devices and often choose paths of healing that are not healthy and ultimately more damaging.
We must remove the stigma if we want to heal individually and as a community. We need to start a conversation about depression that is long overdue.
But in the end, it’s our own advice that’s the hardest to take.
Reach Jesse Campbell at 336-846-7164.