This afternoon, visionary Luke Sklar is being laid to rest. After more than three years of experiencing severe depression.
I’ve known of Luke for many years as one half of famed Sklar Wilton & Associates but I’ve only personally known him for about a year and a half. In that time, I was his social media guru. He’d come to me for help figuring out all the strange and ever-changing nuances of Twitter and LinkedIn. He wanted to stay in touch with the current news, and he wanted to take advantage of new technologies. He was my regular proof that old dogs (though at 63, he wasn’t old at all) can learn new tricks, should learn new tricks, should be eager to learn new tricks. He had a sweet smile, a goofy grin, and kind words for everyone in the office whether they’d worked with him for thirty years or thirty days.
Luke was my occasional reminder that people who have depression can get better and that there is hope.
My first instinct on hearing the news was to share it with my colleagues and the rest of the industry who knew and loved him well. But I couldn’t. The inevitable question would come about – how did he die. And we all know that you can’t talk about depression. It’s not like cancer or heart disease or stroke. Shhh….. it’s depression. Don’t talk about it. It’s shameful. The most I could do was post a tweet begging people who are contemplating suicide to seek help. (Please, please, please seek help. We want you here, we need you here.)
So in the wake of this horrible news, I am grateful that Luke was not ashamed of his illness. I am grateful that we are allowed to say depression took his life. I am grateful that more people will realize the true insidious nature of this disease, and that mental health is as important as any other type of health. Amazingly brilliant people who’ve built award-winning businesses filled with amazing employees get mental illnesses too.
Clinical depression comes in all forms. For some people, medication helps tremendously but it still doesn’t cure the illness. The day to day sadness and hopelessness continues to be a minute by minute struggle. Hospital stays are frequent and long, and suicide watch is ever present. Their caregivers struggle to encourage them to live, to eat, to stand up, to finish a puzzle meant for a child, to colour a simple drawing for more than two minutes. They might disappear from social gatherings and you wonder whether they got bored of spending time with you. Or if they’ve moved. In reality, you’ll never know they have depression because you aren’t in their extremely tight circle of people who must know. Shame continues to be an undeserved sentiment that lingers around mental illness.
For other people, medication can take away the incessant life-threatening feelings and make presenting oneself to the world possible. Medication can even make other people think a depressed person is in perfect health. Laughing, joking, playing, working, all in seemingly wonderful health. You’d never guess they have depression because they are the life of the party any time you’re around them. You don’t see them after they close the door behind you and enter a world where the down is far more down that you can even imagine. All you see is their funny tweets, their hilarious Facebook posts, their goofy grin. You think you know. You think you can tell. But I guarantee you cannot. They’ve perfected the act so well that even their best friends could never guess. And then you never see them again because depression kills.
Luke was a firm supporter of Sick Not Weak, an organization dedicated to helping people understand that mental illness is an sickness, not a weakness. Their goal is to create a community of people who come to gain strength and stay to give strength, to help both sufferers and the people who care about them, and most of all to get as many people as possible, in a loud, firm, confident voice to share the words “I am SickNotWeak.”
I know a few people in our tight community of market researchers who have been brave enough to share their experiences with depression. I am truly grateful to you for your bravery and willingness to openly share your experiences. You are helping to save lives.
I know other people who have depression but I can’t talk about them. I’m still not allowed. But I can talk about Luke. You can talk about Luke. Please spread the word that mental illness is an illness. That you are sick, not weak.