We all know someone who has a story of depression. It could be a neighbor or a childhood friend. It could be a story of the returning vet, the family physician, or a colleague from work. Perhaps it is a story that is closer to home: of a cousin, an uncle, a brother or sister, a grandparent, a father, a mother, a child. Or maybe it is our own.
Depression is the primary cause of suicide in the United States. Children and teens are especially vulnerable, as suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages five to 24. Every thirteen minutes another suicide occurs, leading to well over 41,000 a year. As startling as this statistic is, experts warn it may be lower than the actual number of suicides per year. Due to the persistent stigma attached to depression, many of those struggling with the illness do so in shame and silence, and many deaths by suicide go unreported.
Simply put, depression is a national public health crisis in the United States and the world's number one cause of disability. Over 350 million people suffer from depression worldwide. Aside from incalculable human suffering, the cost to society is massive. The economic toll of depression on businesses in the United States is $100 billion annually, of which $23 billion alone are due to lost work days.
Everybody has a story. Yet as a society we are falling short in addressing the epidemic or even talking about it. That's why I started the Hope for Depression Research Foundation eleven years ago to spur brain research and raise awareness. Today, our Depression Task Force of top neuroscientists is conducting the most advanced depression research in the country. They have three new compounds in pilot clinical trials, each of which represent a new way to treat depression. The field has not seen a new category of antidepressants in over thirty years.
"The first steps to a healthy mind and body are to get enough sleep, eat properly, and exercise, whether you do or don't have depression. Every health professional will emphasize these three pillars of mental health. Here's to hope in your future."
We also need to move the dial on our national conversation about depression. We've got to get the word out faster and farther than we ever have before. For those who suffer from mind-brain illness, understanding what they're going through is the first step. The second is finding people to talk to. We need public education and widespread discussion so that those who need it are empowered to seek help, and those who encounter the illness in a friend or loved one have the necessary understanding and compassion to offer meaningful support.
The signs and symptoms below can indicate depression when they are present nearly every day for at least two weeks:
- Sad or crying unexpectedly
- Anxious or irritable
- Loss of interest, pleasure
- Hopeless or helpless
- Low energy, fatigue
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Loss of appetite or weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating
- Aches or pains with no clear physical cause
- Thoughts of suicide
Men may show additional symptoms of depression, such as: womanizing, gambling, drinking excessively, and belligerence. Experts believe that when these symptoms are taken into account, just as many men have depression as women.
If you notice any of these symptoms in someone close to you, here are some suggestions on how you can help:
- Offer an ear: Ask questions and listen to the answers. If you haven't suffered from depression, it can be difficult to understand what it's like, so go easy on the advice.
- Gently suggest getting a doctor's help: If your loved one isn't getting help from either a medical doctor or a therapist, gently suggest that he or she seek help. The first step is to see a primary care physician.
- Form a community: Rally other friends or family members to help support the person with depression. It's hard to take it all on your own shoulders.
- Learn about your loved one's treatment plan: If you're involved in the person's care, make sure you know what the treatment plan is. If possible, have the person give permission to his or her doctor to communicate with you.
- Finally, if someone you know is suicidal, immediately call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.