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'Things can get better' at lowest point

Mar. 5, 2013
 
Medical examiner John Larson works on a blood sample in his office at the Marathon County Courthouse in Wausau.
Medical examiner John Larson works on a blood sample in his office at the Marathon County Courthouse in Wausau. / T'xer Zhon Kha/Daily Herald Media

Why is an alcohol problem together with depression a particular worry?
Alcohol compromises judgment and makes people impulsive and likely to take risks. Alcohol also causes a loss of inhibition and increases aggressive behavior and violent acts. Because increased alcohol consumption often occurs together with a depressed mood, this is a particular concern.
Depression can lead to thoughts of suicide. The lack of self-control, compromised judgment and impulsivity from the alcohol can increase the chances of a person attempting suicide. Generally, a much higher incidence of suicide, both completed and attempted, is associated with alcohol.
The common problems of depression and alcohol are frequently complicated by social problems. Alcohol can often lead to problems at work in the form of absenteeism, sickness and under-performance. The loss of a job has a profound negative impact on a person’s financial status and family life. Marital problems often arise because of an alcohol problem, although it may be difficult to say which started first.
Alcohol can also cause a large number of physical problems. Few, if any organs in the body are spared. Liver problems commonly arise from heavy alcohol intake and can take the form of jaundice (a yellow discoloration of the skin) resulting from hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver or liver failure. Unchecked, these will lead to death.
Written by Dr. Achal Misra, specialist, and Dr. Hamish McAllister-Williams, MRC clinical scientist, senior lecturer and honorary consultant psychiatrist.

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The North Central Health Care crisis line receives nearly 400 calls annually from people contemplating suicide in Marathon County. The county’s medical examiner John Larson has worked as a volunteer, taking some of those calls for help. He has seen loved ones at the scene of a suicide over and over again. He had even read a suicide note, that, at one low point in his own life, he could have written himself.

John Larson thought about ending his life.

In his high pressure role, determining cause and manner of deaths, Larson said it isn’t dealing with the deceased that is most stressful, but managing his duties during emotionally stressful circumstances for friends and relatives of the deceased can be a challenge. And he is making judgment calls about those deaths in a timely manner, at all hours of the day and night.

“We don’t get a second chance,” he said. “We have to make decisions as we’re going and they have to be good.”

When Larson, 54, had the chance to turn the pager off, he often drank to excess — a case of beer at times — always alone, at home. It was his outlet, his escape from the job’s demands. But it wasn’t work that caused Larson’s darkest point.

When he found out his drinking was hurting his marriage and making his wife feel isolated, Larson agreed to get treatment in August 2010. She never visited during his time at the addiction treatment center, Hazelden in Minnesota. When he got home, her belongings were already out of the home.

Larson hit his lowest point, thinking that suicide by hanging was an option for him. He knew the ones he’d seen on the job committed by weapons were “messy.” He thought about it a few times and even had a friend stay at his home near Hatley so he didn’t follow through with it.

“I knew I needed help. I knew I was in trouble,” he said.

Alcohol was no longer a coping mechanism he could use to deal with his pain, so he finally reached out to a counselor, surrounded himself with friends, family and supportive co-workers and started taking an anti-depressant.

Larson said he would not likely not still be here without those supporters and his acknowledgement that he needed help. Many do not ask for help because they do not want to be perceived as weak, he said.

“The problem if they don’t reach out and kill themselves, it’s devastating to families and puts friends at high risk for similar behavior,” Larson said.

His story is still evolving thanks to Larson’s decision not to go it alone. He met a woman he is dating through his occupation and is managing his depression with the knowledge and tools that can help him cope, one day at a time.

“No matter how bad, there’s always hope,” Larson said. “Things can get better.”

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