Hey, framily. Life is a lot right now, isn’t it? If you’re feeling that heaviness, you’re not alone.
The news has been hard this week, especially for those of us with depression and anxiety and mental illness in our medical histories. People like me. People like a lot of my friends. Maybe even people like you.
I’ve had a few moments this week of “Man, this blows…” and I’ve read and followed along as a lot of well-meaning people give a lot of well-meaning advice. And really, I know the messages of love are well-meant. They are. But that doesn’t mean that those contemplating suicide are going to be magically saved by someone smiling at them on the subway or in the park or on the way home from school.
I mean, maybe. I think those situations most definitely occur.
But for so many people who die by suicide, there’s not a defining moment in their lives where someone could’ve “saved” them. I’m not sure I can verify that since, you know, we can’t ask them, but I hope you’ll forgive me the lack of graceful language, because sometimes hard topics deserve frank discussions, and this is maybe the hardest topic of them all.
Suicide is reaching epidemic proportions in our country.
With the CDC reporting that suicide rates have risen 30%1 in 18 years, and with two prominent suicides in the news this week, I just…our platitudes aren’t enough.
Telling people you love them isn’t enough.
Telling people to check on their friends isn’t enough.
Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain had, no doubt, dozens of people in their inner circles “checking” on them. Daily.
My brother had people checking on him. My student had people checking on him. They were loved.
They were all wearing masks, one face to the world and another in private.
Don’t misunderstand. Telling people we love them is a good thing, but we should be doing that anyway and not just when suicide splashes on the front page of the paper.
Checking on people—strong or not—yeah, we should do that too. But it’s important to remember that suicide doesn’t (always) happen as a result of isolation and loneliness. It doesn’t happen because someone has no friends or is “sad” or thinks no one loves them or will miss them.
It happens because, for that person, not being alive is easier than continuing to suffer. Dying is the easier alternative to continuing to live with a debilitating disease telling them lies.
Depression lies. That’s one piece of commentary kicking around right now that is 100% the truth.
Shame, stigma, and secrecy are among the cornerstones of mental illness (along with jacked up brain chemistry, and a heap of societal and social factors I’d need another dozen blog posts to cover).
When we allow shame to take over, when we allow it to dictate our thoughts and actions regarding our own mental illnesses, we let depression win. Slowly, but surely.
When we live in a place of shame, we believe we are fundamentally flawed, incapable and unworthy of being loved.2
It’s not true, but it feels true.
Shame, being ashamed and feeling shame about mental illness, creates a stigma that is almost unbearable. It puts us into a place where we’re terrified to speak out. We believe no one will hear us. We believe no one cares. And that stigma forces us to live in a place of secrecy.
When we say things like “wow, she seemed to have it all…” or “but he seemed so wonderful and genuine…” we’re doing a few things.
- We’re avoiding the fact that everyone is susceptible to mental illness, and thus of dying by suicide, regardless of access to wealth, fame, friendship, medical care, or any of the other commonly believed preventatives. Depression does not discriminate.
- We’re negating the fact that this person felt, for whatever reason, that they couldn’t openly share their struggles. Shame and stigma literally kill people.
- We’re blaming that person for their own mental illness.
We can’t one-size-fits-all suicide, because the reasons people take their own lives are myriad, and those reasons are not selfishness.
(I will actually have an aneurysm if I see one more person say suicide is selfish. Or a “permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Or whatever other Tony Robbins-esque bullshit-isms are out there. I’m serious. Please go read this: Everyone Has a Story, by Brené Brown.)
Suicidal ideations are not rational thoughts, but to the brain experiencing them, they certainly seem like it.
I have talked to countless people, mostly mothers, who have been suicidal at one point or another. A common thread in these discussions was the belief that those they loved deeply would be better off without them around. There was a level of selflessness in their thoughts that was astounding.
Imagine being in a place where you truly believe that the world would be better without you in it, that your suffering brings suffering to those you love. If you can’t imagine that, try harder. Please. And if you can’t imagine being in that place, open your ears and your heart when someone tells you that’s where they are.
Only by destroying the shame and stigma surrounding mental illness will we begin to combat suicide, and we do this by listening non-judgmentally, by responding with respect and dignity when someone tells us they’re struggling.
We do this by being honest.
With ourselves. With our friends. With our families. With strangers. With our Congressmen and women. With anyone who will listen.
We can share our struggles openly and honestly and say “I am a person living with mental illness” because right now 1 in 13 people worldwide lives with mental illness and 75% of us are untreated.3
I will never, ever, ever forget the moment I reached my rock bottom and walked into the Counseling and Psychological Services office at UGA. Never for as long as I live. I told no one I was going. Not my co-workers. Not my mom. Not my roommate. Not anyone.
Walking into that office and asking for help was an act of bravery I’m not sure I’ve ever mustered since in my life.
I will never, ever, ever forget the relief I felt walking out after hearing the words “Miranda, this is depression. We can help you.”
Years ago, after that moment, I decided I would not be silent about living with depression and anxiety, and I don’t know where or when or how I decided this. I just did. It wasn’t a conscious decision of “Okay, world, today I’m going to tell you all about my jacked up brain and mental illness!”
I just knew that living my truth, standing in it fully, meant making that burden lighter for someone else.
It meant maybe showing a different side to this disease. It meant showing that those of us living with depression and anxiety don’t look like 30-second depictions on drug commercials.
Many of us have goals and dreams and friends and families, and we’re capable of experiencing happiness and joy and sadness and anger and everything else in equal measure.
We look just like you.
I know this post seems like I’m just shitting on everyone’s ideas of ways to help those who are suffering, and I swear, that’s not what I’m intending to do. I just know we can do better when we’re having this conversation.
Life is most certainly worth living, and I want everyone to know that. To believe that fully from the bottom of their souls.
There IS hope.
But if we’re going to change this, if we’re going to provide the hope we say is out there, we have to change the conversation. We have to get real about mental illness and calling spades, you know, spades.
We have to let those who are suffering in silence know we hear them. We see them. We’re here for them.
And we have to mean it. Oh, man, do we ever have to mean that like we’ve never meant anything before in our lives.
Someone else’s life may depend on it.
If you are out there and you’re reading this, I want you to know I hear you. I see you. I’m here for you.
Text HOME to 741-741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.
Dial 1-800-273-TALK for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment.
There is hope.
Please do not let go.