I wrote this a year ago and like so many of the things I write, I sat on it, not sure if what I had to say was worth putting out into the world. I still don’t know, but I felt like sharing it today.
By Angela Dee – I’ve been reading through so many devastated posts since last night’s news of Robin Williams’ death and the overwhelming theme seems to be: if you’re depressed and/or suicidal “ask for help!” or “reach out”.
But that’s just not how depression and/or suicidal thinking works when you’re in the thick of it.
We need to do so much more as a society/culture to help those with depression and other mental illnesses. We really don’t understand it and have yet to do what is necessary to grasp the enormous complexity of the brain. We understand more about the solar system and the known universe than we do the human mind!
Depression and mental illness cannot be cured with magical or positive thinking.
If you have never been there it is easy to overlook how alien the idea is of telling anyone anything when you are desperate enough to consider taking your own life. The shame and confusion that come with not being “normal” or “happy” can be too much to cope with and the thought of reaching out to a friend only exacerbates the condition. Crippling thoughts such as “I ruin everything,” “I’m toxic,” “I only hurt the people I love,” for example are usually at the forefront of the mind, so the last thing one in a state of suicidal overwhelm will think of doing is to ask anyone for help. That action just compounds the feelings of being a burden.
So what IS there we can do with the slight knowledge we do have?
Well, let’s first talk about what NOT to do:
Do not ever shame a person who suffers from mental illness, even if it is behind their back. Shame can look a few ways:
- You shouldn’t be sad, you have a good life
- You have so many friends and people who love you
- But you seem so together
- She should be over it by now
- Oh please. Everyone feels sad at some point in their life. It’s normal.
- Why didn’t you call me?! I’m angry that you didn’t think you had a friend in me
- He should lighten up!
- Get a grip
- You’re better than that
- Change your thinking. Meditate!
- She’s always wallowing in self-pity
- and so on.
Even asking for professional help and considering medication is shamed. Today we are all so obsessed with the idea that we can change our circumstances and our degree of happiness by simply “thinking positively” that to hear about a friend taking anti-depressants is scoffed at. If someone seeking psychiatric help is frowned upon in your community CHANGE IT. There is nothing a person with mental illness can do about it on their own. They NEED professional help and they will not seek it if they are ashamed of it or are concerned therapy will alienate them from their community (I’m talking to you Ireland and the UK!)
If you know someone who has depression and they have confided in you that they have contemplated suicide in the past, know that when it is darkest for them there is nothing anyone can say or do to make it better. Not even you. The problem is in the chemistry, not the feelings. Urge them in their present sobriety to seek immediate professional help. Even better get them a list of recommendations/referrals because finding a good, affordable therapist is practically impossible and is a daunting task when you are depressed. If your friend was diagnosed with cancer you would help in anyway you can. Mental illnesses must begin to be treated with the same level of seriousness. I am even ashamed to write that sentence because of the stigma associated with it. But I have seen first-hand what mental illness does to a person and to a family and to a community, and it is time that we stop taking it all so lightly.
Depression and mental illness cannot be cured with magical or positive thinking. Things like meditation, yoga or other kinds of exercise, combined with a psychological rewiring of the brains neuro transmitters can help as an additional benefit, much like taking a vitamin D supplement. But to truly make headway with such illnesses a professional mental health doctor should be sought out.
The thing to remember also, is that many people with depression can be triggered to suicide after someone of note dies – whether it is a celebrity, a friend, or a family member. So right now, you probably know someone who is suffering and they need your help. Maybe you have a gut feeling about who that person is. Call them, or send them a text message and tell them you love them. Even if you’re wrong. It never hurts to tell someone you love them.
…most importantly, know that in general those who need the most help are usually the least capable of asking for it and the least likely to show their pain – hiding it instead…
But, most importantly, know that in general those who need the most help are usually the least capable of asking for it and the least likely to show their pain – hiding it instead in humor, a cool and together exterior, shyness, etc. You know. All those behavioural traits that belie depressive states. Which is the hardest thing about suicide. It can happen to the people you least expect it to. Which points to an even broader social issue, I feel. And that is the fast dwindling culture of empathy. That we are quickly becoming so obsessed with ourselves that we are losing sight of each other. Perhaps if we were taught as a culture to see the signs of depression and mental illness, to learn how to read each other, to learn how to truly care for the well being of other people, putting others ahead of ourselves for a change, maybe then we would begin to see healing. Maybe then we could begin to see the extinction of suicide and depression.
If you’ve ever been suicidal and you find yourself in a lighter place today but you do not have a therapist then invest in one now. The only way to heal depression is to work on it with a professional immediately – especially if it is currently not present. Unfortunately money is usually a factor when it comes to therapy. It can be an outrageous financial strain. As a community we should do what we can to help make therapy easily available and affordable. If you are a therapist then you should be doing a huge amount of pro-bono work or finding a way to work the insurance companies to help your clients manage their bills.
If you are reading this and you are contemplating suicide, then I know where you are. There is nothing I can do or say to make you feel better. But, if you can hear me through the pain, talking to a stranger is oddly comforting. Speaking from experience, calling the suicide prevention lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is extremely helpful. They wont cure you and they wont take away your pain. But they WILL be there and they WILL listen to you. Even for 2 and a half hours. Even if all you have to say is silence, or sobs, or ranting wordless, nonsense. They will stay on the phone. They will not judge you and you are not encroaching on their time and/or life. They are literally there waiting for you to call. You can tell them anything. They won’t make you feel bad about it. They will just listen.
About The Contributor
Brit-turned-Brooklynite Angela Dee is an actor and writer for film, TV, voiceovers and commercials. She is also the accomplished, creative force behind Rack & Ruin, an acclaimed, female-driven, web comedy series that made its streaming debut in June 2014 on WYSK-TV. The series was recently named an official selection of the 2015 ITVFest.
Declared an Agent of Change by the Huffington Post, Angela is one of “5 Inspiring Women Worthy Of Your Attention Right Now.”