Understanding in a Time of Need
The month of June was a little tougher than the usual.
Hearing about the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, international figures, people known worldwide, who had it all and somehow did not have enough to keep living. It’s a difficult thing to talk about, suicide, without discomforting people and turning the whole conversation into something morbid.
But suicide is a real thing; depression and other mental illnesses are a real thing. As a society and as humanity, this is one of the things that has not been addressed or dealt with properly. It has been stigmatized for years and treated as a taboo amongst people. We need to address the problem and talk about what we can cultivate as people to help the ones struggling.
Let's talk about this …
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
Each year about 44,965 Americans die by suicide.
15% of people who are clinically depressed die by suicide.
Every 16.2 minutes a person dies by suicide.
It’s a frightening word. A word that scares most people, leaves some speechless, and others distraught. Yes, suicide is a scary thing to think about or converse about. It is perturbing to imagine someone going through so much pain and agony that they have to resort to taking their own lives. I’ve heard many comments after the passing of both Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain: “How come if they were so rich, they didn’t get the help they needed?” “They had everything, why would they resort to suicide?” “Why weren’t they open about what they were feeling?”
What we don’t understand about suicide is that it comes from a long time of depression, and depression is the ultimate liar. When someone struggles with depression, they are afraid to voice their thoughts and feelings, afraid of being judged and criticized, afraid to be labeled as “crazy.”
People with depression are not crazy; they are simply people who feel too much. Depression is defined as “a mental health disorder characterized by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life.”
Depression does not know age, gender, faith, class, or race. Depression tells you lie after lie: “you’re not good enough”, “no one will miss you”, “the world is better off without you.” Depression is what leads to suicide. People who die by suicide, don’t do it to end their lives; they do it to end their suffering. A suffering that has been for years, taking away sleep and memories, haunting each second of their lives and thoughts. It is all-consuming and never-ending. Depression is inner demons at work on a 24/7 schedule. It takes away their reason to live, clouds it with painful lies and puts a black filter over the world.
I had a friend die by suicide in 2013. I saw her go through ups and downs. I saw her get better, and instantly relapse. I saw her pain and her frustration, I saw her desire to live, but also her desire to stop suffering. It made me happy when she was rehabilitating, but it hurt so much more when she fell. My brother and I, along with a few other friends, tried to be there for her as much as we could, to help her and support her. It was difficult because we never knew when was a good or a bad day.
In the last couple of weeks before she passed, I remember her being the most hopeful I had ever seen her, excited for the future, excited to live, and I was living with her! And one day, she was just gone. That’s how depression works - it is not static, it creeps up and you never know when. Till this day, I wish I could have done more. She lived such dark moments, things I will never be able to understand. She just could not fight longer to see it get better, but every day I wish she did because it does get better.
My friends, suicide is a consequence of depression, and depression is an illness that to those who don’t go through it will never understand, and don’t have to. It is not our battle to fight, but we can be there for those who are fighting - helping, supporting, listening, caring, and empathizing. That is all we have to do, it is not our job to fix, to scold, or to say “toughen up, it will get better.”
It is our job to instead show them how it is better. It is definitely not easy to help and support someone with depression, at most times it can be frustrating and stressful if you are not doing it right because you are trying to “fix them.”
Depression is a lifelong illness, something that never goes away, but with the correct help from friends, family, and professionals, it can be managed. According to Deborah Serani, PsyD, a psychologist who has struggled with depression, here is how we can help:
1. Be There
Be there and listen. Sometimes all a person needs is someone to be there, through the tears, the silence, the painful moments. You don’t have to say a word, your presence is more than enough.
2. Try Small Gestures
Maybe emotional expression is not the way for you or your loved one, but find ways to show them that you care. A gift, a note, a text message or a call; show them that you are present and they are deeply loved.
3. Don’t criticize
Don’t judge their pain, don’t judge their struggle, and definitely don’t call them irresponsible or selfish. Depression is the least selfish thing, and people who struggle through it will never see the right or wrong in it. Be sensitive and understanding of their situation, but don’t try to understand their pain. The more you judge their struggle, the more they hide it and isolate themselves.
4. Avoid “tough-love”
Don’t give them ultimatums, be tough, push their boundaries, or be insensitive in hopes to spark a positive outcome. This is hurtful and harmful to your loved one, and you are being ignorant and negligent to their feelings/situation.
5. Don’t minimize their pain.
Depression is not a weakness, it is a disorder. Don’t shame a person with depression for what they are feeling. What they are feeling is not wrong, and it is bigger than we will ever know.
6. Avoid offering advice
To give advice is almost an attempt to “fix” things. Your loved one does not need to be fixed, they need love and support. Unless you are a professional therapist, the advice you give could be dangerous, harmful, or wrong and may sometimes insult them.
7. Avoid making comparisons
Your struggle will never compare to theirs unless you personally struggle with depression. Don’t compare your pain and feelings to theirs, it is not helpful and it is only minimizing their pain.
8. Educate yourself
Learn as much about as you can about depression. The symptoms, consequences, and how you can help. This will open your mind and make you sensitive to their struggle. Also, find places and professional options that could help your loved one when their struggles have become overwhelming and dangerous to themselves.
9. Be Patient
Depression is frustrating when you don’t understand it; you don’t know what to say or what to do. It can also be an extremely long and painful road with your loved one. By giving them your patience, you are giving them hope. Be patient, be kind, be loving, be empathetic.
And my own personal addition to the list,
10. Pray for them.
Sometimes a person with depression won’t want to hear about what God’s plans are for them, or about His promises. They forget about hope and all they know is their pain. Don’t talk to them about God, but show them the love God has shown you, love them the way God has loved you, and be there for them the way God has been there for you. That is how they will know and see God, through your love, that is how they will see hope. Always keep them in your prayers.
Remember, depression is a lifelong disorder that never goes away, and if it is not treated properly it can lead to suicide. Suicide is something that can be prevented with the right help and with the right people. It is time our society stops stigmatizing depression and suicide, and instead makes a call to action. Our loved ones need us, they need our help and support. Suicide should never be an option, because they should never feel alone. So, if you know someone who is struggling with depression, have a real honest conversation with them, you could be saving their lives.
Suicide Statistics; https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/
9 Best Ways to Support Someone with Depression, By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.; https://psychcentral.com/blog/9-best-ways-to-support-someone-with-depression/