My heart still aches when I say or type the word suicide. I remember exactly where I was sitting in our apartment the evening of May 19, 2017 when my boyfriend got a call telling us that one of our best friends had died by suicide earlier that day. The words felt surreal and like a forceful punch to the stomach. Too tragic to be real, like a nightmare coming to life, my brain tried to wrap itself around the impossible.
Since losing our friend, I’ve been overwhelmed to learn about how wildly misunderstood and especially difficult to understand suicide is in our society. How heartbreakingly common it is – 10th leading cause of death in the US and 2nd leading cause of death among 15-29 year old males. With the death of two icons in this devastating way last week, it feels critical that we all work to open the conversation about mental health in a way which can facilitate better help for the many who are suffering.
Below I’ve gathered up some of the most moving and accurate things I’ve seen around the internet in the past few days. I hope you find them insightful and useful too…
1. Suicidal depression is not a personality trait, it is a disease.
“Even though science has proven it a million times over, our culture doesn’t yet fully recognize that MENTAL ILLNESS IS A BRAIN DISEASE, just like hepatitis is a liver disease. Depression (and bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and everything else) affects our brain — the organ we use to make decisions. If you’re suffering from suicidal depression, it doesn’t matter how beloved you are or how much you love your family or how much money you have, because your brain is telling you that despite all those things, suicide is your only option. (Or that you need to isolate yourself, sleep all day or other behavior that a healthy brain would recognize as bad decisions.) This is one reason mental illness is so deadly: the part of our body that’s affected is the same part that’s responsible for our behavior. It’s like if you broke your leg and then had to use that leg to walk to the hospital… Depression is an ILLNESS. It’s not weakness. It’s not your fault. And it’s impossible to think or reason your way out of it without help, due to the part of your body that’s ill.” — Emily McDowell
2. Suicide isn’t predicted by how happy or loved a person appears on the outside.
“Depression doesn’t care if you’re great at what you do. Mental illness doesn’t just affect those without opportunities or privilege or resources” —To Write Love on Her Arms
“These are tenacious illnesses, and they influence everyone from every socioeconomic class. It is not a disease that discriminates at all.” – Drew Ramsey, MD
“As someone who has often contemplated suicide, I hope her family knows that such a death does not reflect any lack of love and caring for them. Whenever I reached my suicidal lows, I was convinced that my life was an unbearable burden not only for myself, but for them as well. It seemed the best for them in my muddled state.” – Elaine Turner, NY Times
3. Depression isn’t the same as sadness.
“For me, depression is not sadness. It’s not having a bad day and needing a hug. It gave me a complete and utter sense of isolation and loneliness.” — Kristen Bell
“It is very hard to explain to people who have never known serious depression or anxiety the sheer continuous intensity of it. There is no off switch.” — Matt Haig
“[Some] imply that they know what it is like to be depressed because they have gone through a divorce, lost a job, or broken up with someone. But these experiences carry with them feelings. Depression, instead, is flat, hollow and unendurable.” – Kay Redfield Jamison via A Cup of Jo
4. People who die by suicide don’t want to die.
“What a lot of people don’t understand is that a person contemplating suicide is in overwhelming emotional pain and they think very differently than people who are rational. It’s cognitive constriction. Your pre-frontal cortex goes off line and you have a flight, fight or freeze impulse. In that case suicide seems like the best way out or the best way to fight for your survival. They think, maybe my afterlife will be better.” – John Draper, Director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
A person doesn’t try to end her life “because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors.” – David Foster Wallace
What seems irrational from the outside in their mind is, in that moment, completely rational. And this thought of being a burden is a recurring theme that comes up again and again” – Dr. Anna Lembke
5. We must change our language. People don’t “commit” suicide, they die by suicide.
“This is a much less judgmental, more straightforward way to talk about someone who dies from mental illness. They are not ‘a suicide’ any more than someone who dies from cancer is ‘a cancer.’” — Kelly Williams Brown.
“Asking ‘how someone could do this’ puts responsibility on the victim, just as the phrase ‘committed suicide’ suggests an almost criminal intent” — Nicole Spector
“We talk about death with cancer and heart disease but not death when associated with mental illness. But some people do die from it. Suicide is like a massive heart attack of the brain.” Dr. Anna Lembke
Sending so so much love and light to anyone who needs it. You are NOT alone. You matter, things can be better, things will get better.
If you’re suffering, please reach out. You can call 800-273-8255, for free and confidential help. Or text HOME to 741741, if you prefer texting, for free 24/7 crisis support in the US.
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I share each step along my road to wellness and healing and hope that in doing so I can inspire you along your own path. Thank you so much for being here.