Updated: Jun 9, 2018
There’s been a lot of awareness and talk on Facebook this week, about depression and suicide. As sad as it is, it’s also wonderful, because it’s the start of bringing mental illness out of the closet and into the light of normalcy, where it belongs.
I’d be surprised if there was a single one of us whose lives hadn't been touched by depression, in some way. Yet many of those who suffer continue to feel they must hide it, for fear that others will look at them as oddballs, or as “downers”, or worse still... that they won’t look at them at all.
There are still those who say that people with depression should “just be grateful for all they have”... that they should “look at the bright side... after all, others have it worse”. I’ve actually seen these responses on Facebook this week. For those of you who have these attitudes, please know that nobody would ever be depressed if there was an easy way out. Depression is an illness. Surely you would never tell someone with cancer to buck up and will their way out of it. These kinds of responses only serve to make those afflicted feel more inadequate, and more misunderstood.
The other response I’ve seen a lot is “get help”. That is good, sound advice. The problem here is that our mental health care system (of which I am a part), does not provide adequate access for all. Not everybody has health insurance, and mental health care is expensive. So even those who want help, cannot always get it. Additionally, people who are depressed often feel too weary and too hopeless to get help, even if it is available to them. This is part of their disease, because depression lies. Depression tells a person they will never get better. It tells them they are unworthy of care. It tells them life is hopeless, they are a burden, and that their loved ones would be better off without them. These are not selfish thoughts! These are lies that depressed people believe because of their illness. We need to encourage these people. We may even want to suggest a provider, or drive them to their first appointment.
We need to end the stigma of depression by embracing our friends who are hurting, and letting them know we are here for them, and we’re not going to drop them like a hot potato if they drop their mask, and allow their authentic, depressed selves out.
I’m so tired of the memes that tell us to surround ourselves with happy, positive people. What message does that send to the Kate Spades and Anthony Bourdain’s of the world? It says “Show up happy, or we won’t love you anymore”. Enough! If you are depressed, please let me know. I will do everything in my power to help you. I will bring you in closer, love you harder, and make certain that you never feel like a burden around me. That's what unconditional love is all about.
Several people have asked me what we need to do to improve the mental health care system. Here are just a few off the cuff thoughts...
1. CONTINUE to be open and willing to talk about mental health issues. Beyond this week, beyond the celebrity suicides.
2. Fight for better ACCESS to mental health care for ALL Americans.
3. Embrace and love those who are suffering with depression. Remember... they did not ask to suffer, and they cannot will themselves out of it. Don’t look the other way if your friends start acting differently, or become reclusive. Reach out. Ask questions. Try to see beyond the mask. Remember, it is often those who are smiling the brightest on the outside, who are hurting the most on the inside. #robinwilliams
What can you do if you have a friend who is depressed?
It is not your job to cheer your depressed friends up. In fact, your attempts to brighten their day may only serve to magnify their feelings of being misunderstood and alone. Just show up. Be present. Listen and acknowledge that it must really suck. Validate their feelings.
Ask if they are thinking of killing themselves. Contrary to popular belief, you will not be putting the idea in their head. If the person says yes, ask them when and how. The more detailed the plan is, the more likely the person is to carry it out. ANY TIME A PERSON SAYS THEY WANT TO KILL THEMSELVES YOU MUST TAKE IT SERIOUSLY. Nearly 100% of the time a suicide is committed, the person has told at least one person that they were going to do it. YOU might be that person. Get help immediately. That means getting in touch with their psychiatrist or therapist (if they have one), the hospital, or calling 9-1-1. Don’t ever assume the person is bluffing, or that you will have time to talk them out of it yourself.
Remember that depression is not a life sentence. People do recover! I’ve seen it happen, many, many times. THERE IS HOPE. When a person is depressed, we may have to carry that hope for them, until they can see it for themselves.
The National Suicide Hotline is: 1-800-273-8255
OR for text support, Text HOME to 741741
Both are staffed 24/7