Life Stories

About Mental Illness

Recently, we heard the sad news about iconic fashion designer Kate Spade‘s suicide.  Today, we have Anthony Bourdain as well.  These deaths, like so many others before them, did more than cause us to take pause, they once again ignite the debate of the seemingly growing concern of depression and suicide.

The truth is that depression does not discriminate.  It does not matter the age, race, ethnicity or economic class of a person, depression can be a dark cloud that lingers with anyone, in any circumstance.

I can honestly say that I have never felt overwhelmed by depression, save for once.

I was young, just 15.  My home life was tumultuous at best.  Our family life was dysfunctional and our problems many, from the inner workings of our family system (alcoholism, abuse and neglect) to severe financial struggles.  In the midst of all this daily turmoil, my older brother was killed in a car accident.  It sent our already fragile family system into a tailspin.  It was at this time that I felt hopeless enough to take some aspirin, a lot of it.  I ended up in the hospital, in intensive care, and woke 2 days later (yes, I did a good job if it) to my dad (strongest, most stoic man I ever knew) standing over me crying.  In that instant, I felt the most overwhelming sense of guilt I have ever felt in my life.  This man had just buried his son and I nearly had to make him repeat that horrible task.  When I got home, my sister Dawn (who was just 8 at the time) hugged me and simply asked, “why did you leave us?”.  It broke my heart further.  I realized that I never wanted to truly harm myself.

Mine was more an act of desperation than depression.

After that, I swept the incident from my mind and under the rug, too embarrassed to admit what I had done.  It was something that my family and I never discussed again (our normal way of handling most situations).  Recently, I had a bout with anxiety which I saw my doctor for and started medication. At the clinic, the doctor asked me if I had ever tried to hurt myself.  At first I said no, but I felt I couldn’t lie, so I fessed up.  She thanked me for my honesty, and reassured me that I didn’t have to be embarrassed about it.

In no way do I compare my situation with those that suffer from depression.  What I can sympathize with, is being in such a desperate situation at one point of my life, that I actually tried to take it.

Unfortunately, suicide is increasing to an alarming rate.  According to CDC’s National Center for Heath Statistics, on average (and adjusted for age), the suicide rate increased 24% from 1999-2014, the highest rate in 28 years.  It is the 10th most common cause of death.

Mental illness is a terrible disease in all of it’s forms.  I also recently posted an article about schizophrenia. The stigma surrounding mental illness is a huge barrier for individuals who need help.  Because of this, we lose tens of thousands of Americans each year.  In order to better help people with mental illness, we must combat the stigma and reconsider how we view mental health.

Guy Winch, a psychologist talks about the importance of “emotional hygiene”.  He speaks about the fact that we endure so many emotional injuries throughout our life that are truly defeating, yet we continue on as though it was but a small pebble instead of a huge obstacle.  We do this because it is viewed as “weak” to admit defeat in any emotional or mental arena.

Depression is a disease and not a sign of weakness.

  • In fact, those that struggle through this illness are actually very strong, as the battle is daily and minute by minute.  As a society, we need to find compassion and have understanding that first and foremost, this is an illness. Although there has been much research, it is a complex issue.  Depression is not simply a “chemical imbalance”, it is actually far more complicated than that.  Factors such as genetics, severe life stressors, substance abuse and medical conditions can affect how your brain functions.
    • “It was realizing that I shouldn’t be ashamed of feeling these things, and that I wasn’t alone — learning that everyone goes through similar things… That being vulnerable is actually a strength not a weakness, and showing your emotion and being honest about it [is good.]”  ~Cara Delevingne

Depression isn’t just sadness, it is deeper than that.

  • Sadness is a normal human emotion that we have all experienced and will continue to experience.  The key is that we experience, acknowledge it, then are able to move beyond it.  Depression is an abnormal emotional state that affects our thinking, emotions, perceptions, and behaviors in pervasive and chronic ways.  It is a feeling of being sad about everything.
    • “Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced…..It is the absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again.  The absence of hope.  The very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad.  Sad hurts but it’s a healthy feeling.  It is a necessary thing to feel, depression is very different.”  ~JK Rowling

People with depression don’t WANT to die, they just see no other way.

  • “The so called psychotically depressed person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or and abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square.  And surely not 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 form 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 slightly less terrible of two terrors.  It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames.  And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling “don’t” and “hang on”, can understand the jump.  Not really.  You’d have to have been personally trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling,”  ~David Foster Wallace

The idea that people who commit suicide are selfish shows how little we truly know about depression and suicide, and mental illness overall.  

  • “People who say that suicide is selfish always reference the survivors. It’s selfish to leave children, spouses and other family members behind, so they say. They’re not thinking about the survivors, or so they would have us believe. What they don’t know is that those very loved ones are the reason many people hang on for just one more day. They do think about the survivors, probably up until the very last moment in many cases. But the soul-crushing depression that envelops them leaves them feeling like there is no alternative. Like the only way to get out is to opt out. And that is a devastating thought to endure.  Until you’ve stared down that level of depression, until you’ve lost your soul to a sea of emptiness and darkness… you don’t get to make those judgments. You might not understand it, and you are certainly entitled to your own feelings, but making those judgments and spreading that kind of negativity won’t help the next person. In fact, it will only hurt others.”  ~Katie Hurley

What can we do?

  • Be aware of our own prejudices against mental illness and help to eradicate the stigma surrounding it.
    • “It’s an odd paradox that a society, which can now speak openly and unabashedly about topics that were once unspeakable, still remains largely silent when it comes to mental illness.”  ~Glenn Close
    • “At the root of this dilemma is the way we view mental illness in this country.  Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it’s still an illness, and there should be no distinction.”  ~Michelle Obama

For help: call 800-273-8255 OR text TALK to 741 741

Love, compassion and understanding is the key.


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