Another celebrity has died. Again, it appears to have been a suicide. We’ve been here before. We’ve been here so many times before. Last year, Lee Thompson Young’s suicide left us with so many questions. Less than a month ago, we were reeling from the shocking suicide of Robin Williams. Now, we mourn and reflect upon the life of G.R.L. singer, Simone Battle, as she has apparently taken her own life. Like many sad events in American society, these stories seem to be becoming more commonplace. Unfortunately, like many sad events in American society, when they become commonplace, we accept them as norms rather than engage in real, unfiltered discussion in order to find solutions. Well, I welcome discussion now.
We are killing our friends. We are killing our teammates. We are killing our sons, our daughters, our brothers, and our sisters.
You see, we often view suicide as shocking and unpredictable. We view mental health as polar rather than a spectrum. If you’re not roaming barefoot down Main St. screaming at an imaginary dragon, then you’re fine and just need a vacation or something. This is how we view this very serious problem and it is killing us. We have a strange social stigma related to mental health. Archaic institutions, like insane asylums, still occupy our imagination and even the word “therapy” has a negative connotation to it. It is because of this stigma that a large portion of our population, desperately in need of help, never receive it.
After I personally saw depression and endemic hopelessness, I began to take a more focused look at how we perceive this evil. I, myself, used to be one of the people who believed that you could just “smile your way out of it.” I thought that you could simple “be happy” and get rid of depression. That was until I faced it myself. For every happy thought, a matching failure would smother it. For every smile on my face, there was inescapable doubt in my mind. I never received help, mainly because of my own adoption of the social stigma related to mental health. I didn’t want to see myself as “crazy” so I rarely considered getting real help. I think it was my own curiosity as to what this awful, life-encompassing feeling was that helped me overcome it. I learned more about it and it helped me understand how I could personally deal with it. There are so many people who do not or cannot deal with it the way that I did. That is to say, it’s not the same in each case. Upon gathering a better understanding of just how prevalent mental health issues are in American society, I also began to see how prevalent denial of mental health issues is and how problematic it can be.
I began to realize how my own perceptions of mental health, my thoughts that it could just be smiled away, weren’t just mine. I read stories or other’s experiences and one of the common themes was also one of the most disturbing. We often say to ourselves “I wish they would have told me” after a friend or family member takes their own life. Many times they do and when they do, they probably hear things like “Don’t say that!”, “Everything will be ok, just pray about it”, or “If you think positive, positive things will happen.” See, the stigma surrounding mental health makes those suffering invisible. It’s foolish to think that you will always notice “the signs”. Why? Because depressed and mentally unhealthy people act “normal” to avoid the stigma. This is why it is important to take questions and concerns from someone about their own health seriously.
Now, I’m not saying that Simone Battle’s or Robin Williams’ situation represents a perfect example for what I’m saying. I’m also not saying that seeking help will always prevent suicide or other harmful activities. I’m not saying that everyone should blame themselves when someone they love commits suicide. What I am saying is that many people who would benefit from help are directed away from it, often times by the people who love them the most. I’m saying that our views as a society, and society is a collection of each and ever one of us, creates an environment where tormented people would rather hide their pain than risk being alienated.
I believe that there are a plethora of myths that perpetuate this trend, but quite possibly the most prevalent is the idea that successful people can’t be depressed or hopeless. You have to understand that we live in an ever stressful world. The human mind evolved to worry about eating, reproducing, and protecting itself. We still have those concerns, but now there’s student debt, credit card debt, relationship troubles, dealing with uncertainty regarding life goals, dealing with uncertainty regarding the expectations of others, and so on and so forth. If we could just disengage from society, go off into the woods, cancel our student debt, and live off the land, I think many of us would. It’s not that simple. Locked into an existence that you feel you’re failing at can be exhausting for the mind and often leaves many asking themselves “Why should I even go on?” A $100k/year job doesn’t prevent this. Fame doesn’t prevent this. A beautiful wife/husband and kids doesn’t prevent this, so stop believing that it does. It’s not about “ungrateful” celebrities having so many things to be thankful but still taking their lives. It’s about all of us.
The last thing anyone struggling with inadequacy issues and mental health troubles should hear is that they are alone in this. And that is essentially what all the previously mentioned “suggestions” sound like. We have to stop telling each other how to get over depression and start agreeing when someone thinks they need help. Rather than dismissing their subtle request for help, assist them. Look into some programs or resources that they might be able to utilize. Help them look for that help. Stay involved in their search for a way out of depression and maybe you’ll be able to see when they’re really on the verge of giving up.
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