but can we please stop all the talk about the recent celebrity suicide? I know, it sounds callous, particularly in light of all I’ve said about depression, but stay with me, just for a bit.
1. Suicides increase in the wake of highly publicized suicides. It’s called the Werther Effect. You wouldn’t believe the number of posts in the depression subreddit that basically say “If Robin Williams can’t do it, what hope do I have?” and “seeing all these posts about Robin Williams makes me feel worse than I already did.”
2. Posts about increasing awareness about depression shared as a reaction to his death are incredibly condescending. Why do all of these people care now, when they didn’t care last week? (Note: plenty of people did care, and talk about it, without the impetus of a celebrity death, but way more don’t/didn’t.) Yes, Robin Williams was a celebrity, and anyone who has enjoyed his work feels they have some sort of relationship to him. Guess what, you have some sort of relationship with every being on earth. We should care about his death because he was another human being, not just because we “knew him through his work” or because he was famous. As such, we should be just as affected by the news of the brutality and racism in Ferguson, the bombings in the middle east, the rapes in India, the injustice of the murderers of a young man merely getting suspended with pay as a result. Because all this is happening to human beings. They may not be famous, they may not have touched our lives directly, but they still deserve our outrage and love and empathy.
3. Robin Williams was 63 when he died. I don’t know how long he’s been dealing with his mental illness, whether unipolar or bipolar depression doesn’t really matter, but the fact of the matter is he’d been dealing with it for a long time. Mental illness doesn’t have a cure. Every day with mental illness is a day you have a disease. Some days are good, some days are not. Every day you live through is a victory. You’ve fought off the urge to die for another day. Sometimes it’s an easy fight, sometimes it’s impossibly difficult. But it’s always a fight. Robin, for whatever reason, was tired enough of fighting to stop. No amount of breast-beating and clothes-rending is going to change that, nor is it going to change it for anyone else fighting the same disease. Saying “I love you” isn’t the magic bandaid. I’m not saying it doesn’t matter–some days it can be the difference between life and death for one of us. But it isn’t always.
You don’t want to hurt. You don’t want to lose loved ones. You don’t want to hurt loved ones. But sometimes, life hurts so much, asking someone to stay is selfish and cruel. You’re hurting them by not letting them escape their pain. You’re adding to their pain.
Whenever I am seriously ill, and in the aftermath of my suicide attempt, my mother gets/got so angry with me. She was angry because she was scared to lose me, I know. Losing people sucks. I hate it too. But that anger and fear makes it worse too. Now I have guilt over being sick, and fear of telling loved ones when I need help. Now I’m more likely to hurt myself than reach out. (Well, now I’m not, because therapy, but for a while I was. Others still are.)
The solution is not to share status updates about how if you are depressed you should get help. The solution is not to say “you are loved, don’t die.” We know these things. We don’t necessarily feel them, but we know them. That doesn’t stop the pain.
The solution is to be kind. Be a friend. Do what you can. Spend time with the people you love, the people you like, hell, the people you hate, and have fun. Give them good times to remember when they’re deep in the pit. Listen to them.
And accept that sometimes, none of that is enough, and it’s not your fault.* It’s not theirs either.
*not a deliberate reference, just the truth.