Community Magazine

"He Looked So Happy" and Other Depression Myths

By Nina
I've heard lots of stories lately about suicide "out of the blue." They all go something like this:
George committed suicide last week. I just can't believe it. He just posted pictures from their family 4th of July and they all looked so happy. 

These stories made me realize that perhaps I need to take a step back in my blog to explain that depression, suicide, self-injury, anxiety, and related issues hide. You cannot (always) see them. Depression can hide in the most smiley, outgoing person you know. Suicidal thoughts can hide in the person always talking others into continuing life.

The next question I imagine you asking, were we to have this conversation in person, is: "So, if these issues hide, how can I possibly help?" I can't give you one definitive answer. I can, however, provide you with some tips and ideas. Please feel free to add to these in the comments below!
  1. Show kindness, grace, and mercy to everyone you meet. (Yes, everyone. Yes, even the kid who stole your lunch money. Kindness, grace, and mercy do not require making yourself a doormat, though. You can and should draw boundaries in a kind manner.)
  2. Ask for genuine answers to the "How are you?" question. And give genuine answers. I read somewhere about "the gift of going second," in which admitting your struggles can encourage someone else to admit theirs. 
  3. Become an observer. Although mental health issues hide, there are typically changes when a person is nearing their breaking point - but these are often small changes only noticeable if you are intimately aware of how the person normally acts. In the days before I attempted suicide, nobody mentioned a change in my behavior, but I know that I much more willingly made future social plans (because I didn't intend to be around to keep them), stopped doing homework, and began ending interactions with "goodbye" instead of my more typical "talk to ya later" or "goodnight." 
  4. Stop speaking judgmentally about suicide, self-injury, depression, and other mental health issues. This is huge. There are numerous friends I still will not reach out to because I've heard them say things like, "People who self-injure are just attention seekers," "Depressed people just need to go do things and they'd be fine," or even the seemingly harmless, "You don't even want to know what I think about suicide." Watch your words - they're having an impact you can't even fathom. Imagine if my suicide attempt had been successful and my friends who spoke that way would have had to read in a note that I didn't reach out to them because of it. 
  5. Tell your story. Over 25% (more than 1 in 4) American adults have some kind of diagnosable mental illness. If you have a story, tell it. It doesn't have to have a resolution. It just has to be true. All some of us who live with mental illness need is to know that we're not alone. (Not that a positive story now and then wouldn't be helpful!)
  6. Know the facts. We tend to focus on teens when discussing these issues (and rightfully so, it's a tumultuous time), but actually, suicide rates are highest in ages 65 and up. Women are more likely to attempt suicide, but men are more likely to succeed. Rates of success go up with each attempt, so someone who has attempted before should actually be watched even more closely. The list goes on and on. (The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has excellent information.)

I hope this has been helpful for those of you concerned that you're unable to spot these issues in your loved ones. Again, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below or email me at [email protected] I'm always happy to chat!
-Nina

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