On Depression, Suicide and Social Stigma

I won’t apologise for the vastly different blog post.

After hearing the news of TV personality Charlotte Dawson‘s death, I feel the need to talk about it. Celebrities like Charlotte, who was upfront about her issues with mental health and ongoing battle with depression, are such an inspiration to me.

Given that I suffer with major depressive disorder, and despite the fact that I’m an open person; I still struggle to speak out about my battle. I’ve been approached several times to do guest posts on mental illness and have shied away from the vulnerability that comes with it.

I’ve wrote about some of what I’ve been through here and here. However, for the most part, I’ve kept quiet about my ongoing battle. It’s easier than admitting that yes, I’m struggling still. I found talking about it easier when I was in the postpartum period. It’s harder to admit that I have ongoing, crippling depression that isn’t attributed to the perinatal time frame. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know. I also suffer, less severely with generalised anxiety disorder – which, for the most part, is treated with medication.

Anyway, I’m glad people are talking about mental illness following Charlotte Dawson’s passing, even if – in some instances – it highlights the deep misunderstanding surrounding depression and suicide.

Having been in that dark, indescribably agonising place that your mind goes to when you are genuinely suicidal, I often get a knot in my chest when reading about people committing suicide. I say ‘genuinely suicidal’ not to detract from the seriousness of attempted suicide or any level of suicial ideation, but because I’ve been at different levels on that spectrum.. and it is totally different to when you want to harm yourself so that others can possibly see the inner turmoil. I’ve been there too, and it’s awful as well.

However, reading about the general understanding and opinions surrounding suicide leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I can only imagine that most of these people have never been suicidal or suffered from a mental illness.

Let me tell you this: Those who get to that point, where they try to kill themselves, rarely do so out of hopelessness alone – or any other abstract notion that their life is not worth living.

Often, the terrifyingly painful, invisible agony reaches an unendurable level. Those suffering with severe mental illnesses kill themselves in a similar way to how a person, trapped in a burning building, will eventually jump from the window.

Often, they know that they are loved, and it’s so far from the selfish act that society seems to think it is.

Few speak of the trauma surrounding suicidal thoughts. I know that for myself, the aftermath of these episodes was almost as hard as the episodes themselves. I lived in fear of the power of my own mind. Knowing that my illness could convince me that I was worthless, and that my not existing was not only favourable but desirable – was terrifying. I was truly my own worst enemy.

The strikingly opposite viewpoint of selfishness is another thing that I could have never expected.. That I could truly believe, in the moment, that if I really loved my family, I wouldn’t be here anymore. By that train of thought, I was selfish for holding onto my will to live.

Considering how few people talk about it, it’s also embarrassing and painstakingly vulnerable. It’s easier to hide join the masses and not speak about it.

Suicidal people often do not want to die – but, don’t want to continue living the nightmare that is their mind. Just like people who leap from burning windows, the fear of the fall and of death are still there, but in that moment, the flames (those inner demons) are slightly more terrifying and agonising.

There’s much more to it, in my own instance and in others’ too, I’m sure..

Rest peacefully, Charlotte.

depression suicide

For support and information about suicide prevention, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

If you haven’t already watched this brilliant TED talk on depression by Andrew Solomon, you must. Love his quote “the opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality”.