****WARNING: If you have been or are suicidal or have lost someone to suicide, this post could be potentially triggering.
If you are in crisis or know someone who is, there are people who care. Please get help. At the end of this post is a list of suicide/crisis hotlines and a link to a list of ones worldwide.****
Recently I read an article about a new study that shows depression is not a mood that we “choose;” rather, it says that depression is a form of brain damage. Aside from the touting of positivity and mindfulness to counteract or keep at bay severe or chronic depression (which is bullshit–yes, positivity and mindfulness are great and yes, they do matter, but they are coping skills, not treatments or preventives), the rest of the article is something everyone who thinks depression and suicide are choices should read–New Research Says Depression Isn’t a Choice- It’s a Form of Brain Damage.
With the recent death by suicide of Linkin Park frontman, Chester Bennington, this conversation is even more important.
Bennington openly struggled with depression and a past history of substance abuse. One of his close friends, Chris Cornell, died by suicide recently. Statistically, Bennington was at higher risk of dying by suicide because of these factors.
So are many of us, for many reasons. As everyone’s reasons may be different I’m focusing on its obvious link to depression and mental illness, but chronic pain and illness are also frequent contributing factors.
But too often, this is not a conversation we’re having. And it’s one we should be having, not only when we lose a beloved and admired public figure.
And too often, the first reaction of many is to blame the person who suicides as “taking the easy way out” or “just giving up.” Anger at the person is also common for “making the choice to leave,” particularly by those left behind. The feeling that the person didn’t do enough to reach out is expressed frequently.
While these are normal reactions and I’m not going to tell you not to have them, I would like to say that for those of us at risk, these reactions are not constructive. They do not make us more likely to reach out when we are able, for fear of being judged for having such thoughts at all.
What follows are my thoughts and feelings on the matter, as someone who has lost someone to suicide and as a suicide attempt survivor, as well as the mother of one. Yours may be different.
First, let’s get this out of the way:
Suicide is most often caused/contributed to by depression and/or another mental illness. (Substance abuse can be another possible contributing factor, as can chronic pain and illness, as well other various reasons, but what I’m addressing is its relation to mental health.)
Depression causes physical change in the brain, folks. While depression can be situational, it does have aspects of physical illness such as chemical imbalances in the brain that control how we feel and the way we think.
Suicide is NOT a “selfish choice.” Because it is not a choice.
It’s not “giving up.” It has zero to do with those we love and who love us.
It isn’t even necessarily about wanting to die.
It’s being in such emotional and mental pain that we want it to end…and when a person is in that state, we are NOT thinking rationally or clearly because we CAN’T, not because we don’t want to.
Every time there is media coverage of someone who dies by suicide, the main reactions from many are often disbelief that the person didn’t have at least one person they felt they could reach out to; that they didn’t try hard enough to stay alive if they didn’t reach out; that they didn’t care enough to think about the pain they would cause their loved ones; that they should have ______ (insert solution here)…that there is always another option.
I’m going to say this one more time for those people in the back:
SUICIDE IS NOT A CHOICE.
If you have never struggled with severe depression and felt the utter hopelessness and isolation it brings, if you’ve never believed the terrible things depression makes you think about yourself, if you’ve never felt that opening up about your suicidal thoughts or plans would cause more pain to your loved ones than your absence would…SIT DOWN AND SILENCE YOUR JUDGEMENT, BECAUSE YOU HAVE NO CLUE WHAT A SEVERELY DEPRESSED AND SUICIDAL PERSON IS DEALING WITH.
I realize the previous statement may be upsetting to people who have lost a loved one to suicide, particularly if they ascribe to the notion suicide is a choice. And while I apologize for that, I cannot NOT say it.
The truth is that anyone who hasn’t been that person and who doesn’t personally know what it is like to struggle with depression and suicidality does not know how it can trap your mind.
And you do not know how it is possible to not only believe that the only solution is suicide, but that it will actually be the best and logical option for everyone, and that sometimes we can get through that dark place and sometimes it is literally impossible for us to reach out.
•Not because there aren’t people who care–but because when we’re in that place, WE CAN’T SEE THEM. Or if we do see them, they’re out of reach.
Yes, I’m absolutely serious.
•Not because there aren’t people who care–but because when we’re in that place, we don’t want those we love to witness our pain.
We do realize that seeing someone you love suffer is often more painful than suffering yourself. We want to spare you that.
•Not because there aren’t people who care–but because when we’re in that place, we don’t believe we are worth saving and that us continuing to live will continue to cause you pain and drag you down with us.
And most importantly:
•Not because there aren’t people who care–but because when we’re in that place, we can’t see anything but the overwhelming pain we’re in and the need to end that pain.
It’s not about being selfishly focused on our pain to the point you don’t matter to us. You do. You do so much. But just as a person can be in the grip of such physical pain that it’s all they can focus on, it’s truly possible to be in that much mental/emotional pain.
No, those beliefs and thoughts do not make sense, and if we pull through it we realize this. Yet when we are in that place, they are what we believe and feel and we literally cannot think ourselves out of it.
And unfortunately, coming through that dark place and back to our rational selves does not save us from that darkness reaching out and grabbing us again. And again. And again.
We can learn to recognize certain things that set off a downward spiral and strategies to help us cope with them; in fact, we have plenty of spirals you will never see or know about, simply because we came through them.
Not all spirals will be set off by something recognizable, though.
Not all spirals are the same.
And not all spirals can see us conquering them.
Hundreds of days that could have been that one last day.
And you know what? We’re pretty damn badass for surviving those hundreds of days…those ones you don’t see us “not giving up” through.
But it only takes one day of our illness getting the upper hand to bring us to a day you can’t avoid seeing–the day we can’t fight it enough.
The day you see as us failing…being selfish…giving up.
Unfortunately, all it takes is that one day to make our previously won battles not count to everyone who sees us as not trying hard enough…as giving up.
And if you are a “mentally healthy” person, you will never truly understand or grasp that.
You may come close, you may have had thoughts of giving up yourself, but likely you realized pretty quickly how senseless it would be and what you might miss out on in life, or how much it might hurt others.
And you can be thankful that you don’t totally grasp it, because we wouldn’t wish it on you and it’s something no one should have to feel.
What you don’t realize is that you are basing your opinion of our capability to get through it and think rationally by YOUR MENTALLY HEALTHY YARDSTICK, not by the reality of our illness and its effect on our ability to reason.
You wouldn’t condemn a person who dies from a physical illness or disease they didn’t choose to have…yet you would for the illness that kills us.
We didn’t choose to have it, either.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a 24/7 hotline for callers in the United States:
TTY/TDD services at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline- United States:
US Veterans Crisis Hotline:
(800-273-8255) press 1
The Trevor Project (American hotline aimed principally at LGBT teenagers), United States:
American anonymous youth violence reporting hotline:
Crisis Text Line, United States:
A free, 24/7 SMS Hotline providing emotional support for those in crisis.
13 11 14
Offers 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services by phone.
List of crisis hotlines around the world: