On Sunday, June 3rd, while most of us were sleeping, a young man was denied admission to an examination. Dejected, he returned home and killed himself. The first and most common reaction was to offer condolences, of course, heartfelt ones. The second was blaming the victim, with good intentions like, “Life is so precious”, “It was such a small issue”, “Look and so and so he went through this and that but he didn’t give up,” and my favourite “He should have thought about his family,” etc. etc.
There are lots of kids like him. Newspapers often carry news of people killing themselves over movie tickets, or social media interactions. I don’t believe that people take such an extreme step due to a single event. I think they would have been ailing for a long time. Unlike a physical disorder, they would have kept it to themselves until the only option they felt they had was to stop living altogether. Perhaps for them, dying all at once is better than dying a little every day. There are six reasons why people attempt suicide, majorly. Read this article on it.
When Robin Williams took his own life, it sent shockwaves throughout Hollywood. He was a comedian. His job was making people laugh. That doesn’t surprise me. Depression is surprisingly common among comedians, says this study. Later it turned out that Williams was going through many things – Parkinsons, depression and dementia. His autopsy revealed how ill his mind was. Not everyone has that postpartum redemption. Even if there is autopsy sometimes the reason isn’t so clear.
I am not a psychiatrist, neither have I had the urge to off myself. I didn’t know this kid till that day. Nor did I know Robin Williams.
We are shocked because we don’t see it. Especially when we know the person first hand. Suicide is shocking in general. A basic biological instinct of any living creature is survival. Plants grow in concrete, bacteria become resistant to antibiotics and humans have gone above and beyond to ensure their survival. Suicide goes against this instinct. It overpowers biology. It’s not something that can be prevented by the ‘life is a gift’ tirade.
The stigma of mental illness is the biggest reason why so many people are without diagnosis and treatment. Compare it with physical illness. Would anyone wait to address a lump? Would anyone ignore a fracture? Then why do depressed people suppress their condition? Why do they do not talk about it? If they do they might hear callous and well-intentioned but idiotic comments. They might also be afraid of being perceived as weak.
I don’t entirely blame people for being insensitive to those going through depression or anxiety. They may not have experienced it themselves. Let’s understand this though, we don’t need to experience a disease to empathize with those that do. If it doesn’t happen with chicken pox it shouldn’t happen with mental disorders.
For a long time now (read since forever), mental illness hasn’t been taken seriously. It is ridiculous how casually we throw around remarks like “Oh it’s just a phase”, “Why don’t you go for a walk in the park?” and then there are those that shame those that do ask for help or seek medical attention. “Don’t have these anti-depressants and all, you will be even more depressed”. Let’s wait till they have a kidney stone and say the same, “All this kidney stone and all is only in your mind ha! Don’t go around taking pills for it.”
Depression is not prolonged sadness. It’s a disease involving genetic and biochemical factors. They aren’t understood completely, making it difficult to treat. It doesn’t show up one way or another. One of its symptoms can be prolonged sadness. Other times the symptoms might not show at all. Until its too late and you are left wondering how and why it happened. The depressed person might also seem happy at times.
Sometimes there is no way to know a person is depressed. Even if we do know how do we help them? By believing them, by listening to them. If we don’t know what to say then by not saying anything idiotic that would do them more damage. Most importantly by encouraging them to go to a medical professional.
Understand that depression is not madness. It is not shameful to have a mental illness. It is not wise to compare others who are going through difficult times with a person going through depression and most importantly, it is not at all okay to just tell them, “Cheer up!”
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