Battling Suicide: The Best, Most Impactful Thing To Do
With the recent deaths of chef Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade, we hope there will be a public discourse about depression and the mental health issues that pull someone down into a place where suicide becomes a viable option for them. Having lost a friend to suicide earlier this year, the feeling of helplessness and self-doubt lingers as you question what to do or what could have been done. Friends and loved ones are devastated. The anger and sadness mix as they ripple through your life for days, weeks, months ... maybe forever.
The idea that this is a selfish act, that to commit suicide is cowardly, misses the mark. For those suffering from depression, the normal rules of right and wrong may not apply. This becomes about managing the pain that has been building in their lives for some time. The thought is not on loved ones or those left behind, it is about managing that pain that they can no longer escape.
Depression is the disease that actively wants to hide itself. It wants to lurk in the shadows. It looks to stay out of the public and take a stranglehold on the person in private. It whispers in your ear that you are unworthy, unloved ... as if depression is then your only recourse and place to turn. It is conniving and smart and will wait its turn. It can wait for years. Laying dormant until the time is right to surface again.
We all know someone who is just not right, who seems sad all the time, who has the forced smile, or just feels lost. We also tend to be passive and to avoid confrontation. The simple "Hey, you OK?" gets answered with "Yup, fine" and we take it as the end of the conversation. But the single best thing you can do for someone who suffers from depression, who may appear to be suffering, or you suspect might be suffering is to be a friend.
Being a friend might sound like a lame answer to many. Isn't there a pill or shouldn't I recommend professional help or call a hotline? All of those avenues may be helpful at some time, but for depression - which will fight to keep that person separated from loved ones and to keep them isolated - suggesting treatments may yield insufficient results.
Being a friend - inserting yourself in their lives - can be an effective course to pulling people out of their own personal hell, their own darkness. Being a friend and taking an active role in their lives and helping them toward the larger goal of treatment is an easy and effective way to combat the illness. It doesn't require any special skills or training. You don't have to get a certification for it. But as you boldly involve yourself in that friend or family member or loved one's life, a simple search on terms like "fight depression" or "mental health issues" will yield an advanced degree of insight right in your browser.
Taking that active role in someone's life has the small risk of you being called a nuisance, a pest. But the pain of suddenly getting that phone call or email ... well, I'll gladly be called a pest for possibility to help.
Todd Wilms is a marketing professional living the Bay Area.