I did it the other day.
I accidentally read the comment section on a news article.
For those of us who strive to provide–and interact in–a safe space all the time, it can be easy to forget just how bad it is out there sometimes. Oh, I got a reminder, though.
But it pissed me off, not only reading it but recalling how many other times I’ve heard others say it, and thinking about how many other people probably believe it without saying it.
It’s the notion that depressed people who commit suicide are narcissists, focused on their own problems to the point that they forget about those around them. It’s repeating, again, the bullshit myth of suicide being “selfish.”
So come with me, my friends. Take a little walk into the brain of me and other people who have seriously contemplated suicide at one time.
Narcissism means one is preoccupied with oneself and one’s greatness. Suicidal people do not believe they are great; to the contrary, they feel either entirely inconsequential or that they exist to the detriment of others.
Do you suppose we aren’t thinking about our loved ones when we’re having these thoughts? That we’re not considering those we’d be leaving behind–that we aren’t aware of our responsibilities? Let me tell you a secret: we are. We are very aware of these things.
And the truth is that we honestly believe those we love will be better off without us.
When you are not depressed, it is not a rational thought, I know. I have known people who attempted–and in some cases completed–suicide. Mothers who left behind small children. Husbands who left behind families. Teenagers who left behind parents. Friends who left behind a circle of people who loved them. When someone you love succumbs to the lies of depression, it is a natural reaction to wonder, “How could s/he do this? How could s/he leave me?”
On the other side of it, however, things look a little differently because depression lies. If you do not have a mood disorder/mental illness, that is the best description I can give you: your own brain starts distorting your thoughts and lying to you, and because the voice speaking in your head is your own, you believe it.
I’m a burden on other people.
They will be better off without me.
I’m a terrible, weak person, and I don’t deserve to be here.
This feeling/numbness will never go away.
These are the thoughts that go through your head. This is one of the reasons why suicidal people often don’t reach out and tell someone what they’re going through. Every time I have been in a horrible, dark place and unable to get out of it, I honestly, truly, 100% believed that my mere broken, useless existence was a burden and everyone in my life would be so much happier without me. Everyone. My mum, my friends, my family. I think not being here anymore would be the best thing for everyone.
When I’m well, am I aware that’s not true? Of course I am. I know people love me and they are happy to have me in their lives. But when I’m in an episode, everything changes.
Depression is the little Iago whispering in your ear, exploiting your weaknesses, distorting your thoughts, and outright lying to you.
To fight against a depressive episode and thoughts of self-harm means to argue with something that feels true. Everything is flipped in your brain: the voice that tells you everyone would be better off without you feels true, and everything countering it, listing the reasons why people care about you, feels like the lie. Right now, right this very second, I want those of you who are not depressed to tell yourself that you’re worthless and a burden on your family and should die. Go ahead. Does it seem silly? Did your brain automatically say, WTF are you talking about?
Being suicidal while depressed is the complete opposite of that. Everything in you rebels at the idea that you deserve to be here.
This is why they call it a mental illness.
Now comes the important part: to those of you who find yourself spouting these insensitive misunderstandings, in particular in a public forum, I am curious about something. Are you truly sad when someone loses their life to depression? Do you truly want to put a stop to suicide?
Stop making suicidal people feel even worse.
Someone else’s suicidal thoughts and depression is not, actually, about you and how uncomfortable it makes you, and idly tossing around thoughts aloud about your opinion on this is actively causing harm because you don’t know who is listening to you. I guarantee someone in your life is, has been, or will be suicidal at some point, and they already live in a culture that tells them they should be ashamed of what they’re going through. When a person in pain is wondering if they should seek help, the last thing they’re going to do is open themselves up to someone who will cause them more pain.
If the voice in their head is already telling them they’re a burden, you will only reinforce that by telling them they’re a terrible person for even thinking it. If you want to save lives–if you want people to get help–you have to create a safe space for them to do it. If you want the people you love to come to you or seek professional help if they’re having thoughts of self-harm, you have to change the way you think about them and their disorder. If you parrot the myths of suicide being selfish, narcissistic, evil, or a moral failing of any kind, you are contributing to an environment that kills people. Stop it.
Shame and stigma do not save lives; they take them.
I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt: you don’t realize how you’re hurting people when you say these things. But this is why I’m talking openly and why I encourage others to do so as well: speaking from the point of view of someone who has been–and continues to be–at risk, I am hoping you’ll listen and alter how you see this issue, because I don’t want to see more lives lost. And if you want to help–which, I mean, y’know, you SHOULD, considering you’re such a wonderful thoughtful human being who cares about the lives of others, right?–start here with what to keep in mind, and here in case someone comes to you with suicidal thoughts.
If you come across this blog post as someone who suffers from depression, mood disorders, other mental illnesses, and thoughts of self harm: you are not alone, you are worth saving, and you are not a bad person for feeling this way. Read this before you take any actions if you’re in a dark place.