As published in The Huffington Post
Every thirty seconds someone, somewhere in the world takes their life because of depression. It is a global crisis, yet it’s barely spoken about.
Last year, my friend committed suicide.
She was fragile like a sparrow; it was one of the things I loved most about her as it made her authentic. But her fragility was such that life suffocated her to a point where she could no longer breathe.
I spoke with her and we exchanged some messages in the days before she took her life and while she seemed upset, I didn’t think much of it as I had seen her in that place before. If I had known that not long after she would check herself into a hotel and take her life I would have responded with more urgency.
The horror of my friends passing hit me hard. I had lost people that I had loved before, but nothing could have prepared me for this. I cried for the loss of our friendship, for the pain of her partner and her other long-term friends. I cried for her parents and her extended family. I cried for her beloved cats that she considered her children. I cried for the loss of a beautiful soul and for a world that was unable to save her.
She knew everything there was to know about me, and the thought that all of those deep and meaningful conversations had now ended and that she had literally taken my secrets to her grave shattered me.
I imagined her in the hours/minutes before her death. What was running through her head? Did she think that she was alone? Was she at peace or was she so tortured by this life that she saw no other option?
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 350 million people of all ages are affected with depression worldwide. Depression is twice as common in women than in men, and is the single most common women’s mental health problem. It is fast becoming the disease du jour.
We need to talk about depression.
The vast majority of people who take their lives are clinically depressed and have been so for a long time believing that they do not meet standards set by society. According to psychologist Roy Baumeister, suicidal people see themselves as fundamentally flawed in comparison to everybody else.
“Suicide rates are clearly associated with [perceived] personal failure and painful discovery of one’s inadequacies,” Baumeister writes, “with loss of family through death or divorce, with loss of membership in a community or an occupational group, and with loss of culture.”
Whilst we cannot change someone’s cognitive function we can change our perspective and realise how important it is that all people feel a sense of inclusion and belonging. Not everyone with mental illness will take their lives, but most will feel othered by society and it’s this isolation that exacerbates their depression.
Every thirty seconds someone somewhere in the world takes their life because of depression.
Kevin Breel is, amongst other things, a mental health activist who has suffered depression for most of his life. He says that what people with depression fear the most is not the suffering inside of them but the stigma inside of others. It’s the shame it’s the embarrassment, it’s the disapproving look on your friends face. And that is what keeps them from getting help
We need to remove the stigma associated with depression. If a person breaks their bones we send them flowers, listen to the story of their accident and say over and over again how lucky they were because it could have been worse. But if a person breaks down mentally, that person is judged, and their currency is immediately devalued.
As a society we must take more action to ensure that the lives of those who struggle with depression are supported. We must remove the shame and stigma associated with mental illness. We must look for solutions to prevent suicide like making professional help available to sufferers and supporting research and treatment of depression. But most of all we must fight for social justice because when a persons life is over…its really over.