Trigger warning: Discusses suicidal thoughts
When you’ve lived with depression for as long as I have (20 years now), you learn a lot about how people respond to those of us who struggle with mental health disorders.
One thing in particular people don’t seem to understand is that being suicidal doesn’t always look like self-harm or things you can see from the outside. It’s not always that someone is obviously miserable and you can see they’re not doing good.
It also isn’t something that just happens spontaneously either. The decision to die might be made in the moment—as in it wasn’t planned out ahead of time or thought about in advance. But the feelings that bring a person to that point begin long before. Most of it happens internally as a mental battle within.
Depression builds and builds over time. It’s there in the back of your mind day in and day out, and whether anyone can see it or not, whether it’s talked about or noticeable to anyone else–it’s there. Playing with your mind and emotions.
It makes you feel completely hopeless. Like there’s no way out of the dark pit you’re in. Or that everyone would be better off if you weren’t around.
It’s feeling like a failure or like you aren’t good enough and never will be . . . so why even try. And thinking everybody secretly hates you and wants you gone. It’s losing all desire and motivation for anything. It’s thinking about death far too often and wondering if anyone would even miss you if you were gone.
Some of us live with these feelings every day for years and years but never act on them.
Therapy, medication, faith—these things only go so far. Even if you do all the right things—eat healthy, exercise, have love and support from family and friends, believe in God and pray consistently, and everything looks great from the outside—it doesn’t mean that everything is fine on the inside.
Depression can come from past trauma, stress, chemical imbalances, and more. Sometimes even a combination of all of those things. That’s why treating it can be so hard.
You can work through your trauma and find healing, but that trauma becomes a part of you and never fully goes away. Stress management can help, but it can’t take away the situations that are causing your stress. Medications can treat a chemical imbalance, but they can’t fix the problem completely, and often these medications come with a lot of really not fun side effects that can, at times, make the symptoms worse.
So over time, we become pros at hiding behind fake smiles. At saying “I’m fine” and going about our day as though nothing is wrong. At keeping the pain buried underneath because acknowledging it is too hard.
Because saying you’re struggling often results in backlash for not being grateful for what you have or being told things like how others have it worse. You’re called attention-seeking. And while you’re crying out for help, people turn their backs to your suffering. They tell you to suck it up and that you’ll be fine. And then, when someone finally breaks, they wonder why.
People like to claim they would be there for someone if they were struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts. They do the copy-and-paste posts on social media and tell people they matter and they could come to them if they need help. But when it really comes down to it, how many of you actually follow through on that?
Don’t play with people’s lives that way. If you say you are a safe place for anyone struggling, you better mean it. It could be the difference between life and death.
This is one of the biggest reasons that it’s so hard for those struggling to voice it or ask for help. Too often the responses make the situation worse. So we learn to deal alone.
But we shouldn’t have to.
That’s why it’s so important for people to do better at how they respond when someone voices their depression or suicidal thoughts.
To anyone out there struggling right now, please know you aren’t alone. Please ask for help. I know it’s hard. I know not everyone is helpful in their reactions. But there are good people out there who want to help. Who will listen without judgment and be an ally in your fight.
So talk to someone. A family member. A friend. Call or text a hotline. Find a therapist. Whatever you need to do, whatever works for you. Because despite what depression may try to tell you, you do matter. You are loved. You are wanted. You can get through this.
But this battle can’t be fought alone. Trying to fight it alone is how the depression wins. So find your troop, your allies, and let them fight alongside you.
This is something I’m working on too. Because together is how we win.