THE BLOG
12/13/2013 11:46 am ET Updated Feb 11, 2014

The Worst Possible Way to Help People With Depression (Or, 'Let's Talk About Depression, Part 4')

There's a new campaign floating around Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to "help" those with suicidal thoughts and depression: 

image

The text, which is really hard to read (all mistakes are (sic)): 

The Lines

#thelinesproject

On December 15-20, we will draw 6 lines with Sharpie. If you self harm, are depressed, feeling down, then you will do this on your left wrist. If you are supporting this cause than do this on your right wrist the lines stand for millions of lives lost because of suicide. repost this with #thelinesproject to spread to the world

This is ridiculous.

As bluntly as I can put it:

Painting colored lines on your arm to support the depressed and suicidal is like trying to help abused children by painting fake bruises all over your face and telling them "Hey kid, see these? It means I totally get what it's like to be you."  And since they're RAINBOW bruises, you can help them in a fun and festive way!

Only tomorrow, when the fun rainbow bruise cause day is over, you get to go back to your life where you don't get beat for existing, and they get to swap over from rainbow bruises back to real bruises.

Look, depression and suicide are serious. I'm not talking "serious" as an abstract concept. This shit is serious. It's not a cause. It's not a ribbon or a colored band of marker lines on your arm. I mean, I understand the sentiment. I get that whomever thought of this is well-intentioned. Myopic, naive and probably very shallow. But well-intentioned, nonetheless. 

To attempt to shine a light on depression and suicide is laudable. But there are better ways.

The first is through education, both on what depression comprises and how to handle someone who has it. It's through genuine concern for their safety -- not pity, not sympathy, but honest concern. It's through paying attention to the signs, of which there are some universal and some highly individual (which means you're going to have to pay attention to the person and understand them). And it's through encouraging people who are suffering to speak up and ask for help.

By coating your arm in rainbow stripes, you've made a mockery of the fourth thing, by proving you've not done any of the first three. Just like telling an abused child that you "get it" and smiling with those dumb rainbow bruises all over your face. 

Your colorful public "getting it" doesn't stop the belt or the fist or the yelling for that kid, and it doesn't stop the worthlessness, despair and pain of depression. It doesn't stop the blade from cutting, the pills from working or the gun from going off. 

What does?

First and foremost, concern. Not public, but very private. Creating an environment where someone who feels no one is listening and no one cares can feel safe enough to admit they need help is paramount. And that cannot happen in public. It has to be in private. 

When you are depressed, the last thing in the world you want to do is admit it. And when you do, more often than not, you're greeted with platitudes.

  • "Chin up! It'll get better!"
  • "Hey man, at least you're not..." (insert anything you want here, because they stopped listening the second you said "at least")
  • "Want a soda?"
  • "Tomorrow's another day. It'll all work out."

All you want to hear is "I understand. What can I do to help?" And the answer to that question: LISTEN.

The mere act of expressing concern is a huge, huge step. It doesn't fix anything. But at the very least, it stops the hammering, overwhelming feeling that no one cares. 

Now, you cannot fix anyone. You can't. It's not possible. So, you can't fix your friend or loved one with depression. But you CAN point them toward healthy ways to fix themselves. You can advise counseling. You can let them know you're there for them, even if you can't do anything about the situations in life that have them down, you can be an ear when they need one. You can bring them out places, especially outdoors or exercise-related. 

One step further, if they are going to harm themselves, you can spot the warning signs. You can limit the triggers. You can tell your friend circle to be on watch. You can stop them from doing something horribly drastic -- by force, if necessary. You can refuse to leave one night when you feel they're at risk. 

And if you need or want to do something publicly, you can spread the word on actual methods and steps to help those with depression. Start with this blog. 

Joe Peacock is an author, journalist, CrossFit enthusiast and world-class balloon animal maker. His latest book, Everyone Deserves To Know What I Think, is super excellent, go buy it for your loved ones for Christmas.