Seven years ago my brother committed suicide. Most of the people in my life don't even know that. It's not a personal decision to withhold the information -- it's not really a great conversation starter, it just happened. It is what it is. I'm certainly not ashamed of it; society has just created an unspeakable silence around the entire scenario.
When I was 12 years old, I lived in a bubble of ignorance. I didn't even know what mental illness was or how it could impact and debilitate the lives of those I loved so quickly. When a policeman came to our door late one Monday night to tell my parents about my brother, my sister and I were just told he had passed away. It wasn't until a few days later that my parents had to explain that "sometimes people have so much sadness inside that it takes over their bodies and though they tried their hardest to fight they just couldn't win." From that moment on my life was never the same. The media portrays depression as sadness. It doesn't portray the screaming and self-harm and trips to the hospital at 3 a.m. It doesn't portray the entire truth. It's hard to watch the people you love the most sit at the bottom of a very large dark hole and remain helpless and on the edge looking down with no safety rope to pull them out.
Though my brother's death was a tragedy, it opened my eyes to a world I barely even knew existed. It allowed me to realize that below their outer shells every single person is fighting a battle that you know nothing about. Some of the most incredibly kind-hearted and determined people in my life suffer from mental illness. Depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar, eating disorders -- if you look around right now I bet half of the people surrounding you are fighting one of these silent battles. They are soldiers, and like anyone fighting a disease they deserve compassion and recognition. People with mental illness are sick and engaged in a battle every day with life.
Depression is a bastard. It crawls inside of you and debilitates every dream and aspiration you've ever had. It incapacitates your basic function and controls every aspect of who you are. You can't hide from it when you want to, and you can't explain it to anyone else. It's not even just sadness, it's physical pain and passiveness. The world around you keeps moving and you are there, remaining still and lethargic. That's the thing about depression -- it's silent, and it doesn't care if you are black or white, male or female, rich or poor. You can be standing on a train next to someone reading a book and that person could be screaming inside, clinging on to their last hope of life.
Something needs to change. Something has to change. It's hard to live in a society that has sadness for cancer and shame for suicide. With Robin Williams' passing the world has had a bit of a much needed wake-up call about the reality of mental illness (though there have been countless public figures who have struggled before him). The problem with such tragedies, though, is that people get fired up about the cause and after a few days the story fades. After countless posts on all outlets of social media most of society goes back to living in their comfortable bubble of ignorance about the reality of these debilitating mental diseases. For decades now people have been raising their voices in the hopes that someone somewhere might spark an international wildfire to create awareness for the mentally ill but those voices seem to always be hushed too quickly. Celebrity deaths and struggles are tragic but they come and go after a few years. At the fault of no one specifically, mental illness always seems to fall through the cracks, and that's what happens to those suffering too -- they fall right through. Mental health treatment is expensive and compared to everything else, pretty rare. How are those who are suffering supposed to come forward and ask for help when the stigma is almost as large of a hurdle to jump as the disease itself? Suicide takes the lives of more than 30,000 Americans every year, about 100 each day. Eighty percent of people that seek treatment for depression are treated successfully. If it was socially acceptable to speak about mental illness, perhaps those who were once afraid could come forward and take the first step to save their own life. Mental health and the topic of mental illness as a whole needs to become more approachable.
It is estimated that there are at least 4.5 million survivors in this country. So for all of those who have lost someone dear to their hearts from a mental illness, I stand with you. Not in silence, but at your side to speak so you should never feel alone. For those who are fighting, stay at battle and call for backup if you need it. I know you are frightened and tired and it doesn't feel worth it but live for a happy moment. For the smile of a friend, for the sun on your back and the breeze in your hair. Live for a new book or the next season of your favorite show or your favorites artist's new album. Live to see the leaves change again and experience the joy of company. Allow yourself to be loved and taken care of. Allow yourself to find the courage to ask for the help you are worthy of. Allow yourself to stop and breathe and do whatever is required of yourself to keep going.
We can stand together and speak. We are stronger together. We can make a difference and work to end the stigma together. There is light; it just shines brighter as a blazing fire than as a single match.
Have a story about depression that you'd like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or give us a call at (860) 348-3376, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.