Facebook is a great social media tool for personal sharing and life updates. However, when you're depressed or suicidal there is no app to share a sad face that means "Today I want to die" or "I'm so depressed I don't know what to do about it." Even the new app Health & Wellness doesn't include depression. Instead, you are left to create your own health status. I know from firsthand experience depression isn't something you just put up on Facebook as a status update. Depression is a personal torment uniquely designed for maximum effect by you, the sufferer. Part of that torment is the inability, the refusal, the denial to talk openly about depression.
So you are left alone with depression, putting up smiley faces and clicking likes, letting the entire world believe how wonderfully happy or okay you are when in reality you are a broken, hopeless individual not sure if you can make it to the next moment. When I was depressed I was afraid to mention it to Facebook friends. They were out there, somewhere else in the world having fun and feeling loved. I was alone, suffering endlessly with no happy future in sight. I felt ashamed about how broken I was and fearful of ridicule or some awkward question of why I was depressed when my life was so great. Sure, some of my friends suspected I was depressed, but we never once mentioned the word publicly or discussed depression as a topic to like or dislike.
I have had friends commit suicide, and except for the few friends and family who were personally involved in their lives, no one on Facebook realized the depth of their pain. The first friend never joined Facebook. He offered all sorts of excuses, but his main reason was he thought he didn't have real friends on Facebook. It felt fake, artificial to talk about depression to people you couldn't go out and meet in person. To someone who is depressed, the lack of physical presence and the "feel free to post anything without consequences" attitude of social media is not conducive to a supportive environment for nurturing self-love, hope and encouragement. Instead, you are wary of being mocked, humiliated by reposts or stupid, yes stupid, comments.
The other friend never posted about his depression, leaving it to grow and torment him outside the world of Facebook. When he committed suicide, his mother made the announcement to the world. Those of us who didn't know gasped in horror while others offered sympathy. Meanwhile his mother reacted the opposite way. She reacted the way I have advised people to treat the death of someone who has committed suicide: with respect and love for the life they had lived. The mother told everyone her son was finally at peace and that we should remember all the beauty and wonders of his life. That is the legacy of your loved one who commits suicide. The depression was just an illness, a terrible burden he or she could not go past. It never defined your loved one.
As for me, I lived past my attempted suicides mostly because of the personal involvement of my brother and friends. Much later, when my book about depression and attempted suicides was about to be released, I sat staring at my Facebook page. Soon these people would know personal details of my agonizing journey through depression. My hell was going to be open for discussion and criticism. I remember taking a deep breath and with shaky hands writing my first post: "I'm coming out of the closet, so to speak, about my depression." The response was immediate and overwhelming. My friends responded with love and serious questions that showed me they wanted to know more about depression and how they could help me. Then I was surprised at the private messages I got from people who felt relieved that now they too could come out and admit to being depressed. I had broken the stigma of depression that had compelled many to keep quiet. In fact, we started several conversations about depression which led to more and more friends admitting they were depressed.
Depression forms its own secret society. We're afraid of the consequences of our bosses, co-workers, family and friends finding out about our depression on Facebook. What is the worse consequence: people finding out their friend is depressed, or the friend committing suicide? All it takes is one soul among friends to speak out. Then it becomes evident that you are not alone in your suffering.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.