With the recent tragic suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, there have been a lot of things written online suggesting resources for people who are struggling with depression. Lots of phone numbers of places to go for help, lots of people saying “Hey, if you’re in a dark place, contact me.”
And this is all great information. But you need to also look at the words coming from the people who have been in those dark places. When someone is so depressed that they are considering suicide, they don’t think they have value. They don’t think they will be missed. They think that others will be better off without them. We all know that is so very wrong, but their disease is lying to them. And so they aren’t going to reach out for help.
Instead, we have to make a point to reach in.
I’m lucky in that I have struggled with anxiety and probably some mild depression over the years, but I have never been suicidal. But I have friends who have been and friends who have been in some pretty dark places. And you know what? I didn’t reach in. I don’t know what I was thinking. Maybe I thought they needed time alone, maybe I was too wrapped up in my own life to notice that someone needed help. Wherever I was, I wasn’t there for them.
Now, I’m not trying to say that anyone is at fault for suicide. Suicide is entirely the fault of depression. It’s a vicious disease. We would never judge someone for dying from cancer. We would never judge someone for getting medical help for cancer. Depression should be treated no differently. The problem is that one of the effects of depression can be the intense need to hide away, preventing the afflicted from getting help.
So if you have a friend who is struggling, or who you haven’t heard from in a while, or who you’re just a little worried about, check in on them. And depending on the situation, maybe don’t take no for an answer.
There is a wonderful Twitter thread circulating about a woman struggling with severe depression following the death of her father. She moved to a new apartment and had been unable to muster the energy to unpack (another effect of depression) so her friends simply showed up and setup her home for her. They didn’t ask, they just went into action. Sure, this was a risk. The woman could have gotten angry. But it was a worthwhile risk. It showed her that she was important, that she was loved, and it created a safe, comfortable space for her to live in as she fought with her depression.
I’m not saying that you should just invade a friend’s space, but if there is someone you’re worried about and inviting them out isn’t working, try showing up with food and a movie. Worst case, they close the door in your face. Not the end of the world. Maybe they aren’t up for seeing you, but at least you brought them something to eat. But maybe they will let you in and sit down with you for a meal. Even if you just watch the movie and don’t talk, you’re showing that friend that you’re there. If you’re far away, just keep trying to get in contact. Send texts, send emails, send a care package. Do whatever you can. Because while depression is a disease and is often best treated by medication and therapy, friendship and caring can also make a difference.