Another one of those weeks where I wrote about something, and then just as I was about to hit “publish” felt I needed to talk about something else…
The news of Kate Spade’s death from suicide this week has everyone talking about suicide. This is a good thing. Although everyone on social media has an opinion and many of those opinions add to the stigma surrounding mental illness.
If you haven’t been there, you don’t really know.
I often hear people describe suicide as a selfish act. It’s not. That’s victim blaming. It’s not selfishness in the least. It’s mental illness. It’s the effect of chemical imbalances and trauma and the inability to cope with stress. It’s when stress and anxiety become unbearable. In my late husband’s mind, taking his own life was putting his family out of the misery he felt his disease was causing.
As I’ve made peace with his suicide, I realize it was actually one of the most courageous things he ever did in his life. For him, it was the only way to make things right for himself and us. He was in a very dark place. In his mind that was literal. On a particularly sunny day, he told me he could not feel the sun. Unless we have experienced real depression, we simply can’t understand what that place is like. Staying positive, smiling, thinking happy thoughts aren’t prescriptions that work for someone with real depression. Thinking that they are adds to the stigma. More victim blaming.
I participated in my town’s Relay for Life benefitting the American Cancer Society last week. I was celebrated as a survivor. I was called a “Hero of Hope.” I’m a little uncomfortable with the “hero” title, but I am glad my cancer experience can be inspiring to others in the fight to eradicate cancer. “Victims” of cancer are celebrated, not blamed for their disease or the pain their disease (or death) may inflict on family members. Experiencing any life-threatening illness simply sucks – for the person diagnosed and their family and friends as well. We need to evolve to include mental illness among the life-threatening illnesses we find acceptable to talk about – and yes, to celebrate the survival of it’s victims.
Had my late husband not felt that mental illness made him weak or “less of a man” he may have been able to use his courage to get professional help. We need to end the stigma and let people know it’s okay not to be okay. So yes, please talk about suicide. Be curious. Ask questions. Do your research. Understand that no one is to blame. Only then can we begin to find healing.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.