I don’t even know where to start.
I’ve been writing this post in my head since Tuesday, but waking up today, seeing what my Twitter was full of, made me sit down and write it.
When famous people die by suicide, I feel a lot of things, mostly because of what I observe all around me. When someone famous dies by suicide, social media is flooded with people saying “oh no” and posting suicide hotline numbers and caring a lot, for a few hours, maybe a few days, about mental health. I am not at all suggesting that those sentiments are fake or misplaced or whatever. A lot of these sentiments are coming from those of us who live with mental illness, who totally get how this could happen, who think, damn, it got another of us.
When someone famous dies by suicide, I spend a lot of time cringing. I see articles saying Spade or Bourdain “committed suicide.” We don’t say that anymore, people. It’s not a crime or a sin (don’t correct me). These people died by suicide. They died from depression (or whatever). I see and hear people saying they can’t believe it. Like they know. Like any of us ever know what is going on with someone. My mental health battles (and they are battles) are out there and upfront. You all know I live with major depression and generalized anxiety. It’s no different than knowing someone with cancer or diabetes or MS or whatever. I have these diseases, diseases that are very real, diseases that could certainly become terminal, but that I treat and live with thanks to lots of medical intervention. But not everyone wants that out there. Why? Because the stigma and shame is still so great. It’s everywhere.
After Spade died, I overheard a few people at work talking. They were saying how selfish suicide is. How someone has to “deal with finding them” etc. I was so mad. So mad that I didn’t call them out. So mad that I didn’t calmly say, “Hey, that’s all really insensitive. No one says it’s selfish of people to die when other diseases become terminal. No one says of cancer patients, didn’t they think about someone having to find their body?” I knew if I opened my mouth I’d snap. I would probably cry.
How dare they.
You can mourn celebrity deaths. You can feel terrible that they died by suicide. You can be shocked. You can tell people to get help. But I hope you also understand that mental illness is RAMPANT. That the DSM-5 includes more than 250 diagnoses for mental illnesses. That 1 in 5 people lives with a mental illness. That suicide is the second leading cause of death for adolescents. That teens with a mental health condition constitute the highest dropout rate of any disability group. That more than 70% of youth in our juvenile “justice” systems have a mental illness. That there are a ton of barriers to treatment for many people. That LGBTQIA+ kids are many times more likely to attempt suicide than straight kids. That trans kids are especially vulnerable. I could go on. And I have. Over and over.
Talking about all of this, treating it as just another illness, another thing that kills us, is good. It’s normalizing. The more we talk, the more we compassionately talk, the more we can bring this out of the shadows.
Also, this is all A LOT. If you’re on social media, it’s flooded today, and was on Tuesday, with thoughts about mental health, with articles about these deaths, about suicide. It can certainly be overwhelming and triggering for a lot of people. You might need to step back. You might need to walk away instead of have a rage blackout in the general direction of your coworkers. I’m posting this, without rereading it, without second guessing it, without making it less ranty, then walking away from social media today. And that’s okay.
There is so much support and help out there, if you can access it. If you can bring yourself to take the first steps. Neither of those tasks are easy. Not by a long shot. Help is expensive and complicated and not quick and involves a lot of trial and error. It is extremely difficult to let the voice in your brain that says to get help be louder than the voice in your brain that says it’s not worth it. None of us really know what anyone else is going through. Even if we put it all out there. Take care of each other. Educate yourself. Know warning signs. Reach out. Watch how you talk. Be compassionate. Look out extra hard for teens, for queer kids, for people in your life. Help is not easy. Hope is hard to find. Depression is a monster. All those other 250+ mental health diagnoses? Monsters. All of them.
I didn’t know where to start and I don’t know where to end. Here, have some brilliance from Bunmi Laditan.