This is a four-part series written by senior and contributing author William Brien. The following article discusses depression and suicide.
Part One Part Two
“I never thought I’d be somebody dealing with anxiety or depression”
— Ileana D’Cruz
MYTH 4: Depression is a single condition that has definite “signs” it can be distinguished by.
While there are certain detectable behaviors that could be indicative of some form of depression, such as social isolation, irritability, or fatigue, these traits are not exclusively symptoms of depression and depression is not exclusively these symptoms. It isn’t an easily detectable illness, and there are few constants (if any) in how it affects different people. I’ll talk about my own experience as an example. When I’m depressed, I rarely show any physical signs of it. I don’t yell at people (in fact, if I do yell I’m probably feeling better than usual), I don’t cry, and I don’t over or under-eat. More often, I’ll find myself making half-ironic jokes about existential dread and loneliness or hiding away in classrooms or bathroom stalls. I never laugh when I’m depressed, though you should avoid judging my attitude on this point as I may simply not find you funny. I engage in a lot of reflection, and I “zone out” very easily. But that is just my experience with depression, and it does not reflect every other victim’s. Some people actually become more social when they’re depressed (though I wouldn’t know about this). Some have fits of panic, while others act more calmly. Some find themselves drained, while others feel completely restless. But the most dangerous sign of all is that which is most prevalent: none at all. Depression may not change the way some people act in public at all. They might suffer in total silence, and you wouldn’t even know. They might not even know why they’re suffering, and they might be suffering in ways that nobody understands, not even themselves. From the dutiful teacher to the bubbly friend, depression can hide behind any smile, no matter how large.
MYTH 5: Depression shouldn’t be felt by those who have good lives with all of their needs met.
I’ve already mentioned the complex causes of depression in response to Myth 3, but I felt it necessary to address this myth on its own. Often when people who don’t understand the illness talk to those of us who suffer from it, they are perplexed as to why we experience it. You have a nice house, they might say. You have food. You have all of your arms and legs, and you don’t have any illnesses. You have a loving family and a wonderful romantic partner. What reason do you have to be depressed? This puzzlement causes frustrates friends and parents, and it makes victims feel ashamed of feeling unfulfilled despite their great fortune. But depression does not for rationality, and it does not discriminate on the basis of class, sex, race, or any other social or economic condition (though there is some evidence that some groups have higher rates of depression than others). It has a host of causes which may be influenced by social status, but could equally have nothing to do with it. There is no “right” to be depressed, nor is there a “choice” to experience it when there is no understandable reason to. Wealthier people are not exempt from catching pneumonia or leukemia. Nor are they excluded from this sickness.
MYTH 6: Suicide is an act of selfishness and the greatest possible moral offense.
Self-harm is not exclusively a result of depression, but the disease can unfortunately lead to it. Suicide has recently become an epidemic in the United States, with overall rates increasing by 24% from 2000 to 2012 and rates among people ages 15-24 growing by 49% from 2007 to 2017. But rather than seeking help from friends, family, or professionals, many who contemplate it hide away in shame, afraid that people will judge them for having suicidal thoughts. A lot of inflammatory rhetoric is tossed around about suicide, with many characterizing it as a mortal offense and many others calling those who give into it “cowardly” for succumbing to their temptations. Because of these perceptions, acknowledging it is shunned by some and causes panic in others. Depression, if you are brave enough, is something you can mention to a friend or a therapist. Suicidal thoughts require all the more courage to admit to. When you’re in a state where you’re want to end your life, it feels as though you have lost control over yourself. Right and wrong fade into the background. You are not a coward for having those feelings. But you are courageous if you push through that existential pain, and you are a heroic example for every other victim in the world if you seek help. You should feel no shame for thoughts you didn’t ask for and pain you can’t prevent. Rather, take pride in honestly admitting their presence within you and continuing to work towards a better life.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HELLO to 741741.