Clarksville, TN – I am not a doctor, nor am I a professional counselor. I am not an expert on depression. My credentials? I love someone that suffers from depression.
This is National Suicide Prevention Week and, “over 90% of people who die by suicide have clinical depression or another diagnosable mental disorder.”*
Anytime there is a designated time for awareness about a disease, cause or issue, we might ask ourselves, “What can I do about it?”Well I have been wondering this same thing, but not because it’s on a national calendar, but I love this depressed person so much that I would do anything to help him heal.
There are many aspects about depression that could be addressed. I want to talk about just two words: stigma and love.
Depression carries a huge stigma. Most of us aren’t equipped to handle depression in others, so we shy away. We feel as if depressed people are damaged or just plain crazy.
I have come to learn that neither are true. Depressed people are doing their very, very best to cope with their sadness that hangs around way too often, even when things are going “fine” according to society. And crazy? Depressed people need empathy and kindness, not painful labels that make them feel worse and utterly unworthy.
Love changes everything. But many depressed people are already loved. Loved people are often still depressed. Our human need for love stretches beyond the walls of our homes, into our schools and our work. Love is more than saying, “I like you very much.” Love is saying, “I accept you. I accept your brokenness. I accept your weakness. I respect your strength that is sometimes just a shadow. I am not going anywhere just because you struggle. You bless me, even in your sorrow.”
Depressed people come in every shape, size and color: the quiet girl in the back of the room, the outgoing guy who is always dressed nice, the captain of the basketball team, the kid who is always making everyone laugh, the guy with the car you covet, the buff lady from the gym. If you don’t believe me, check out this short video from a young man who seemed to have it all together, yet suffered from depression.
So as the self-proclaimed advocate of a depressed (and completely wonderful) person, I have 3 requests:
- Cut people some slack. Life is hard and you know it. Go easy on your fellow man. No matter what you think you know about them, no one knows their personal struggles. Love everyone indiscriminately. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Reach out with a smile, a kind word, or take them time to get to know them just a little better.
- Understand that depression is normal. It’s not desirable anymore than chronic back pain or diabetes, but it’s real and an estimated 1/10 people will experience depression in their life. Unfortunately, 80% of those with symptoms of depression will receive no treatment at all.* We need to model kindness to others who are depressed (and every other person we meet), so our children will learn the value of love and empathy. And if we learn that someone we know is depressed, we don’t need to shy away. We need to show them love, and not make them feel stigmatized.
- Learn about the signs of depression. It’s different for kids than adults. Sometimes the signs aren’t there, or they are buried under a ton of pretense. Talk to people you care about, especially children, and let them know that all of their feelings are normal. Let them know that their feelings are always safe with you and that you will not leave them stranded with these feelings alone. The safer they feel to talk about their depression, the less hopeless they will feel.
It has to be okay to talk about feeling depressed. It has to be okay not to have a smile plastered across our face when we were barely able to get out of bed in the morning. It has to be okay to not have it all together all the time. It has to be okay to be sad, even when things are going fine. Only then can we really talk about it, and only then can we get (or give) the help we need.
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1.800.273.TALK
Resources for health care professionals, teacher, parents and teens on suicide prevention:
Note: Special thanks to Noelle Fenske , Suicide Prevention Specialist at Eastern Kentucky University for sharing valuable resources and insights, and to Sandra Cummings for sharing her recent story of loss with me in preparation for this article.