(Content Notice: Suicide. If you’re contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or dial 911. These services provide free, confidential support 24 hours/day and can assist you with finding the resources you need to get help. Also, reach out to a friend or family member for support—you don’t have to struggle alone or in silence.)
“But you look so happy in all of these pictures,” my mom said, puzzled after I’d just come home from a month long trip. While I was abroad, my anxiety spiraled out of control. I didn’t want to burden my parents, but when I had a panic attack that almost landed me in the hospital the last leg of my trip, I knew it was time to involve them.
Although I’d been in therapy for 13 years with an anxiety disorder spanning back from the age of nine, there were only two distinct times where it manifested into mild depression—this was one of those times. As we skimmed through myriads of pictures, I explained to my mother that behind my robotic smile was a feeling of numbness. In lieu of suffering through and waiting for the storm to pass as my usual tactic, I finally debunked my own stigma and sought out medication. Over time, subtly, the feeling in my mind and body came back.
When someone recently interviewed me seeking research about mental health, I told them with vigor that my medication truly gave me a second chance at life. I realize how fortunate I am as a white, upper-class American to be able to access (pricey) resources the way Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain were able to access those same resources. But if their untimely passings taught us anything, it’s that having the right treatment or the right financial status does not always save a life.
According to Time.com, “This is not a condition that is related to success or failure,” says Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “No one is immune.” It is often assumed that there are always warning signs to mental illnesses, and that those who shoot up a school or commit suicide should come as no surprise to their families. However, according to The CDC, 54% of individuals who committed suicide had no previously known mental health issues.
The morning after getting published in an open article about my struggle, my boss commented, “You always seem so put together, I would have never thought.”
It made me discern that those with depression or anxiety are seen as a mess; like their invisible disease is expected to protrude through their physical appearance. We as a society need to change that narrative because if we continue thinking that there is a face to depression, we’ll never decipher how to treat people with mental illnesses.
Below, are ways you can help someone struggling with depression, even without any warning signs.
1. Make It Your Priority to Reach Out:
“Part of what depression does is mutes your ability to reach out. If you are NOT depressed & you see someone struggling, YOU reach out. If you don’t see someone who used to be around, YOU reach out,” tweeted Caissie St. Onge.
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Check in with friends you haven’t heard from in a while to see how they’re doing. When I was in a dark place, I sent my friends a snap of myself with mascara running from tears and what I thought was a witty tagline. Looking back now, I realize I was joking about my pain because I didn’t want to burden my friends with what I was feeling inside. Later on, they told me they thought I was just acting differently and needed space. But It’s always better to ask, “Are you okay?” than to simply assume that someone is fine.
2. When Tragedy Strikes, Talk About It:
When I was younger, I remember learning that the news and media would stray away from talking about suicide for fear of causing a domino effect. Finally, a new report shows that suicide rates rose by 28% since 1999, and the media is breaking their silence. A prime example of this is the controversial series, 13 Reasons Why, whose main goal is to prevent suicide. Also, as prominent figures like Marilyn Monroe and Robin Williams took their own lives, it showed fans that everything is not always as it seems from the outside.
Take the recent devastating deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade as an opportune time to speak to your children or your friends about this permanent solution to a temporary problem. Listen to their reactions and let them know that if they’re ever feeling depressed, you are there to listen and support them.
3. Be Vulnerable about Your Own Struggles:
Everybody—even those that seem to have their life sorted out—have days where they don’t feel okay inside. Being open about your own internal conflicts can mitigate others pain without you even realizing it. When people who are struggling hear about celebrities or peers struggling with mental illnesses, the framework of connectivity can fill the void of going at it alone. Even more so, watching someone come out on the other side of an illness can inspire others to persevere.
4. Make People Feel Loved and Important
“To everyone who’s reading this…I see you. I know the world can be a dark place, but it’s better with you in it,” Ellen Degeneres tweeted last week. Even if you don’t see your loved ones struggling, let them know that the world is a better place with them in it.
Warning signs are not as clear as we may want them to be. In light of Spade and Bourdain’s recent deaths, it is more important than ever to change the way we define what a person dealing with depression looks like.
Bonnie is a writer living in Brooklyn with works published in Harper’s Bazaar, Coveteur, Man Repeller, and Simple Most.