The recent movements in mental health awareness are hugely important. Stigma is slowly being dissipated because people are talking. It’s wonderful and the first step in the right direction. So why did I just turn off The National’s latest piece on teen mental health with anger surging in my veins?
I am angry because there is so much more to be done, and while I do recognize that it takes time for things to happen, teens who are depressed and suicidal do not have any time to spare. Now that their peers know a little about mental health and suicide, they need to know that midnight is striking. It’s time for the carriage to turn back into a pumpkin and for people to wake up to the fact that simply mentioning mental illness does not help the mentally ill as much as one would hope.
Reaching out for help is crucially important in getting well again but reaching out does not equal getting well. I am tired of the media constantly talking about teens who showed no outward signs of anything being wrong suddenly committing suicide and their families are left stunned. Yes, it is horribly tragic when that happens, but more often than not, teens who commit suicide have friends and family that know about their condition and are trying to help.
When my friends first found out about my mental illnesses at the age of sixteen they were supportive and very caring, until I asked them to visit me in the hospital. Only one friend was brave enough to do so and that visit was so overwhelming for her that she actually fainted on hospital grounds leaving me feeling fucked-up enough to cause mass heart failure to anyone in a ten-foot radius.
When I was discharged from the hospital I was still acutely depressed. This meant that I did not want to go out and do anything fun. I refused to put on a bathing suit at my friend’s pool party because people would see my self-injury wounds. I was often angry and would walk away from people mid-conversation. I quit playing basketball, going to dance class, and trying new things. The Erin that my friends and family knew died inside.
Some other symptoms of depression include weight loss or gain, insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness), irritability, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, et cetera et cetera. This does not make for a happy camper, a fun friend to talk to on the phone, or a lively party goer. It can be really difficult to be friends with someone who is acutely or even mildly depressed.
One of my favourite Post Secret postcards of all time says, “It’s easy to tell me not to kill myself. The hard part is actually giving a shit about me once I decide to stick around.”
While those words sound pretty hostile, they describe the fact that choosing life over death does not mean an easy road from there on out. It also means that support from those around you is not always going to be what you need. Friends are not always going to be there to talk, parents have to go to work, and sometimes even when everyone around you is doing everything humanly possible to help you, it can still feel like they don’t give a shit. Welcome to depression, population 1: YOU. It is one lonely illness.
So yes, talking about depression and suicide is a good first step, but it’s about time that we moved on to the second, third, and fourth steps. How can teens support a friend who suddenly cannot get out of bed? What are you supposed to say when a friend says they have had a bad therapy session? When your brother attempts suicide, how are you supposed to trust him alone again?
My emotions are so strong here that I’m afraid I cannot write a list of what to say in these circumstances, but even then it’s important to know that everyone is different. While symptoms of depression are similar from person to person, they are not the same, and recovery rates differ from one month to ten years or possibly never. My depression has lessened significantly since it first affected my day-to-day life, but I don’t believe it will ever be gone. I will never be fully well. How do I share that with a friend and what do I do if they don’t want to hear it?
Yes, the silence has been broken and people are finally talking about this illness that affects millions, but the conversation should not stop there. I want my blog to embody that fact and push us all past our comfort zone. Let’s explore the depths of depression, let’s talk about the aftermath of suicide. Let’s talk about making your friend laugh even though she’s locked up on a psych ward. Let’s talk about life after things get better, let’s talk about it all and let’s never fucking stop.