Stop The Stigma Around Depression and Suicide

(Author’s Note: This was written on February 16, 2016, originally as a Public Facebook Post. I’ve added it to my blog in hopes that it will reach a wider audience, because I believe it to be an extremely important topic.)

With permission from the immediate family, a few passing thoughts as we prepare to lay Lauren Ford to rest later today….

“Please take this opportunity, if this is you, to say ‘me too,’ to somebody. Please.”– Brantley Boyd Lewis, 2/15/2016, at a vigil for her daughter at Shaw High School

“Let us remove the judgement and stigma of depression and suicide. Please speak up and seek help. Over and over if need be.”– Mebyne Boyd, 2/16/2016, on her FB wall.

This past Friday evening, after word got out that Lauren had died, I noticed on social media that several people asked “what happened,” and no one–I mean not a single person that I saw–would answer. Why was that? I suppose that the conventional answer is something along the lines of “protecting the family.” But from what, exactly, are we protecting the family when we do that? I’d suggest that it’s what Lauren’s Aunt Mebyne mentions above: we are protecting them from the judgement and stigma our culture has regarding depression and suicide. Yes, the judgement and stigma are very real things, but my gut tells me that the resulting desire to protect families from them does more harm than good in the long run.

The truth is that my niece–a beloved daughter, a heavily-involved churchgoer, a Senior Class President, someone whose many friendships easily and frequently crossed many of our typical social, racial, ethnic, economic, and cultural barriers–spent the last 24 hours of her life doing nice things for every single person in her closest circle, clearly to try to take care of them and help them feel better about what was about to happen, then went into her bedroom, wrote a note apologizing for what she was about to do and absolving her loved ones of blame for it, and shot herself in the head. How hopeless she must have felt. What lies she must have believed about herself and her world.

I wonder if she felt worse about herself because of how often she heard someone say that her suicidal thoughts were “selfish.”

I wonder how many messages she got from our culture that people who suffer from depression and mental illness are “crazy.”

And I really wonder if our cultural norm that makes us unwilling to say publicly “on Friday, Lauren lost her long battle with depression and ended her own life” subtly communicates to the many others who have thought about doing the exact same thing that they should continue to hide their darkest thoughts, rather than bringing them into the light and seeking help. My faith teaches me that when light shines into the darkness, the darkness will not overcome it. (John 1:5) Yes, we need to continue to pray for Lauren’s family and friends. But I’d also ask that we pray for the millions left behind–many of whom we know personally but have no idea the depths of their struggles–who fight depression and suicidal thoughts.

And if you reading this are counted among that number, please, I beg you, in Brantley’s words, to say “ME TOO” to someone. And if you are that someone who hears the “me too,” I beg you to help them get help. (I’ve heard too many stories in my lifetime of teens in particular telling friends that they were suicidal, and their friends keeping it secret out of “loyalty.” Again, that does more damage than good.)

I received these POWERFUL words yesterday from an old friend who has fought depression for many years. The insight given here from the perspective of someone dealing with this is amazing. It is very much worth a read and re-read.

“Oh, Ben, what a nightmare. My heart just aches for them. Depression is a terrible monster – when you are in it, there just isn’t any perspective. At the behest of my counselor, just last week I tried to write about what it feels like to be depressed. It was so much harder than I thought it would be, because there aren’t a lot of feelings – everything is just empty and flat and almost not real. I could write that I knew logically that things could not have always been so bad – there’s no way I could have finished high school or college under that cloud – but I just couldn’t remember ever feeling any other way. At 44, with medication, a good doctor, a good counselor, a supportive husband and family, a strong church home, and more than 25 years of faith – it can still be extremely difficult to hold on to something approaching ‘normal.’ At 19, the fear of the nothingness and the emptiness stretching out for the forever of a normal human lifespan – I just want to sob at the overwhelmingness of what Lauren must have been going through. From my experience, as well as that of people I have talked to and read about, it’s the longing just to not have to *feel* anymore that gives rise to the temptation to make it stop. And sometimes crossing that line seems like it would be so easy… I know Brantley and Kenny will never truly be able to believe this, but it isn’t their fault – it is also really easy to continue to project the person you were to those already around you – you have established patterns of interaction, and you just keep using those – and she was off in Savannah for much of her time in these last months – so she didn’t even have to pretend for long periods of time. I can’t know what was in someone else’s head, but to me, it sounds like she was using classic depressive logic during the last day, ‘I want to show them I really love them, so they have good memories, and I want to tell them they didn’t do anything wrong – but I just can’t keep waking up every day. I just can’t.’ It’s sick, it’s twisted, and it is the work of the one who wants us all to believe there is no hope.”

Friends, we need think hard, pray hard, and love hard so that we can better create an environment that encourages people to bring their darkest thoughts into the light.

–Ben

#MeTooLamb

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