This is in my own opinion of course. Yes a vast majority of suicides are correlated with people who have depression. It makes sense at first glance. Symptoms of depression are a gruesome laundry list. People who are depressed often feel chronic pain and fatigue. They find it hard to get out of bed in the morning or focus on their daily activities. They feel sluggish and weighed down. People who are depressed feel as if they are wandering through life in a thick fog with no direction or purpose. They are not dead but they are not alive, perpetually existing in a tormenting limbo.
Most importantly they feel misunderstood, hopeless, lost and alone. When you really think about it even people who have never experienced depression first hand could understand why someone who feels in such a way would contemplate ending their lives. Why they would want to leave a world they feel completely cut off from and neglected by.
So you are probably sitting here reading this wondering how I can possibly think that depression is not the cause of suicide. The reason is a very simple fact; one we all actually learned as early as grade school. Correlation does not equal causation. Yes there is a very strong correlation between depression and suicide but that does not necessarily mean that depression is the cause.
What is the cause then? This is strongly subjective but this is my take on it. The cause of suicide is not the depression itself but the lack of support and the extremely deep misunderstanding of what people who are depressed experience.
Take this example. I have heard patients with stage four cancer tell me to my face that they want to die. I have heard them say they are in too much pain, that they want their suffering to end, that they are ready to give up and yet for some reason they don’t. Somehow through it all they keep fighting and they all (or the vast majority) see it through to the bitter end despite their suffering. The difference lies in support, understanding and acknowledgment.
People who have a strong support system are less likely to commit suicide than someone without one, diagnosis aside. People are tough, we are strong by nature, we have to be and we all are, but in the end we all need support at some point in out lives. We need someone who acknowledges our illness when we are sick and who we can count on to always be there, who understands what we are going through.
Let’s go back to the cancer example (I only continue to use cancer because it is the field I work in but this can pertain to any disease). A vast majority of cancer patients have a massive support system. I see patients come in everyday with entourages who sit in the doctors appointments and learn everything that’s needed to be known about their friend/family members care, they sit in the rooms with them for their long chemo treatments and they show up at their bedsides if they are admitted to the hospital.
What support system do people with mental illness have? Sure there are social workers, therapists, psychiatrists and support groups but that is not enough; not close to enough. Where is their entourage marching behind them? The sad truth for most people suffering from mental illness is that there is no one standing in their wake, they are only followed by their emptiness and shame. People will mental illness are speaking a different language that no one is even bothering to try and understand.
It’s important that people feel like they are understood. I had an ex boyfriend once who was a great guy he really was but he couldn’t get past my depression. It was almost tragic because I knew he loved me but he thought he could “fix me” but depression isn’t an easy fix, you can’t put a band aid on it and expect it to heal cleanly and easily on its own. Depression is messy, difficult and complicated. The truth was as desperately as he wanted to, he wasn’t understanding what I was going through at all. Every time I felt down or had a mood swing he would constantly probe for the “whys”. Why did I feel that way and my answer was always the same, “I don’t know” I would reply, “I just don’t know”. That wasn’t enough for him and it wasn’t enough for my therapist either or even some of my family members. Without the why or the “cause” to my depressive episodes what could they do? Still to this day, months past the worst of the storm I cannot tell you with certainty the origin of my depression.
It is here where the support system pertaining to mental illness fails. It is not that we don’t have people who love us and care about us they just don’t understand what we are going through. That is what makes people who are depressed feel even more hopeless and alienated and that is the cocktail for suicide.
Before I wrap up this post I can’t ignore a final crucial fact in the equation for suicide. It’s not only the lack of support and the misunderstanding; it is that plus the complete lack of acknowledgment of mental illness as a disease in today’s society that creates the perfect storm for suicidal ideation. People want to pretend it’s not there, that it’s not happening to the people they care for. I have had many loved ones who, despite how many times I tried to explain to them how I felt, it went in one ear and out there other. It took me eight years to get my parents to finally understand that what I was going through wasn’t a phase and that I needed serious help.
It wasn’t that they don’t love me and they have always been there for me, they just truly didn’t know and I kept my depression hidden well like a neatly folded blanket tucked under the bed for nobody to see. Truthfully I don’t think I wanted to face it either. I wouldn’t let anyone see how I really felt because I couldn’t deal with stigma. I didn’t want to be labeled as depressed. At the time it was not something that I could live with.
So I stand by what I say. Depression does not cause suicide. Misunderstanding, lack of support and lack of acknowledgment are at the root of its cause. If only we gain the strength to scratch the surface and dig deeper into this disease and finally understand depression, drag it out from the dark into the light and burn holes through the stigma, then just maybe people suffering from mental illness will get the support they deserve. Just maybe lives will be saved.
In the end the truth is these people cannot die. Because when one person takes their life they also take with them a piece of every single person who loved them. At first it makes you angry that someone you love could do that to you but in an instant they are forgiven because they were lost, backed into a corner where they felt suicide was their only way out when all we want is them back. Because the truth is they didn’t have to die and that’s the greatest tragedy of the human experience.
What else do you feel contributes to the tragic loss of suicide?