Late last night, a neighbour informed me about the death and apparent suicide of Robin Williams. I was hit with immediate sadness and shock. Instantaneous thoughts popped up like, "But, he's so funny", "he always seemed so happy" and "he was the last person I thought who would kill himself". Having had time to process, I was humbly reminded and know all to well that what appears on the outside may not always be the holistic picture of what is going on in the inside, and that depression can affect anyone.
News articles and social media outlets became flooded with condolences and memories. One quote in particular, by Jimmy Kimmel, caught my eye. He tweeted, "Robin was as sweet a man as he was funny. If you're sad, please tell someone." He is right, when feeling sad, telling someone is often a good piece of advice. I, however, want to make the argument that those who kill themselves are not just feeling 'sad'. It is something much more than that... It is often a form of depression.
What's the different you may ask? Well, we all feel sad from time to time. Life cannot happen without moments filled with such a feeling. It may last for as little as a minute to perhaps a few days. When someone dies, it is natural to feel sadness. When a friend moves away, sadness may show its face. It is still possible, however, to continue with the day to day demands while feeling sad. Sadness is not a mental health issue. It is a part of humanity, shared by all who walk this earth. Society has this tendency to throw around the word, 'depressed', when what is really going on is sadness.
Depression is debilitating. It gets in the way of functioning fully in life. It can interfere with sleep, mood, weight, thoughts, appetite, one's social life, self-worth and so on. Click here to access the Canadian Mental Health Association for more information on depression. Depression occurs across genders and ages, and is partly due to genetics and partly due to environmental factors (nature and nurture). It affects comedians and judges, students and teachers, homeless and royalty. It is too simplistic to rule out any one individual from struggling with depression solely based on their job title, social status or comical abilities. Sadly, depression is often linked with suicide. It is important to note that not all people who are depressed will comment suicide, however if feeling depressed, it is imperative to talk to a medical professional and/or call your local crisis line (click here to find a Canadian mental health helpline in your area) .
So, is Jimmy Kimmel wrong in encouraging those who are sad to talk? No, not at all! Talking to someone when sad is therapeutic. Friends, family members, trusted individuals, etc are great tools that can be utilized to help cheer you up or validate what you are going through when feeling sad. If feeling depressed, it is important to talk to a professional who has trained knowledge in navigating this particular area of mental health. Treatment might entail seeing your family doctor, a psychiatrist to monitor medication and/or a therapist. It might entail making changes in your environment (remember the whole nature and nurture thing), such as implementing boundaries and assertiveness, self-care, exercise, change in diet, finding that balance between work and home life, etc. Click here to read more about what you can do if feeling depressed from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Suicide Prevention, Signs and Symptoms
Talking about suicide is an important part of actually preventing suicide. If you are concerned about a loved one, click here to learn about a safe way to broach this conversation (from the Ontario Association for Suicide Prevention). Again, contact a professional who has experience and training in this areas. Get educated as a way to understand what your loved one is going through.
If you are contemplating suicide, contact a professional or your local crisis line to talk about what is going on and how you feel. When we talk about things that are difficult to talk about with someone who is safe and trusting, stigma and shame is often reduced. People often feel less alone when they are heard and understood... and we all need to be heard and understood. You are not crazy and when you keep things hidden inside, it is easy to convince yourself otherwise.
A more exhaustive list of signs and symptoms can be viewed here (Ontario Association for Suicide Prevention). I have included some from this site below:
- getting in order and/or giving away personal affairs
- depressed and/or withdrawn
- marked change in behaviours, attitude, appearance (i.e.: a person goes from being positive, energetic, and well groomed, to being negative, lethargic and uninterested in maintaining a well groomed demeanour as they would have before)
- abusing drugs/alcohol, behaving recklessly, impulsiveness
- loss of self-worth, loneliness
- major situational event (i.e.: death of a close friend/family member, job loss, sexual abuse, etc)
- writing about suicide/death
*Not everyone who displays signs and symptoms of suicide will commit suicide, however professional and medical attention is strongly encouraged
Suicide is tragic. It is hard to see another way out when consumed by such darkness that depression brings, often masking itself as clarity. Keep talking, keep checking in with loved ones, make no assumptions, seek help. Lean on those who hold hope for you when you can't hold onto it yourself.