A Perspective on Suicide and Depression

After I wrote some thoughts on the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why (which you can read here) I received a few private messages asking about how to talk about and work through issues of suicide and depression. 

Before we dive in I want to say if you have experienced the loss of a loved one because they took their life... it isn't your fault.  It is hard and elusive at times to pick up on signals and the signals can look like or be interpreted at times as typical behavior. I know therapists who have lost their own children to suicide. Trained therapists who are taught what to look for and what to ask can miss these things. 

Some facts:

  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. 
  • Men are more likely to die from a suicide attempt. 
  • Suicide rates have been gradually increasing every year since 2006
  • Middle age (45yrs-64yrs) white men and American Indian men are more likely to commit suicide than any other demographic in the United States. 
    Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

I share these facts because people always imagine that young adults and teenagers are at the biggest risk for suicide but in truth you should maybe be more worried about me. 

It is difficult to discern who might be at risk because of what we believe to be true about the types of people that would commit suicide. It is also true that an individual who is depressed can isolate themselves even more by not giving any strong signals. 

These individuals want people to reach out but they don't want people to know that they want them to reach out. What they want is people to want to reach out. To notice. (Maybe read that sentence again)  This creates is a dynamic of solitude and separation. 

Sometimes an individual is depressed and they are tired. They can be so emotionally tired in fact that the thought of exerting energy to attempt to explain their thoughts and feelings is just too much. It is easier to smile. To avoid the conversation.  Many people who aren't depressed have trouble articulating and explaining their thoughts and feelings.  Many people who aren't depressed don't have the confidence to speak up about their thoughts and feelings. Now imagine someone who is ... 

People who are depressed don't want pity. There is a fine line between support, encouragement, and help and what feels like pity. So to avoid feeling even worse by being pitied people just keep things under wraps. 

People can feel incredibly alone. Social media contributes to this as well the way we schedule and do things in life. We leave little room for margins. 

When I led young adult and college ministry I would always tell people in the group that I led that one of the reasons we feel alone is because we know things about ourselves that others do not know. Social media is curated, what we let others see is curated. So we can be in a room full of people and still feel like no one really knows or understand us. This idea is not original to me and in fact I owe a great deal to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He shares some of this idea: 

“Confess your faults one to another” (James 5:16). He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!

But it is the grace of the Gospel, which is so hard for the pious to understand, that it confronts us with the truth and says: You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you. He wants you as you are; He does not want anything from you, a sacrifice, a work; He wants you alone. “My son, give me thine heart” (Proverbs 23.26).
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

I feel this is a starting place not only as we monitor our own feelings but as we experience life with others. Just know what you see isn't everything. 

So what do you do if you feel someone might be depressed and/or suicidal?

You ask.  

People are afraid of offending, or afraid of planting the idea in someones head, or what is probably the biggest fear ... what happens if they say "yes, I am."   

 

What do you do if they say yes?

 

You ask questions. You try to understand and connect with them and you help them find professional help. Engage in the conversation about what is weighing them down and don't be so eager to pass them off to someone else. If they are willing to show you signs or answer your direct questions that means something. 

You aren't responsible for making them feel better.
You aren't responsible for coming up with a plan for them to get out of their depression.
You are a friend, willing to explore the dark side because ... well  ...

....you have a dark side too. 

In fact these conversation would be easier for all of us to have if we were all willing to admit those moments when we were depressed or maybe thought it would be easier to not live. 

Let's trade up some of our superficial community for something real. It's okay if it is messy. In fact I prefer it that way because then I don't have to worry about making sure everything looks clean and in order when you are with me. 


If you or someone you love needs help please consider these resources: