"And yet, something inside you is so horrible or you're such a coward or whatever the reason that you decide that you have to end it, Robin Williams, at 63, did that today."
This cold, soulless interpretation of suicide comes to us from unfortunately popular Fox News infotainment reporter Shepherd Smith. His words are not his own, but just the loudest echo of the softest American thoughts, the blunt picture painted by a million tiny strokes that just barely touch the canvas of how we as a country approach mental illness through a narrow door of misunderstanding and secret loathing: Suicide is an act of cowardice; it is the culmination of the most horrible parts of ourselves.
Our society has been in desperate need of a frank discussion of mental illness, and now that a beloved household name has succumbed to depression's most tragic trick, it's time to talk.
There is a stigma attached to depression the likes of which no other disease suffers, and that is the stigma of choice, that one chooses to be depressed and can turn it off as simply as they turned it on if only they approached life from a different perspective. Depression is seen as the result of ingratitude or selfishness. Open up to anyone about your depression, and you'll likely get this: "What do you have to be sad about?"
That single question and its bastard relatives that call into question one's ability to recognize one's own suffering as it relates to what a person has in his or her life are the reason that so many people do not seek help. Sufferers of this tragic disease are made to believe they aren't sick, and a person who has no illness will seek no treatment. Our society does a great disservice to everyone when we regard mental illness as imaginary simply because it has no evident outward displays of suffering, no emaciated appearance and deep sunken eyes, no unexplained bruising or bleeding, no hair loss or infectious odors. But depression is a disease no less serious than any other that affects our physical faculties, and like other diseases, there is no choice.
Living with depression is like living in a hole that grows deeper faster than a person can climb. There is no sense of purpose, no motivation, no pleasure - just a desperate clawing toward that tiny pinpoint of light that's fading fast. At some point, the hole grows so deep that the light is burned out. A person that deep in the ground might already feel dead, and then what is the point of continuing through the motions?
Suicide is not cowardice. It is not something horrible inside of us that has grown out of control. It is a natural end to a disease gone unchecked, like a failing body is to cancer. It is the last battle in a long war against illness. It is a tragedy which deserves our respect and our compassion, both for the victim and for those struggling to find the answers.
When we start to look at depression as a serious illness, we are naturally brought to a place of compassion for those who suffer. If someone opens up to you, listen. If someone comes to you for help, help. If you need to turn to someone, you shouldn't be afraid to. I'm here for you. As I went to refill my own medication today, I was given only three days' worth because their supplies were otherwise depleted. Depression is all around us, sight unseen. It's time we start taking a look through a more loving lens.