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Imagine If We Grew Up Talking About Suicidal Thoughts

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

I wish I’d known.

I wish people talked about depression so somewhere in the back of my mind I could have accessed a thought or comment or story I’d overheard, so I’d have had some perspective. So I’d have known how someone else managed and survived this situation.

But most people don’t talk openly about mental health challenges. They talk even less about suicidal thoughts. And very few good, healing, or healthy things grow in darkness.

Depression, unfortunately, does.

When talking publicly about depression, I sometimes use the example of young women getting their first period. Admittedly, one of the reasons I use this metaphor is to make people uncomfortable so they’ll remember the point. Think about it; if they’d never heard menstruation is a common physical reality they might experience, they’d probably be totally freaked out to see blood, right? They’d likely be very afraid, think something was really wrong, or even fear dying.

But because friends, families, even health class teachers commonly address that reality, many if not most people know a period is seldom a medical emergency and never a shameful secret.

If you find yourself having dark, heavy, pervasive thoughts that rob you of the ability to experience joy, imagine a better future, or even get out of bed, however, you’re more likely to be on your own to figure out what’s going on. You probably didn’t learn the warning signs and coping strategies in health class or in a one-on-one chat with a parent, friend, or classmate.

And if or when those thoughts progress to wishing you didn’t wake up in the morning, or the more dangerous beliefs suicide is your “only way out,” or “everyone would be better off without me,” you now have the Herculean task of having to climb out of depression‘s pit when it has sapped you of both energy and hope. And that’s a lot to ask when your own brain is convincing you to die.

Imagine instead, if we were told from childhood in casual, non-stigmatized conversations depression is a real and common illness, that there are many effective ways to address and manage it, that it lies to you in an effort to gain power and control, and that despite its convincing and repetitive lies, there truly is hope and your life is worth living. What a difference that would make, right?!

Then we could name it and tell a doctor or family member or friend, “I think I’ve got depression or something. I’m having really dark thoughts and I am constantly exhausted” (or isolating or angry or whatever your symptoms are).

And that conversation would be a starting point versus an ending point. That’s the flare that lets others know you’re in a situation that is scary or dangerous (or both) and that you need some help getting out of it. That conversation is how a person whose brain is telling them they are not worth the fight, fights back anyway.

That’s easier to do during the slide down than when in depression‘s pit. In the darkness, self-care and preservation can feel like just too much. Too late. And it’s not. It’s really, really not. I live with depression. And in my work, I’ve interviewed hundreds of others who do. And we all stand behind and beside you and encourage you to tell someone if you are having intensely negative or
suicidal thoughts.

It’s not your fault if you’re depressed. And it’s not your fault people have made it seem like a weakness or a failing because they didn’t have the training or the courage to speak openly about it. But you can. And after you do, and after you get whatever help and support you need, when it feels safe, share your story. Let others know recovery is possible. That there’s an “Other Side.” There are reasons to hold on even when you feel like letting go. Please, please trust me on that. I’m not lying. Depression is.

Getty image by Weedezign

Originally published: October 19, 2021
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