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If You're Struggling to Make Sense of the Loss of a Beloved Public Figure to Suicide

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Pure love. Light. Joy. Happiness. Always helping others. These are some of the words used to describe Stephen “tWitch” Boss, who died by suicide in December. His death shocked millions of people as many cannot understand that this celebrity DJ and dancer struggled with darkness so relentlessly that he desperately wanted to end his life.

“I’m at a loss as to how someone as loved and inspirational to people as Stephen could feel they are in such a dark place that they have no other choice,” said Nigel Lythgoe, the creator and former judge of So You Think You Can Dance.

A friend of Stephen’s said, “This is the last person I would ever expect would do this.”

It might be hard to process that one moment someone is posting videos of them joyfully dancing with their family at Christmastime and then gone the next.

His suicide points to a greater mental health problem and a conversation that needs to be had.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, more than 45,000 Americans died by suicide in 2020, and about 1.2 million attempted suicide. Those numbers are indicative of a mental health crisis as they are higher than they’ve ever been.

I hope that it doesn’t take another celebrity suicide death to shine more light on the staggering numbers and mental health issues in this country. It shouldn’t take this type of tragedy to see the dangers of depression and what needs to change.

But for now — here’s what we can learn from losing a man of “pure love and light” to suicide…

1. Nobody should have to justify why they feel depressed.

“But you have a family, a great career and a great life” people will tell you. You need to know — when you’re struggling, it doesn’t matter what you have — you can still feel so low that you don’t want to live anymore. There is a stigma that exists, telling everyone to be joyful, happy, and grateful for what they have. But sometimes you’re overwhelmed, defeated, and depressed to the point of questioning whether living is worth it. And these types of “be grateful for what you have” attempts at encouragement only heap shame onto those who already feel bad.

So promise me this: when (not if) you come into contact with a family member or friend who is struggling — be a good listener and validate how they feel. Ask prompting questions to gain a greater understanding, but don’t pass judgment or criticize them in any way. Listen carefully and show empathy for how they feel. That type of response will speak volumes to someone who is struggling.

2. Depression has fatal consequences. Depression is deadly.

This seems like something we shouldn’t have to keep saying again and again. Yet we do. It seems that people forget: depression can lead to suicide if there is no intervention or treatment. Depression doesn’t discriminate by gender, race, marital, economic, or celebrity status. Depression doesn’t care if you’re deemed a major success by the vast majority of society. Depression will still try to fill your mind with darkness and pursue you. It breaks my heart to say that nobody is immune from it.

I lost my grandfather to suicide, so I never got to meet him. I lost a high school friend to suicide as well. And I’ve known a handful of family members and friends who have attempted suicide. This isn’t going away. Check on your people! Pray for them. Help them schedule with a therapist. Admit them to the hospital if you suspect self-harm. Whatever you do — keep fighting the good fight. Your loved ones need you. This world needs your voice. Our lives have tremendous value and need to be protected.

3. You never truly know the internal battle someone is facing.

We are reminded again that you might see highlights of someone’s life in their Tik Tok videos or Instagram feed, but that’s just a snippet. You cannot see what’s truly going on with their thought life. You don’t see the bigger picture. You don’t see the sleepless nights or suicidal thoughts swirling around in someone’s mind. They may appear to the public eye to be thriving — but inside they are dealing with a monster that is depression. Something so real and relentless in pursuing you that it seems like you’re trapped with no way out. I know this pain too.

Please know, I’m not asserting that because you will never understand means you don’t try to help. Quite the opposite — we all need to learn empathy for those who are struggling, even if it’s something we don’t understand. We need to educate ourselves on mental illness so we are prepared to help and look for signs and symptoms in the people around us. As the headlines show us: depression kills, one victim after another. Let’s bring to light the conversation on suicide. Let’s talk about our struggles and be open and vulnerable with others. We cannot delay these important conversations.

I’m so sorry for the darkness Stephen endured and I pray that he is dancing joyfully up in heaven right now. His beautiful, positive legacy will continue to live on. I hope that we all remember to live each day with meaning and continue to fight the good fight against mental illness and suicide.

Image via Stephen “tWitch” Boss’ Instagram

Originally published: January 17, 2023
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