Understanding Reasoning of the Depressed

Last week, depression and mental illness made big news with the passing of actor and comedian Robin Williams. No matter what the doctors on the TV say about this being the moment we will finally have an open discussion on mental illness, I always hear the same comments. How could they be so selfish? How could they not see how much they were loved? I’m not about to sit here and say I understand. All I have is the depression of my teen years. Still, that’s enough for me to see how misguided and nearly insulting those questions are.

Suicide was a reality of my teen years. About once a year, a student in my high school attempted or succeeded in killing themself. I remember my mom commenting on how selfish they were. They were running away, escaping life and giving no thought to the people they were leaving behind.

Love and selfishness have nothing to do with it, although it can certainly feel that way. If you’ve ever spoken to someone in the height of their depression, you might feel like they’re not listening or rejecting your feelings. I doubt that’s the case most of the time, if at all.

I remember sitting in my bedroom during my middle school years, crying myself to yet again and looking around at all that surrounded me. There were posters from shows I liked, a large bookcase half full of books and a desk with a hand-me-down computer. I was a lucky kid with more than many others my age. I didn’t like my stuff, though. All I saw was money my parents wasted on me. I was a worthless person who had achieved nothing. All the money spent of these items, on the food that fed me a the clothes that covered me was wasted on my life. I loved my family and obsessed about all the things they could do if I stopped existing.

I thought about what would happen to them if I took my own life. Certainly they’d be sad, but people died all the time. I knew it would be hard, but I figured my family would get over it eventually. They’d move on, now free of the burden I was on their life.

Now, as I have overcome those dark days, I understand that my family likely would have never gotten over my death. Really, I don’t know if that’s something a person can ever get over. It’s why questions about why a person takes their life are asked. It’s in our nature to desire a reason. We want to know why and we haunt ourselves wondering if there was anything we could have done to change the outcome. Was there something we could have done to show them just how much they were loved? Is there something that would have made them stay?

This photo, “Despair” is copyright (c) 2014 Lloyd Morgan and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license
This photo, “Despair” is copyright (c) 2014 Lloyd Morgan and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license

Given my own experiences with depression, I imagine showing a person more love and doing more for them would have only made them feel like more of a burden.

What can you do then? Unfortunately, I don’t have much of an answer. I imagine it’s sort of like having the flu. You can’t force someone to get over the flu. All you can do is be there for them. The flu is something we understand, though. We know the things we can do to make life easier for someone with the flu. We understand it has an ending, where the person is healthy and moves forward. Depression and many other mental illnesses are not so cut and dry.

A short while ago, I read a Buzzfeed article on things you should never say to someone suffering from depression. This article was particularly interesting because it not only explained why a comment was less than helpful, but it provided an alternative comment.

From what I have gathered, it seems the only real way to help someone is to listen to them, acknowledge their struggles and let them know they are not alone. They can’t just stop or get over their feelings, especially when those feelings are driven by chemical imbalances outside of their control. Even that may not be enough. That’s why it important to pay close attention to a person with clinical depression. There is a point where a person needs more help than can be given outside of the proper facilities.

I hope a day will come where we really will have an open discussion on depression and mental illness. I hope that understanding will reduce fear and increase awareness. More than anything else, I hope a day will come where we’ll have a better scientific understanding of mental illness. I look forward to a day where we have medications and/or treatments that treat the illness only, without also affecting other aspects of a person’s personality. It’s common for people taking medication for mental illness to go off their medication because of various side effects.

I wonder, if Robin Williams could have taken a medication that treated the lowest of his depression without touching the highest of his happiness, would he still be here? How many others would still be here? Do you think it’s possible for such a medication to be created? Will we ever see a future where people can have open an honest conversations about mental illness without the fear of stigma?



31 thoughts on “Understanding Reasoning of the Depressed”

  1. Stigma’s get so ingrained in our collective psyche, that I doubt we will see the en of it for our generations at least. They tend to end when the generations that are attached to them pass on and the younger generations that questioned it get older and question it some more. Everyone thinks the marijuana debate is new but it was built in the 60’s and now there are people of every living generation that it has touched. There are so many stigma’s that were born generations ago that people are beginning to question now, that I wonder what stigmas am I unknowingly supporting that will be gone in thirty years.

    1. It’s so frustrating, though. I like to think I am open minded and open to change. I suppose that doesn’t stop me from holding stigmas.

      1. Yes it is, I am thankful my son always questions why I do things a certain way and why I think a certain way. He keeps me questioning myself to make sure the answer is never “because that is the way it has always been.”

        1. I hate when parents use that excuse “Because that’s just the way it is.” That’s not a real reason! I’m happy your son has questions, too. Critical thinking is a good thing.

  2. I agree. my brother committed suicide & at the x it felt very selfish and still does some days. I completely agree with what you are saying bc I know the hell he was in trapped in his own thoughts. Mental illness runs through my family, it’s frightening and scary and misunderstood at times. thanks for sharing your journey!

    1. I’m sorry to hear that about your brother, but I’m happy you enjoyed the post. It is my hope that lessening the stigma will result is greater help from people who suffer for mental illness.

  3. I certainly hope so and part of that process involves people being more open and aware of their mental limitations. Upon Williams’ passing I felt the need to let my Facebook followers know about my depression and that I was available if anyone needed to talk. I was so surprised by the amount of people battling depression that are in my circle. I was surprised by how many thanked me (via private message) and with how many I have now scheduled reunions (some friends I haven’t seen in many years) to catch up and talk. We need to be more aware of our brains and how they work. My psychiatrist put it in very simple terms for me: “Just like you can strain a muscle and need time and sometimes meds to rebuilt it, so can your brain strain, so can your brain need more rest, meds, and time to heal.” The big difference is that when you strain your leg you may just walk weird but when you strain your brain you act weird. So yes, I’m optimistic that we will become more open in the future.

    1. That open discussion is all I really want for now. They say 1 in 3 Americans will take mind altering meds at some point in their lives. I do think clinical depression is different from other forms of depression, but both can be just as destructive. A person who is depressed for any reason should feel like their feelings are being heard and that they are not alone. Even a person without a chemical issue would fall further into depression if they felt like they had to hide from a stigma. Kudos to you for reaching out. I’m sure you’ll deepen many of your friendships.

  4. Death is always a struggle for family members. A death by suicide is overwhelmingly worse. My little brother killed himself over 14 years ago, and the pain has never disappeared. So, last week’s loss of Robin Williams has hit me, and I’m sure the rest of my family, with a perspective that most won’t fully understand unless they have faced the same.

    I can remember growing up, my mom saying the same thing about people who commit suicide – that it’s a selfish act. This was long before my brother did it, mind you, but I know that judgment is out there. Hell, even I said it about my own brother. It’s hard not to. But I have contemplated the “selfishness” of suicide for a long time…and guess what, we all do selfish things that aren’t an evil – breathing, eating, drinking, bathing, etc. We do those things to ease the discomfort of being human, but for some odd reason we pass judgment on those trying to ease the discomfort of despair and depression.

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your brother. I can only hope that better understanding of depression and mental illness with result in better help for those who suffer, hopefully preventing a significant amount of them from attempting suicide.

  5. “From what I have gathered, it seems the only real way to help someone is to listen to them, acknowledge their struggles and let them know they are not alone. They can’t just stop or get over their feelings, especially when those feelings are driven by chemical imbalances outside of their control. Even that may not be enough. That’s why it important to pay close attention to a person with clinical depression. There is a point where a person needs more help than can be given outside of the proper facilities.”

    It does seem that is the only thing that can be done. It doesn’t feel like it is enough, but we can at least do that. It is better than telling them to “choose” to feel happy.

    1. It’s all the average person can do. When things reach a point where the person’s life is at risk, the only people who can help are experts. I think it takes a team at that point, of doctors, psychiatrist and guards (to keep watch and make sure they don’t attempt something).

      It shines a different light on the concept of free will, though, doesn’t it. The sad thing about mental illness is that it has to get really bad before a person can be forced into that kind of facility. Otherwise, it’s up to their choice, and a person suffering from mental illness may not make the same decision they would if they didn’t have that illness. Sometimes I wonder what a person is deciding and what the illness is deciding for them. How do we tell the difference? If we could, could we get people help before the situation becomes extreme?

      1. The concept of free will is one I have been reading and thinking about lately. Certain factors make me wonder how little choice we have in many things. An illness could be deciding for someone.

  6. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve started understanding some of the thought processes behind suicide and suicide attempts. Earlier this year, I started having suicidal thoughts. I don’t think I was actually in danger of attempting it, for various reasons, but I definitely contemplated it. Sometimes, even people who have battled with depression buy into the stigmas–my mom is one of them. She doesn’t really believe that depression is not a choice. It’s caused a lot of problems in the past. Maybe it’s my cynicism talking, but I don’t think we’re going to see a time when mental illness and depression are generally treated with open-mindedness and a will to understand. Not anytime in the foreseeable future. Sometimes it’s just impossible to understand if you haven’t gone through it yourself… and sometimes it’s impossible to understand even if you have. (I’d love to be wrong about that, though.) Thanks for sharing the link to that Buzzfeed article, by the way–it’s one of the best I’ve seen outside of personal blogs.

    1. I don’t even think I can completely understand. I’m under the impression there must be different forms of depression. Mine was dangerous and I came very close to taking extreme action. I don’t think I can understand what people with chemical depression go through, but I do understand that I can’t understand, if that makes sense. To me, that would be progress. People don’t have to understand, they just have to accept that. The average person who tries to understand depression ends up being unintentionally offensive, saying things like “just get over it” or “it could be worse.” Instead, they should say “I’m sorry you are feeling down. I can’t possibly understand what you’re going through but I’m here for you. You don’t have to go through this alone.”

      But people don’t like that…. People are uncomfortable when they don’t understand something.

  7. If there’s one thing I will always say about depression it’s that I won’t ever say “I know what you’re going through.” I might understand the events, the reasons why, and possibly what makes you feel that way- but I’m not you. I don’t know how you’re actually feeling or what’s actually going on in your head. I only go by what you’re telling me and what I can see in your body language or hear in your voice.

    One thing a lot of people assume is that the medication is a solution. It is and it isn’t. On the one hand it’ll help you cope but on the other it’s just another chemical that your body will adapt to. It’s not something you’ll start taking so much of and stay on until you’re “cured”. It’s something you’ll cope with, you’ll struggle with, and it’ll help you get through the days but it won’t solve the problem.

    Often the side effects of the medication are a bit worse than just struggling through the days without. I had sleep loss, nausea, headaches, intense spells of depression, loss of appetite, mood swings, and a fair few other things with mine.

    However, it did help me cope. It helped me see things in a different light. It helped me feel like I could actually do something with my life again. That said, it hit like a freight train on the days where I felt low. I felt worse than I ever had before as I’d just found out what it was like to feel good again.

    Then there was work. My manager thought I was then incapable of doing my job and that any position I was put in would stress me out to near death. I work in retail- it’s like Stress 101. Most customers are assholes and they have no problem showing you that. Needless to say she went after me with zealous vindication and near got me fired after that.

    But people will never understand depression as you understand it as they’re not living it. They see it as “you could just get out of bed.” I could. But I really don’t want to. What’s the point? Same shit- different day. I had a mental illness and had to resign before being fired because of it.

    I can’t be bothered to shave. It’s not like I go out. It’s not like I want to. It’s not like I want to do anything but hate myself. I’m a pretty good person to hate. I used to have financial security and now I’m scraping by every month on a £10 expense. Eating one meal a day. Feeling like shit. Having to force myself to shower or even get dressed most days.

    Suicide is an attractive option. The other morning I was a few minutes from taking all of my excess medication at once and hoping it would kill me. Kind of scared me a bit, to be honest. Never been that close before. But, really, everything I’ve tried to do has turned to shit and there isn’t joy in life any more.

    There’s just this gaping vacuum where everything I enjoyed was. I got told by friends I could kill myself if that’s what I wanted (thanks for the permission), I got told it was just me crying for help, and that I didn’t really have a problem. Good to know. I’ll just go and slit my wrists over there, ‘kay? Far, far away from you.

    I never really wanted much in life. I’m actually quite content with very little as I don’t really have a massive range of interests. Always tried hard, always done well in school, always looked out for people, always done my best by people, always tried to be a decent person. But where did it get me?

    Pissed off, depressed, poor, eating these microwave noodles that taste like shit, trying to connect with the world outside, and just generally succumbing to the thought that me and my iPod are good friends.

    The funny thing is that while I do hate myself- and I do most fervently- I actually am pretty aware of all the things I can do. Of all my “talents”. Of all the things I could achieve. Yet, I dance, ironically on a razor’s edge, feeling like I could conquer the world one minute and that I want to dive under a train the next.

    Yet, with all that taken into account, even if I were to explain this to someone, they wouldn’t understand the problem. They wouldn’t see it as an illness. They would say I should think about everything I’ve got to live for. Maybe they have something to live for- with their nice job, their fiancée, their nice car, their friends, and that new promotion.

    Me? I got an iPod and two cats.

    1. Hey! I’m sure those cats need you dearly. As you say, I can’t understand. While there are people who don’t see depression as an illness, many do. I’ve seen people overcome a lot with fitness and a healthy diet to the point where they get off their medication entirely. It’s easier said than done, though. I have a dear friend who suffers from depression and sometimes it can be very hard to get them so go outside, let along exercise. But, I always make the offer, asking if they want to join and leaving it be when they decline.

      I wish you the best. If you ever need to talk, just hit me up ^_^

  8. I can’t say I really understand it having never experienced depression, but I have a friend who lost her father to it. He had a great life, so there is no way he would have done it if he wasn’t ill. Sadly I think it will be a long time before people will be able to talk about it without stigma. People don’t like what they don’t understand. I think it’s important to raise awareness, and great posts like this will contribute.

    1. At some point, people have to be comfortable understanding they can’t understand. If we spread education about what people can do to help someone out, maybe that will be enough.

  9. Very good post. Like you, I found all the comments regarding suicide to be so off the mark, it was depressing to read them. Everyone seemed to have advice. Everyone questioned why he didn’t understand how loved he was. Bull crap! Of course he knew how loved he was. That’s the worst part of depression. You know you’re loved, but you don’t feel it’s worth it! Thank you so much for your honesty. It’s always refreshing. Personally I found exercise to be supremely helpful to overcome my depression. Curiously, two weeks of daily exercise creates a habit and two weeks of anti-depressants start to show behavior changes. I dare recommend it. Granted, I had to force myself to work out, since I had no inclination for it at all while depressed. But after two weeks I felt like getting up and working out. I’m pretty sure the endorphins can change the neurological stuff happening up there. Anyway, again, good post. Depression is serious and not really very logical. My personal recommendation to anyone dealing with a depressed individual is to give them a shoulder to cry on until those tears dry out. There really is nothing you can do, except be there, quietly and with an open heart.

    1. I know people who suffer from depression, although they manage it pretty well most days. Still, I’ve known them long enough to know when they are in a funk. When in this state, I’ve gotten them to work out or do some physical activity and seen how it makes them happier. Sometimes, I can’t get them to do that, though. I’m not about to force it on them, though. I do just what you said, let them know I’m here and I’m ready to talk. I might go so far as to remind them of how doing a certain physical activity might take their mind off their troubles or how it has made them feel better before. Sometimes, it’s hard for me not to push it harder, but I’m getting used to just saying those things and then being supportive with whatever they decide. My goal, after all, is to make them feel better, not worse.

  10. You’ve brought up some very valid points. And some great questions. My step-daughter, the most giving, loving, and beautiful woman, commited suicide, and those questions you mentioned that people ask used to make my blood boil. Not anymore. Now I feel pity for those who are so quick to cast judgement. They simply don’t understand. And considering what it is they don’t understand, it’s a good thing. If they COULD understand it would be frightening, because that would mean they, too, would be in the same frame of mind. But rather than pass judgement, wouldn’t it be nice if that energy was spent on loving instead? Just a thought…

    1. I think true understanding of depression and mental illness is coming to the understanding that you CAN’T understand. It’s not possible. People need to be comfortable with the fact they will never understand that person’s mind. Perhaps being equipped with some prove strategies for helping out people suffering from depression and mental illness will at least make them feel in control. Such small things, but I think they’d go a long way in getting rid of the stigma.

  11. There’s a horrible aspect of depression, and the realism it brings, the knowledge that no amount of love will help.

    Under torture, a person can be made to betray others. And it can be torture.

    There is a sort of hypocrisy when someone talks of “selfishness” while expecting another person to endure what they cannot bear.

    1. I agree. It’s selfish to assume someone suffering from a mental illness is somehow ill because they are selfish. It’s a reason someone can get behind, though. That’s why I understand, but I still want to see it stop.

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