Depression Isn’t Sadness and Suicide Isn’t a Cry For Help… by Steve Safran

Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain. Two gut-punching suicides that have people asking “Why them? They had it all!” Sure, Bourdain lived a hard life, but Kate Spade, the queen of whimsy? She was wealthy, adored and…

Depressed.

We need better words. One of the biggest disservices to the field of mental health is to call the diagnosis of “depression” by the name “depression.” Everyone “gets depressed.” It’s a commonplace word: “I’m so depressed the meeting I planned fell through.” “The ending of that show was too depressing.” “He’s too depressing to be around.”

None of these examples has anything to do with the psychological definition of Depression.

People who live with depression are wired differently. Our brains perceive life differently than those who do not have depression. Let me put it another way.

Suppose you were born left-handed in this predominantly right-handed world. Suppose that was considered OK from time to time, but generally not an excuse to use your dominant hand. Righties would say “Why are you using your left hand? Your right hand works perfectly well.” Or, “I had a cousin who was left handed, but with a lot of work, he forced himself to use his right hand.” Or, “Why not just use your right hand? You wouldn’t need the special scissors.”

But I’m still a lefty, you’d say. I’d like to be a righty, but everything comes out all wobbly and it’s so uncomfortable. Can’t you just understand I’m part of the 10 percent of the population that is left handed?

Depression is exhausting. And it’s cruel. It tells you terrible things about yourself. That’s why Ms. Spade and Mr. Bourdain died. I can’t speak for their experiences, but I can speak for my own and what I know to be true from many other patients with depression: our minds become ruthless bullies. They tell us the meanest things about ourselves. They stockpile ammunition and open fire. And we have to sit there and take it because, well, it’s coming from our own brains.

45,000 people committed suicide in 2016. Suicide rates are up 30 percent just since 1999, according to NBC news. Only about half of those victims were known to have a mental health diagnosis. We do not talk about this issue enough, and when we do, we don’t really know what we’re talking about, or when we do, Depression is conflated with “feeling depressed.”

News organizations have taken to posting suicide hotline numbers when they run stories about suicide. That’s a responsible act of journalism, but it’s like running the number for 911 in an article about a car accident. People with depression know there is help, but their brain is telling them it’s time to die. The evil mix of ill-behaving neurotransmitters and whatever they have been through in life lands on a singular message: You must kill yourself.

Even in that moment, they know they have friends they can call. They know there are hotlines. But they are not interested in anything other than stopping that message, stopping the pain.

I suggest much more empathy in this area. As someone who has lived with anxiety and depression since the days of mixtapes, I’ve heard lots of well-meaning (and sometimes not so well-meaning) people say it all: “You’ve got a great life. What do you have to be depressed about?” (I don’t know. What do you have to be left-handed about?) “There are lots of people who have it worse off than you.” (Yes. And I still have depression.) “Just smile. How hard is it just to be happy?” (As hard as it would be for you to become left-handed while people insisted you use the regular scissors.)

My personal experience with this rotten condition has been horrid. I am certain I would have been more successful in my career without depression. For years, especially when I was younger, I wasn’t treated properly. As I got older, I was blamed for the illness that gripped me, as though it was a choice I made. I was called “lazy,” and put on meds that had me gain a ton of weight. People I loved mocked my illness, likely out of discomfort they may have it themselves. (They’re not much in the picture anymore.) In any case, there was not a lot of empathy.

We can’t stop suicide and depression. But we can understand it a lot better. I raise money for Movember, which supports research for men’s cancer and also the depression that can accompany it. This is something tangible I feel I can do. But all of us can do this: we can stop telling people with depression to “cheer up.” We can be more sensitive to this very real, very misunderstood disease.

Those of us with depression do not want to be treated as a protected class. We don’t want special rights or to be treated gently. You can’t make me depressed any more than you can make me a lefty. Empathy and acceptance are an enormous gift to those struggling to ignore the mean messages from their own minds.

Think about Robin Williams. Think about Kate Spade. Think about Anthony Bourdain. Think about the joy they brought you in their unique ways. Think about what you would have said to them, knowing they were going to take their lives. “Don’t do that” would not have worked. Instead of shameful, head-shaking whispers, let’s acknowledge suicide as the growing epidemic it is, and insist health care do more to support mental health.

Depression is not about what we have; it’s about what has us.

672 responses

    • Kristen – you should discuss. You should go to an ER if you are having thoughts of suicide. Otherwise, you should ask you doctor about a psychiatrist who can help you. I know it seems hopeless. I really, really know it. But there is help. Please talk to a professional. It can get better.

    • I’ve suffered with this monster for over 20 years….antidepressants do absolutely nothing for me. Doctors put me on Adderall….after 17 yrs., I went to Recovery Centers of America in Philadelphia…..I’ve been 5 months sober….Thank The Lord! Amphetamines are wicked! I used to be ashamed of my depression, but now, at 57 years old….I am open about it and and share my testimony as much as possible…..people should be educated about this “disorder “ …..Millions of souls are tormented by this wicked “affliction “…..Yet, there’s still that evil stigma….we are sometimes considered “CRAZY,”…….We all need to be more assertive, and get people to realize that Depression/Anxiety is crippling, just as diabetes , cancer,……ANY AFFLICTION……It’s debilitating and every day, we must endure it, for we have no choice! This article is of the most informative and understanding piece of writing I’ve ever come across….Thank you for sharing and getting the word out……I hope and pray that society will come to realize that we that struggle with Depression hope that others will have compassion and understanding…..We are all human beings……and we all have different issues……let us all come to the understanding that “LOVE”….is what we all need!

      • I told my best friend how depressed I was feeling. His response was to snap out of it! Not what I needed to hear from someone I’ve loved for 30 years! I quit my extremely stressful job and that has helped but now I’ve lost my home. I was prescribed huge doses of anti depressants which only made me feel worse! It’s an everyday struggle but I’m not giving up!

    • Hi Kristen. My heart goes out to you. I was close 2 suicide in 2010. & have struggled since then, up until 2 mos ago. Severe depression can be debilitating. Just getting out of bed or taking a shower is an enormous task
      But there is Hope 4 U ! God revealed 2 me areas from my past that were traumatic As I’ve looked back at these traumas, & been able 2 feel the emotions attached 2 these traumas, it has brought healing & peace. I used 2 live w constant anxiety also Ended up in a mental health unit in 2011 from extreme anxiety, after mos of insomnia
      The cause was work related. But I was not thinking right. & the anxiety took over. Since then , I’ve been reading & learning re: PTSD, childhood traumas
      dysfunctional home environments
      Setting good boundaries Healthy self love Forgiveness of self. & others. And stopping to believe the lies I had believed about myself You r Valuable
      You r Worthy of living a Great Life !
      Read your Bible re: how much God loves you. Psalm 139. Psalm 91
      Jeremiah 29:11. John 3:16. And write out affirmations 2 urself. Post them on ur bathrm mirror. In ur car etc. Find safe loving people 2 spend time with
      Get a good therapist. Journal ur thots
      Be aware of negative thots. When they come , say NO I DONT RECEIVE YOU
      And replace it w something Good & Positive Watch positive TV shows Play positive affirming joyful inspirational music Watch more comedies. Eat healthier cuz ur brain needs good nutrition. Take fish oil & 5 HTP 4 improved mood & brain fx. Drink lots of clean water. Less sodas. No artificial sugars. Less wheat & corn cuz have toxins in them. Less processed foods
      More fruits 8 veggies. U can have a Great life. Get good support & start
      adding in foods, thoughts, activities, & affirmations, Bible verses, & safe people to begin 2 make ur brain healthy! And find a good therapist!
      You can friend me on FB 4 more support. I get it. I’ve been there
      Paralyzed in my despair & anxiety
      But not any more! I’m free &
      Joyful now. And I want 2 help others
      achieve freedom & Joy too !!!
      Julie Christenson Phoenix AZ
      Hometown. LeMars IA

    • Hi Kristen. When it’s all negative you see, and you can’t speak up, write it down. I’m glad you still brought it up. It means strength in every way. When it’s all hopeless, know that there are people here who just want to listen.

  1. Steve, you hit the nail on the head. I suffer from depression and anxiety, so I totally get it. I’m lucky, as I am receiving help through medication and psychotherapy, but it has not been easy. Your analogy of left-handedness is spot-on.

  2. “Depression is not about what we have; it’s about what has us.” What a powerful statement! There is much need for a paradigm shift when it comes to mental illness. I have several family members that’s suffer from depression and I try to do all I can to help and encourage them. From what I’ve learned being a non-judge mental listening friend is one of the most helpful things you can do. “Like apples of gold in silver carvingsIs a word spoken at the right time. Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold, is a wise reprover to the receptive ear.” (Proverbs 25:11,12). I look forward to God’s Kingdom when all sickness, sorrow, pain and death all things of the past (Revelation 21:3,4). Thank you for your insights.

  3. I can relate to a lot of what you have written. I have suffered from anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember- my family have often joked that I was born stressed out. I feel that the hardest part of living with these conditions is the overwhelming sense of loneliness. You isolate yourself with these terrible thoughts and they are only exasperated by comments like “you have a great life” or “what do you have to be depressed about?”.

    • “What do you have to be depressed about” makes as much sense as “You’re so rich, what do you have to have a broken leg about? One has nothing to do with the other. People mean well, but they don’t understand. A righty may have a broken right arm and need to use his left arm for 4-6 weeks, but he’ll never understand what it’s like to be a true lefty. People get sad, but they’ll never understand depression unless they get it. I hope you’re getting the help you need and the care you deserve.

  4. Amazing article, I feel sometimes with feeling of anxiety and depression and the truth is that the people around us do not understand because they think that this is drama.

  5. I would encourage anybody who wakes up in the morning generally angry that they didn’t die in their sleep, and that they have to suffer through yet another day, to please see what resources are available to them for counseling and medication. I used to be very medication-avoidant. Now that I’ve found my right combo, thanks to my wonderful, patient doctor who took me seriously and treated me like an intelligent person, I wake up with energy and no longer wish I were dead. I never thought that was possible, but here I am. It’s amazing.

    • Stell, that’s true for me as well.
      The medicine my doctor prescribed me help my body and brain balance out the extreme highs and lows that used to throw me off the track. Now I am able to think things through more logically (without that crazy voice in my head telling me, basically, lies. The same voice that told me the only way out of pain was to end my life. I have told that voice, thanks, but it isn’t needed anymore).
      At the same time I found inner calm through meditating a lot, and a sense of a life’s purpose through my own personal, spiritual journey (not religion based).
      That was my solution to living with depression and anxiety.

      At the very least I recommend people start today taking time out of their day for relaxation, even 5-10 minutes time out makes a difference. During this time you give yourself permission to let go of all and any thoughts and fears and relax your body, drain tension. Breathe deeply and slowly.
      Then go on with your day.

      And I highly recommend starting a meditation routine in any shape, that feels good and right to you. (It changes brain pattern behaviour over time, so it’s one more tool for your toolbox).

      Then go and seek help, you deserve to feel better. The help that will suit your needs is out there for you. Take the step. Do it.
      Even though it might take time to feel better, every step counts!

      • Great advice, Sally! Check out the many apps that can help with mindfulness and relaxation. I like “Calm” and “10 Percent Happier,” but there are lots to choose from, and we don’t “endorse” any specific one here. Maybe other readers have suggestions.

  6. I suffer from depression and right now I just don’t care if I die or not. I’ve been seeing psychiatrist ana taking meds but right now the meds don’t seem to be working. I don’t think I’m going back to my pdychiatrist because I think mental health care is just about money. They don’t really care about people. The average person can not afford mental health care. I’m sick and tired of these doctors and just sick and tired generally. Right now I just don’t gaf.

    • Morgan, you are truly aware of your feelings more than most people will ever experience and that is a strength of character you may not realize. I battled depression for many years and tried diffferent meds to no benefit (although I know they can be very effective to many). My route to peace was a combination of everything else including exercise, meditation, intermittent fasting, juicing, tai chi, stretching, and counseling. I especially benefitted from walking for a half hour 3 times a week which was actually my best meditation experience as I started early in the morning just before the sun came up and my spirit was lifted along with the sunrise. Please make the effort to enjoy life by finding what works best for you and know that there are many who are sharing this journey with you.

    • Hi Morgan. I just read ur post.
      I feel ur pain. I’ve been there & it’s an awful place 2 b. Do u have a support system? Healthy supportive friends & family? If not, join a group of others who struggle. Cuz U need support from those who don’t judge condemn or demean U Ask God 2 reveal the ROOT of your pain. Then bravely begin 2 peel the onion of your past pain, trauma, abuse. We cannot heal or get free until we address the pain from our past. Forgive urself & choose 2 forgive ur abuser. Not 4 their sake, but 4 urs
      Don’t let the pain of ur past rob U of the Joy of today U deserve a good life. Fight for it. Don’t settle. Get a caring insightful therapist. Take 1000 mg fish oil daily. Plus 2 Tbsp coconut oil And magnesium 4 calming ( 300-600 mg daily ). Eat less sugar, artificial sweeteners, sodas, & processed foods
      Eat more fruits & veggies Drink clean water, 1/2 of your body weight in oz
      Avoid wheat corn & pork. All damage the brain. & body. Watch more comedies. Avoid trauma shows: w murder, crime, negativity Laugh. Pray. Enjoy time w good safe friends Relax
      Knowing that U can overcome this beast What God has done 4 me He can do 4 U. But U gotta do your part
      Protect ur ears & eyes from negativity
      murder & trauma drama TV shows & movies Play classical music Jazz Worship songs. Sing ur way 2 Joy!
      Cry when u need to. Journal ur thots & emotions. Then write LIE over them. And now write The Truth About urself
      You r Beautiful. U r Worthy. & Valuable
      U r wise U r courageous Speak
      These truths out loud several times a day. Until you begin 2 Believe them!!
      Hugs & prayers. Joyful Julie.

  7. Thanks for sharing your post. I have dealt with depression myself, however, I have never been suicidal.

    A scary thing to me is that a side effect of many anti-depressant drugs, is that people have suicidal tendencies. Hmm… giving someone who is already depressed a drug that “might” make them more likely to commit suicide? Hmm… there is a growing trend of suicides…

    I don’t think the medical community is fixing this. I talk about how I beat my depression on my website: GoodAttitudeFood.com, but mostly I learned to control my self-talk. It me took me a long time to reprogram 30 years of negativity. I still have my moments of negative self-talk. However, it can be controlled and overcome.

    I have seen research that talks about how depression could be linked to and your gut biome. Some research says it can be caused by inflammation and irritation from other issues in the body. I am not a doctor, but I do know that when I eat right, exercise, and make an effort to control my self-talk, that depression is not an issue in my life.

  8. typo, left out the word “nutrition in this sentence:
    “I have seen research that talks about how depression could be linked to nutrition and your gut biome.”

  9. I get it. I have family members that have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, have been on meds, and have all come off of the meds because of how they were making them feel. Some of the meds were actually adding to their depression.

    What am I supposed to say to them when I see that they’re suffering? I know saying “you’ll get over it” doesn’t cut it. What am I supposed to say?

    • 30 plus years of doctors and medications before I knew anxiety was part of the problem. It’s the one medication I don’t hate.

  10. Nail on the head. Would love to read your take on CBD for people like “us”. I have recently ditched the Pharma drugs. This is the best I have been able to manage it in its entirety and no side effects.. only feeling of being well.

  11. What a well said article, I suffer from major depression and anxiety. You have explained it so well here and I thank you for that. No one understands what it’s like, unless they have it, and it’s not their faults. But articles like this are so important and needed. Again, thank you!

  12. Pingback: Bits and Clips for June 2018 | Polly Castor

  13. You want no more sappy inadequate words and thoughts about your temptations? OK, no bullshit from me. First, no one who reads this has chosen to die …yet. Is suicide pathological? Certainly not and it can be quite rational and well thought out, depending on the case. There are many reasons to kill one’s self other than depression. Sometimes happy people kill themselves or even have assistance doing it. How about R. Crumb’s brother who told millions about his state of mind in his brother’s biograpical film. Hemingway?
    I had two serious bouts with grief that tempted me to ‘check out’. Two of three of my sons’ deaths put me in that space. Was it cowardice that pervented my self-afflicted mutilation? No. It was the question, why not? Why not leave my other children fatherless. Raison d’etre? We are all destined to the detrius mill. The real question I encountered in my grief was, “Am I selfish enough?” Was I selfish enough to abandon responsibility to others? Leave them in cages and feeling as guilty as I did for my father’s death? We all want to join the dead, our loved ones. Anomie is the great dark reaper. If suicides have no social values and are cast adrift with no boat anchor of respnsibility or compulsion to love others by keeping alive and serving; well, OK. It is OK and someone can honour your decision without feeling guilty. After all, suicide is discomfiting because it requires us to confront our own mortality. I have harboured a death wish that I carried since my hero father’s death when I was 8 years old. Like the flying Wallendas, I have ridden the line all my life, daring fate and coming whisker close, but always getting by with acute recklessness (except for a few body parts left behind in some hospital garbage can).

    Advice to suicides:
    Get a life by giving whatever love comes from your bowles; best, to the undeserving.
    Put out more than you take in.
    Take no more than what is offered.
    Give more than what you want to give.
    Be cruel to a Norwegian or beggar, make her laugh.
    If you decide to check out, don’t make it messy.
    Change your underwear first.

    Make death painless and certain. Do a good job of it. My stepfather was a top Colorado surgeon. When he had patients tell him about suicide preparations, he would offer advice; earnest advice, so he would not get an amature botched mess on his hands. Purely selfish advice, for he was also the Logan County Coroner. He would invite me along sometimes on these occaisons of sucide, so I have witnessed many. For men, he would demonstrate how to hold the gun in the mouth so it blew out basal brain matter, not allowing for partial brain life. Dont’ fool with a little 22, get a big gun. For women, don’t swallow your prescription leftovers, they could render you only brain dead or brain maimed; not a good kind of dead. If you want to jump, make sure its more than 4th or 5th floor. Hanging is peaceful and effective. Failure leaves no scars. Swinging is not required. Be kind to yourself.
    If you are in need of attention, killing yourself is overkill; go hire a friend or get to know a wino or farmer who is desperate for help. They will feed body and soul. Try dumping your material shit and any binding attachments including reputation. When you ‘check out’ all that is rendered meaningless anyway, right?

    Wait for a sunny day and sit by white water and watch it foam over the rocks all day long. Then do what you want. It is all in your hands; its your life, not others.

    You are gifted. You don’t live in fear of death, but have come to terms with it. So many hold morbid fear of death, what is inevitable. To paraphrase Dylan, “Life is a terminal disease, death is a friend.” You and I are free. Tomorrow is another day of freedom. Thank God for small favors, no fear.

  14. Pingback: Depression Isn’t Sadness and Suicide Isn’t a Cry For Help… by Steve Safran — Blooms and Bubbles – Danielle M Moran

  15. My apologies if this comes off as rude, however going to an ER doesn’t help the situation, they tag us as “frequent fliers”, “here she is again-rolling their eyes” and the “whispers & gossip” is just loud enough for me to fill in the blanks. I know this for fact, as I was once the Emergency Departments Enviromental Service Aid (cleaner). I’m 42 yrs old now, still in constant fighting with what my brain continually tells me, even while sleeping. I have been in and out of hospitals like a revolving door. I’ve had approximately 30 ECT’s, the last in Sept/2014. I have NO THERAPISTS/COUNSELORS, NO PSYCHIARISTS and soon NO FAMILY DOCTOR! But no one even gives a damn. I’ve emailed numerous agencies just to line up weekly appointments just to talk.. to no avail. The people around dont understand, that it’s not an every now and then issue.. it’s a minute to minute fight for survival.. I’m tired… very tired..

  16. Depending on where you live, it might get worse. Michigan’s governor just signed away a ton of Medicaid recipients. But there is always money when lobbyists want it.

  17. Wonderful article and great perspective. I would like to use it on my site as well. I am a biofeedback practitioner and rep for Truehope. The have been producing a micronutrient supplement that as been successfully changing peoples lives with depression, anxiety and most other mental illnesses for over 20 years now. Check out their sites in Canada and U.S. Thank you for the article and your story. ❤

  18. This is a much needed message. I’m also so tired of people saying suicide is cowardly or selfish. People who commit suicide are ILL. They’re experiencing too much pain to handle.

  19. “Even in that moment, they know they have friends they can call. They know there are hotlines. But they are not interested in anything other than stopping that message, stopping the pain.” SO MUCH THIS

  20. And most people just don’t get it. Their intentions may be good but there is nothing they can do once the person has decided it is time to let go…

  21. Pingback: Depression Isn’t Sadness and Suicide Isn’t a Cry For Help… by Steve Safran – Unconventional Wisdom

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