[TW, probably obviously, for depression, suicide, illness.]
The death of Robin Williams hit me hard yesterday. I'm not entirely sure why. My Twitter stream was filled with Robin Williams reactions alternating with reactions to the horrific events in Ferguson and those two things combined sent me into a mini-depression spiral.
And then came the flood of well-meaning exhortations to "reach out" and "hug someone" and "get help".
And that just sent me into a mini-rage.
Because it doesn't work like that, and I know you think you are helping, but it doesn't help.
(Now I'll add a disclaimer here and say that, of course, this is my personal reaction, and other people suffering from depression may feel differently, and that's expected and totally fine. I don't speak for all depressed people out there, and I don't presume to understand how someone else processes emotions and inputs. But I'm guessing that my reaction is not unique and perhaps it's one that you, well-meaning person, have not considered yet. In which case, please do consider it.)
Would you tell a cancer patient to get help? Duh, they know that. They know they need help. They know they need to keep taking their drugs, keeping going to chemo, keep taking whatever treatments they and their doctors have decided on. And you know what? They could do everything exactly right, and still die. And that's what they live with, every day.
Life's fucked up that way.
Telling a person suffering from depression that "there's hope" and "I'm here for you if you need me" and "help is out there" is, frankly, insulting. Because you don't know what is going on in their lives. You have no idea. Even if you, too, suffer from depression, you don't know what the other person is dealing with. You don't know the nature of their depression, or who has just died, or what financial straits they're in, or what they've suffered and are suffering. You don't know what sort of access that person may have to health care. You don't know that person's past. How do you know there's hope? How do you know there's someone to talk to? I will decide whether there is or not. I'm the one that lives with my disease, every day. And I could do everything right and still not be "okay", whatever that means.
Please stop and consider what you are saying in a public space when you don't actually know anyone's actual circumstances. Please stop and consider what you are saying when you urge someone to reach out, or when you reassure someone, in a public space, that you are there for them. There for who? To whom are you speaking? Your words, in the public, open context of Twitter/Facebook, are meaningless and potentially alienating. They become empty platitudes that are overly smplistic, even though I know you mean them sincerely. And they can actually make someone feel worse.
If you truly want to help, here's what you can do. Express sympathy. Ask how you can help.
Call someone you love, or send them a text or email and say you love and appreciate them. If someone does want to talk to you, be there. Listen. Don't judge. Don't tell them what they should do to fix themselves, unless they specifically ask you for advice. Donate to organizations that are doing good work in treating mental health, or raising awareness. Volunteer for said organizations.
But most of all, you can help by not being the mental health police.
Thank you for reading.