I received the phone call on a windy February afternoon.
It had been a particularly stressful day in its own right — I was out on a last-minute assignment, currently lost on Lansing’s Eastside.
My best friend’s voice was timid, trembling on the other end, as if she was hesitant to speak.
“Do you know why there are ambulances outside of your house?”
I didn’t have any idea, and I didn’t even want to think about it. I hung up quickly and called the only person who I knew would be able to settle my worries: my mother. But instead of calming me down, I began to imagine the worst.
As she told the story, I envisioned the hospital bed I’d find my brother in. I imagined the plastic medicine bottles, now empty, clattering onto my mustard yellow kitchen floor. There would be a hole in family photos, a hole in my heart.
After years of enduring the depression that plagued him like an ever-creeping shadow, my brother had done something we formerly had deemed impossible.
After seeing no other way out, he had tried to end his life.
A similar incident erupted at my high school just a few days ago — similar, yet hard to stomach in a completely different way. A student battling depression sought a way to end her own pain as well, and while she made it out alive, she faced relentless ridiculing and insults from her peers via social media.
Although I didn’t know the student personally, I said a silent prayer and not-so-silently condemned those who were heckling her. One student tweeted about suicide being selfish. Another said she was “making the school look bad.” Yet another said she was doing so to gain attention from others. With every tweet that popped up on my news feed, I became increasingly disgusted.
I was very young when my brother was in high school, but even then, I knew he was struggling to get by. He had been grappling with who he was, who he wanted to be and his peers certainly served to confirm his insecurities.
Oftentimes, depression can be a complex issue for outsiders to grasp. Having experienced it myself, I understand. You have your highs and your lows throughout, but when you’re at the lowest of your lows, it feels like no person on the planet could possibly relate to what you’re going through.
Yeah, I understand. I’ve been there. I’ve seen those who are very dear to me go there. Because of those experiences, I’ve come to grips with how insensitive others can be when faced with a similar situation.
Whether you understand it or not, it is never, under any circumstance, OK to belittle another person’s experience. It is never OK to tell them to “get over it” or “suck it up.” And it is never, ever OK to tell them they are being selfish.
Nowadays, my brother is lucky. He is lucky he survived that night. He is lucky a switch went off in his brain, telling him he has more to live for. He is lucky to have a family and friends who support him wholeheartedly.
But not everyone is so lucky. Not everyone gets that switch turned on before their loved ones find their suicide note. I hope others will come to understand their role in helping someone through the most difficult time in their life.
Definitively, depression can be caused by chemical or hormonal imbalances within the brain, as well as traumatic experiences. It does not come from a selfish place or from the desire to get attention. They cannot help it. If they are claiming to feel a certain way, it is because the pain is 10 times worse than you could ever possibly imagine — and there is no need to fabricate that.
What you can do, however, is extend a kind word. Listen to them when they call at 3 a.m. sobbing hysterically. Or, when you find out they’re OK in the wake of the aftermath, like I did that fateful afternoon, send them a text telling them you love them.
Whatever you choose to do, make it positive. Make it meaningful. Do not speak from a condescending place or make them feel worse than they already feel. And in the words of Bob Dylan, “don’t criticize what you can’t understand.”