Content warning: Suicide
Every time there is a high-profile celebrity suicide, it seems that every single social media platform’s cup runneth over with sentiments of condolence and posts about “reaching out.” In an age when internet content seems to regenerate on a 24-minute cycle rather than a 24-hour one, it’s easy to throw your hat in the ring and say you support people who are going through suicidal ideation. It takes less than a minute to Google a suicide hotline and slap it to the bottom of a tweet, or an Instagram story, or a Facebook post. It takes seconds to write about how your direct messages are open to people who need someone to talk to.
As someone who has battled with mental illness for the larger part of their life, whether I was even aware and vocal about it or not, I’m here to say that internet posts written and uploaded for mass consumption have rarely helped me.
When I was struggling with depression, I didn’t want to “reach out.” I wanted to shrink inward. I wanted to disappear. And then suddenly, all I could think about is how easy it would be to just do that. To disappear.
The constant barrage of posts — which are obviously well-meaning in nature — about how the people who post them are “there for anyone who needs help,” just made me feel like the onus was on myself to move forward. What these people posting fail to realize is how immobile depression can make people feel. When I was six days deep into a depressive episode, lying in bed wearing last week’s pajamas, it was almost too easy to let my eyes glaze over these seemingly empty platitudes on my timeline and continue dissociating from reality.
What got me through suicidal ideation in the past wasn’t the tweets saying, “My DMs are always open.” It was the small moments when people would reach out to me personally.
I’m not talking about daily and extravagant declarations of why I deserve to be alive and loved or hourlong talks on the phone on why my emotional state is valid. I’m talking about the texts inviting me to Romeo’s Coffee to study even though there are rarely chairs, the photos from friends sent to me traveling abroad to places I had told them about and the doodles left on Post-it notes from roommates. These small personal moments with friends are what reminded me that my life has importance, has love and has meaning.
Last year, I was struggling with a sense of belonging and achievement adjusting to a new position at work. I’d come home and try to unpack this emotional baggage with my roommate. I never got much back from her (she had infinite compassion, but was of limited words), nor did I expect to, but it was reassuring to have someone there who was willing to listen. I walked into our room one Monday night feeling particularly dejected and found my room, sans roommate, but with two index cards resting on my comforter. While I was away, she had taken a couple copies of the paper, found my bylines and collaged together lewd and hilarious faux business cards for me. It wasn’t a suicide hotline number or an open DM — it was just my name printed on paper pasted onto other paper — but it helped.
It’s not enough to stand with open DMs if it feels like you’re standing miles away. So next time, instead of making someone’s walk to you less daunting, maybe take the first step toward them. What many people don’t know about depression is that the echoes of every step you try to take sound a lot like, “Hey, I don’t know if I’m causing more harm than good by existing.” It’s hard to “reach out” when my depression creates a sense of doubt — it convinces me that reaching out and messaging someone would be an imposition, that I would be harshly inserting my struggle into their life.
Depression is so personal, so human, and tweets, 280 characters on a screen, are not.
Being there for someone doesn’t always have to be the most public display. Relationships with people are active and require continuous effort, so why does it always take someone dying to kick-start these living moments? Don’t wait until the next celebrity suicide to take action. If you hear your roommate crying on their bed, ask them what’s wrong. If your friend has canceled plans time and time over, ask them about it. Even if they tell you they don’t want to talk about it, at least they then know that someone else is willing to make an effort.
If you’re reading this and you’re considering suicide as I was, as many have, you’re not a coward. You’re not hopeless. There are more options, even if it’s really fucking hard to think of any right now. I promise you there are.