Four times. I have stood in the back of a church after this loss four times. Every time, there have been several who asked in hushed voices, “Why?” or exclaimed, “How selfish” or had their own theory as to why our friend was gone. “I heard he was getting a divorce.” “I heard his business wasn’t doing well.” “I heard she was struggling in school.” “Why would anyone do this to their family?” Or the most common one, “Wow. He/she always seemed happy. This makes no sense.” Enough already.
When I was in my late 20’s and had been a practicing Counselor/Diagnostician for several years (yes, I am now a retired, licensed mental health professional) I lost a client. The world lost an intelligent, witty, very talented young man who was a sophomore in high school. He was diagnosed with clinical depression. His father would have none of it and said the acknowledgement of the diagnosis or medication treatment would “hurt his chances to have a normal future.” The father agreed to pay for his son to have a few sessions with me to help unblock “this nonsense” so that he could go about being successful in the private school he attended. I enjoyed this young man’s visits as we talked thru his struggle, his goals that seemed unreachable to him, his confusions both within him and around him in terms of who he truly was from the inside out. He seemed to be improving, became motivated to follow a dream, he set goals. I gave him my cell number to be available to him in between appointments.
Then I got the call from one of his teachers at the school who knew he’d had a few sessions with me. That initial punch in the stomach never seems to change. Four times I’ve felt it. The initial shock, then reality sets in. Then rationalization of the “why.” Four times, and the first one was my client. The next three were friends, most recently one of my daughter’s dear childhood friends.
SHE friends, I know some of you reading this have experienced this loss. Some of you have felt the pain exponentially, as it was your loved one. Some of you have your own battle, disclosed or undisclosed to the world, with this disease. Yep, I said it. Depression is a disease and a real struggle for many. And what I learned from my debriefing counseling sessions after losing a client, was simply and sadly this: depression is a disease that oftentimes goes undiagnosed, but even more often is diagnosed and hidden from all because of the stigma society has associated with it.
Cancer is a disease. Cancer can be cured. We talk about it.
Parkinson’s is a disease. Alzheimer’s is a disease. We talk about them.
Depression is a disease. It cannot be cured; it can be managed. Sometimes, those stricken with this disease lose their battle with this disease by their own hand. They lose their battle with the disease. We don’t talk about it. We ask silly questions, searching for a moment or experience in life that “caused” this loss of life. Suicide is not a disease, it is an answer in a moment when a person who battles the disease of depression believes in the deepest part of their being that they cannot climb anymore, they cannot fight to pretend to be happy anymore, they cannot “do life” anymore. I am in no way suggesting that I am okay with this decision; I am merely expressing that with great compassion, I understand this horrid disease.
Like many diseases, depression has a continuum of severity. But unlike many diseases, those with depression fear the diagnosis or, once diagnosed, fear that someone will find out. She-friends, a person – man, woman, child – with depression deserves the same understanding, compassion and assistance that other disease-sufferers are offered.
So, today I am answering the questions I have repeatedly heard four times in the back of a church:
“Why?” – he/she suffered from depression
“How selfish” – in his/her state of mind, as a result of the depression, he/she believed it was their best option
“I heard ___________” – leave it at home. Doesn’t matter. He/she struggled with life stuff because he/she had the disease of depression
“Why would anyone do this to their family?” – this decision wasn’t about their family. They believed their family could now stop worrying about them. They were tired of the struggle. They suffered from the disease of depression.
So what is the answer? Let’s talk about it OUT LOUD. Depression is a chemical condition in the brain. Depression is a disease. Depression can be diagnosed. Depression can be successfully managed in most cases. And in some cases, some will lose their battle with depression. We love them because of who they are, not because of or in spite of their disease.
This past week, I had the benefit of partnering with the Gil Taylor Depression Awareness Alliance for an India Hicks Get Together, Give Together event to raise funds for their mission. Gil’s parents, Charlotte and Dudley, have programs in several high schools with an education component for kids in their most fragile, critical years – the teen years. This incredible organization is opening the dialogue, offering assistance and taking the stigma out of depression by talking about it. And they are talking to students, the next generation of society’s leaders. I hope you will check out the work that they are doing.
Check out these great articles on the stigma associated with depression:
Note from the SHE Files: No more hushed voices – be a part of the solution to remove the stigma of depression