These past several weeks have been a time where we’ve all felt a sense of loss and grief. And I hope so that for most of you it hasn’t been because you’ve actually lost a loved one. But with so many beloved actors/TV personalities’ death and mental health struggles being in the news all the time, it’s hard not to feel at least some sadness even though we don’t know the deceased personally.
It’s one thing though when somebody’s passing is a natural life progression or even a complication from a disease or a medical procedure, but it feels completely different when suicide is involved. There are always unanswered questions, and angst and anger “how could he?!” In reality, mental illness and such extremes as suicide are much more complex to give any general answer, and there are often no apparent extra triggers that just push an individual beyond that point of no return, in most circumstances, it’s a rather prolong and curvy process with its ups and downs, with that one moment of a complete mental and emotional anguish that literary puts the bullet through and makes a person take their life.
As much as we’ve evolved in our modern society, mental illness is still very little understood and is very much a stigma. We’ve gained a lot of knowledge and with it understanding about heart conditions, diabetes and even cancer, we give “the benefit of a doubt” to a diabetic who struggles with their weight and diet, we support and cheer on somebody undergoing chemotherapy and remind ourselves to be “as gentle as we can”, yet when it comes to mental illness, depression in particular, we are too quick to say “just take a hold of it already!” Would you actually yell at a patient ‘s heart because it’s not working properly? Sounds ridiculous, right? Why do we then get upset that a person’s brain is not up to our expectations? Depression is a disease that starts in a brain first and foremost, and the fact that we still know very little how the human brain actually functions doesn’t undermine the struggles mental health issues bring to an individual. The truth is it’s just like any other chronic disease, you have to work on it every single day, make sure you are under treatment and just generally expect some good days and some flare ups. Because this is how it usually goes. With any chronic illness.
In the past decade or so much emphasis has been placed on “the happiness factor”, many books have been published on how to achieve that state and stay there on a permanent basis. The harsh reality though you need to be almost delusional to be happy 24/7. That much happy is just not happening in real life. I’m not minimizing such factors as life satisfaction, personal fulfillment and being content, I’m talking here about that Nirvana-like “happy place” that’s over-populated all major book stores, retreat brochures and even therapists’s offices. It’s placed an unbearable burden and unrealistic expectations on all of us and made us feel “less than” rather than uplift and propel into personal growth. Yes, “the happy place” produced a very much counterproductive effect and probably ruined their self esteem for many modern individuals.
If you watch the video above posted by the World Health Organization, you’ll see that depression, just like any other chronic illness, needs to be fine-tuned and worked on every single day. It’s not going away, in most cases, it’s a life long struggle, but the one where balance can be achieved and where adequate functioning is still a goal. And it’s attainable.
In my mental health practice I see that depression is the number one cause and an underlying issue for all further problems. So managing depression becomes a priority before anything else can be addressed. What I mostly practice for depression management are the elements of ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) techniques. The implication is exactly how it sounds, a client is not signing up to perform a miracle and be completely happy forever and ever and never be depressed again. It’s unrealistic. The client agrees to accept his condition but also a need for modification and management in order to bring better functioning and commits to working on it every single day. And that’s exactly how you’d approach managing any medical condition. ACT modality came out as a last wing of an adaptation to modern findings and research and also reality testing. It’s kind of like a “love child” of the fundamental cognitive-behavioral therapy and Positive Psychology, both are still very much alive and beneficial and the techniques I use heavily in my practice also.
In my hospital practice, suicide screening and prevention is a first task that we all do, I have brought down to ER many patients even at a slightest chance that there may be some potential triggers for a great stress, let alone a suicide attempt, always err on a side of caution. But as much as we try to prevent it, 8000000 people die from suicide worldwide every year, one person takes their life every 40 seconds. Count how many potentially just died while you were reading this post.
It’s hard to understand what could possibly be going on in a person’s mind right before they take their life, into what depth of despair and into what emotional torment they plunge in to see no hope and no way out of their situation. It’s hard for us to imagine that somebody would choose that without any supposed consideration what it’d do to their loved ones and the rest of the people in their lives. The one example I can give to paint a picture is that it becomes a choice between the two perceived evils. Imagine a burning building, imagine people stuck on the top floor without any way to escape. Why do they jump? Is that because they think they’d survive? No. It’s because in that instant moment, and fueled by panic and sheer terror, death by being splashed on a sidewalk suddenly (and in a state of delusion) becomes much more tolerable than death by being burned alive. That’s exactly what happens right before somebody commits suicide, the despair and inability to exist without hope that any other way is possible becomes a much less desirable outcome than killing themselves even knowing that it would hurt their loves one too.
Though hope is the one state that never dies. If you’re reading this and are thinking of harming yourself, there are ways to help. Please dial 911 or go to your nearest emergency room, you may also call National Suicide Prevention hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), counselors are available 24/7 and will assist you in whatever situation you’re in.
If you’re depressed and just see no way out of your condition, you may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I promise I would respond. And I’ll help you find local resources for mental health treatment. (No, I can’t take into treatment any clients who contact me through the site even if you live in NYC, professional ethics prohibits any client-therapist relationship outside of the normal professional scope).
Be well, stay strong, assistance is available, but it’s up to you to reach out and get help.