I’d like to start a tradition here about giving a talk about some pertinent issue and giving you all something to think about. Last year at [the Neah-Kah-Nie speech and debate fundraising Gala] I talked about the Day of Silence; mostly because the Gala happened to land on the Day of Silence and also to talk a little bit about sexuality and acceptance due to both being hot topics in this day and age.
However this year, we’ve seen a shocking number of suicides in our county. This month especially many teenagers have taken us by surprise. And that’s why I’d like to talk a little bit about depression and suicide, and the things we can do to stop both.
From my understanding these kids didn’t appear to be depressed, and actually seemed quite normal. They went to school, had their hobbies, smiled and talked with classmates about the usual stuff. That’s exactly why their deaths come as a huge blow to us: we never saw it coming. We never thought that these people, for some of us our acquaintances, for others our friends and for some family, had been struggling with feelings that would cause them to take their own lives.
That’s also exactly why we should be concerned. Most suicide prevention websites and commercials say that the warning signs of suicide include behavior like erratic mood swings, talking about death or wanting to die and losing interest in everything. But what isn’t as obvious, and even harder to see, is behavior such as being suddenly happy, sleeping too much or too little, and feeling like a burden to others.
For most of us it’s hard to peel back someone’s layers to find out what a person is really feeling, especially when that person doesn’t want to show what they’re feeling. It’s easy for us to put on a mask and not burden people with our problems. But what we need to recognize is that other people hide under their facades too; and even though they may be smiling on the outside, they may be crying on the inside, especially when you feel like you aren’t worth someone else’s concern.
For example: I’ve struggled with depression on and off for the last 3 years. The feeling of worthlessness is familiar. The overwhelming empty feeling that sits in your chest isn’t new. The occasional suicidal thought is nothing uncommon. And it’s easy to dismiss a teenager’s depression as the norm.
Every teen goes through that stage of moodiness, and not knowing where we fit in the grand scheme of things. We think of it almost as a rite of passage. But what we fail to realize is that for some kids: this passage is never finished.
Every 14 minutes, a person commits suicide. And while we would like to think that suicide or depression isn’t something that can affect our community, the recent suicides of the last month in Tillamook prove that both suicide and depression hit closer to home than we thought. If we talk to each other – really talk to each other – we’d find that most of us have struggled with depression at some part of our lives. But it’s not something that we talk about, and so we don’t really know how to deal with it when it happens, and there really isn’t much we can do when someone takes their life other than grieve.
But we can prevent it. In our own way, we can save someone’s life. First we have to pay attention to other people. Find the cracks in someone’s armor. Even though it’s hard for us to talk about darker feelings we have with others, if we do we may spark someone else to reveal something that they may be struggling with. We establish trust. And more often than not just talking about a problem makes it easier to deal with.
I remember the first time I talked about my depression with someone who cared for me, and I was able to see that I wasn’t alone. And for someone struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, I know that voicing pain is the first step to conquering it.
Next, urge them to seek treatment. Not all of us are psychologists, and sorting through negative emotions may call for a deeper look, and for that a professional is necessary to help someone deal with heavy baggage. If in the case we ourselves are struggling with depression and are having suicidal thoughts, then it’s up to us to let someone in. To let someone care enough to help us. Whether that be a friend or someone from a suicide hotline, there’s only so much we can deal with ourselves before we need someone else to help us carry our burdens.
Personally, I know how hard depression can hit, and how hard it is for someone to notice without me saying anything. Putting on a smile, laughing at all the right lines, there’s a way you can act that will make someone think that there’s nothing wrong while you’re actually in so much pain that death is a welcome option. We can’t let that be the only option. We need to talk about the things that hurt us without fearing any backlash that may be associated with seeming like a downer or a complainer. It’s better to speak up than to silence your voice forever.
If we reach out to someone, even just one time, that may be the difference between life and death. So I urge you — get educated. Find out more about depression and suicide and talk to your loved ones about it. You could find out that someone you care about is thinking about taking their life. And you can stop it before you have to regret not doing anything beforehand. You don’t have to be the one to watch someone you love be buried in the ground. You don’t have to face the reality that so many other people face of not getting to see someone they love every day.
You are able to be the one to watch over your loved ones, instead of having one of them watch over you from above. So take the time it takes to talk and more importantly, to listen. As the Gala continues and eventually winds down, leave here knowing that you can make a difference. And for those suffering in silence, know that it does get better. And there are people willing to listen to you, willing to care for you, willing to help you and, most of all, wanting you to live.
Note: this post was delivered as a speech at the annual speech and debate fundraiser at Neah-Kah-Nie High School on April 27, 2012.