Robin Williams' death has brought about a lot of talk on depression, suicide, and mental illness in general. While the awareness can be good, I feel like in some cases, it's doing more harm than good. People with no history of mental illness simply cannot understand mental illness the way someone who has it can understand it. There is a difference between empathy and "I know what you're going through" - or the worse option "I read one article about one person who committed suicide and now I think I'm an expert on depression/suicide."
It is extremely important to remember two things:
Not all people who have depression are suicidal, and
not all people who are suicidal have depression.
I have seen countless articles this week about suicide being a symptom of depression. While this is absolutely true for some people, it is not true for everyone. However, people tend to associate the two, and that's harmful to both depressed people and suicidal people, because the two do not always go together. Other conditions, ranging from PTSD to cancer, can make someone suicidal. And on top of that, not everyone who has suicidal thoughts commits suicide.
It's very easy to simplify mental illness. It's also very easy to sensationalize it, especially in the wake of a tragedy. But it's very important to remember that depression affects everyone differently, and that assuming that everyone with depression is suicidal is detrimental.
I watched a very short documentary about a man with dwarfism today. People were absolutely fascinated by him. He was "other" to them. Some pitied him, some spoke to him with condescension. Some people were extremely unkind. There is a stigma around health conditions that make people seem "other" - whether it's manifested in a physical way like dwarfism, or something not always physically evident like depression.
So friends, please be mindful of negative stigmas surrounding mental illness. Please be mindful that people with depression are not necessarily fragile creatures on the brink of killing themselves. Not all depressed people are sad all the time- that's simply not what depression is, although that's the way it's been construed lately. Not all depressed people are filled with horrendous inner turmoil that's slowly driving them mad. Do not treat all depressed people this way. Awareness about mental health is extremely important, and I'm happy that more people are aware of signs of suicidal behavior and depression, but generalizing any condition, mental or otherwise, is unfair. It puts people with these conditions into a box full of stigmas and stereotypes.
Disclaimer: This is not in any way attempting to dismiss the seriousness of depression or suicide. If you know someone who is experiencing severe depression or suicidal thoughts, that is a cause for concern, absolutely. If you or someone you know is dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts, you can call 1-800-273-8255.