By now, everyone has heard of Robin Williams' passing. It's been sad news, heartbreaking for all of us. Robin Williams was a man who was universally loved. He made us feel like giggly third graders with his wild stream of consciousness and his obvious joy at making us laugh. He was our friend.
We felt free, happy, and without a thought to anything else when we watched Robin Williams. That he lived a lifetime with depression was no secret. Neither was his history with substance abuse. We knew that the combination of both in an addictive personality was a perpetual walk on a tightrope. But yet, when we learned that he had died, we clutched our chests.
Not our Robin Williams. Not Mrs. Doubtfire, Aladdin's Genie, O Captain My Captain!
Within minutes of learning that the cause of death was suspected suicide, there were social media postings questioning why depressed people don't reach out. Why didn't he reach out. Why don't people who are suicidal reach out? Just reach out.
Necessary advice, without a doubt. But there are reasons why reaching out is not just that. Talking to a friend, making a call for help. What stops people?
Much. Much stops people.
What could possibly stop someone from seeking help for something as important as life? How about-
fear of judgment
loss of face
lack of finances, resources, health care
loss of relationship
possible turning of information against you to take away your children or losing your job
A lot is at stake. And a lot of ability is presumed. With depression, you're not able to think straight. You're not who you are -- and what you are now is desperate, despondent, confused, and alone. Why not reach out? Because it's mental illness and mental illness is still not seen as body illness, not even in 2014.
Would a friend or someone you're dating drop you over high blood pressure? No. But if you lean in and trust them with something about you, like you're afraid you might act on a dark impulse? Would they hang around?
I remember a morning only a few years ago, when a friend was over. It was during a particularly bad cycle for me and putting on a happy face was depleting me. I couldn't keep on anymore, and so I confided in her about my depression. Her response? "Don't say that. You're not depressed -- you have a great sense of humor. No one's going to like you this way." Depression is messy, and it scares people.
Could you lose custody of your children over glaucoma? Probably not. But in a heated court battle, throw in words like "mental instability" and "suicidal ideation" or any information from medical mental health history, and you'd have a right to worry.
Can an employer fire you or replace you for knee surgery? Almost not. But how favorably will you be looked upon for future and increased responsibility and promotion if you've disclosed a mental health history? I'd put my money on Average Joe being the one to receive work accolades.
If people don't reach out it's because the information they're sharing with someone regarding their mental health can be used against them. Past spouses can bring up a depression history, a friend can turn others against you with whisperings on how you will drain energy from those around you, work may look past you as someone who is unable to handle job stress.
Reaching out takes confiding in a source. And often, that source is unpredictable in their guarding of your information and in their reaction to your news.
Those of us with depression history, in my case -- a lifelong history -- have been burned by the risk of reaching out. To be fair, I've also been fortunate, I have had a good therapist who helped me to see things differently and explained my work, which is that of daily vigilance and guarding my surroundings. But the times that I've been squashed by the reactions of others has made me wary of those I let into my life.
Because of time, quality therapy, and a newfound support system, I've become comfortable with my history. I no longer have the shame I had when I was a teenager and up through my 30s, when I'd look down at the ground when confessing my life with depression. Through therapy, I've learned what causes depression and I work hard, every day, to keep watch on who is in my world, and I take care with who enters my circle.
Why don't people just reach out?
Because of exhaustion.
Because of the feeling of drowning.
Because of the risk.
Because of the shame when you already feel less than others, it's the risk of losing so much, that makes many of us unable to gather the courage to connect outside of ourselves, and that right there, leads to even more isolation and eventual withdrawal.
To reach out is the scariest thing a person with depression will ever do, but it's the one thing we need most to recover. Why don't people reach out? Because reaching out is hard.
If we reach out to you, it's with a desperate hope for your support. Please don't disappoint us.
"Recovery can take place only within the context of relationships, it cannot occur in isolation." ~ Judith Herman
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
* * *