You know, it’s easy to be strong-minded and overcome your depression when your mind is ravaged. You just have to try!
That picture illustrates the point better than I could ever articulate. But the point is clear: Depression is a disease, but far too many people treat it like a choice. As if you’re just deciding to feel nothing. As if you’re just deciding to lower your reserves of self-esteem and self-worth to nothing. As if you’re deciding, I prefer this numbness, this nothingness to happiness, to feeling something, anything.
And the funny, but no so funny thing is, it’s a fact. It’s a disease. But people, in the face of factual medical science, deny this. Sure, we don’t understand all the contours of depression and certainly we don’t understand exactly how to fix it, although obviously therapy and the right medication can help, but don’t confuse that with there being an incompleteness on whether it’s a disease or not. It is.
It would be like if we were debating whether cancer is a disease or not, a choice or not. As if some people just decided to have their cells divide abnormally.
Yes, there are life choices, like what you eat and your exercising habits, that could sway the pendulum to whether you get cancer or not (of course, there are many complex factors beyond your control), much in the same way depressed people do have the choice to seek help or not, but their desire to seek help is mitigated by the stigma associated with getting help because its viewed as weakness. See how fucked up all of this is?
So, since depression is a disease (as are other mental illnesses, obviously), what are we to make of suicide? Is suicide selfish? Is suicide cowardly? Is it “taking the easy way out?” No to all three.
Suicide is a release from a perceived unending mental turmoil. There’s also the problem of self-worth. Read Kurt Cobain’s suicide letter, for example. He mentions how he thinks his wife and especially his daughter will be better off without him. That’s not the words of a selfish person. That’s the words of a person at the end of his tether suffering from a debilitating mental illness.
And how is it the easy way out or cowardly? Seriously. It’s literally going against our evolution, our survival instinct to stay alive. There’s a reason some people don’t go through with suicide or some do it halfheartedly and live. Because it’s fucking hard to kill yourself. Unless you have reached that point in your depression to where it would seem like a release from the burden of living, of breathing every morning.
Moreover, there’s a perverse underlining message when you’re saying suicide is selfish, as Miriam M. says:
At the same time, though, conceptualizing suicide as a “selfish act” sends the message that people somehow “owe it” to their loved ones to stay alive despite immense emotional pain. When you say that suicide is “selfish,” you’re implying–even if you don’t mean to–that the individual’s pain, as well as their potential to improve, isn’t what matters. What matters is how they’ll make the people around them feel.
You do not owe it to anyone to maintain suffering. If anything, some folks hold out longer than they probably otherwise would because of loved ones.
This is not to glorify suicide, but by calling suicide selfish and cowardly, we’re furthering the stigma against those suffering from depression and other mental illness, which in turn means they aren’t seeking help.
Making people feel worse for suffering they didn’t choose seems like a real dickhead move.