Every May and after every celebrity suicide, without fail, I await the flood. Many of my otherwise well-intentioned and beautiful friends repost some variant of “There’s always hope. If you’re struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, please call xxx-xxx-xxxx. Please repost to show you care. ”
I get the message they’re going for, but it always makes me grit my teeth and want to call them right that instant to tell them to take it down. (I *really* prefer any type of written communication over calling people so you can see what a conundrum this puts me in.)
With everything happening in 2020, you might feel tempted to repost these notes. In this year of our Lord and Savior, Takeout and Netflix, I’m going to tell you why you should stop reposting this shit and what to do instead.
We’re Not Ignorant
We know how to look up the suicide helpline numbers. Some of us have them written down in our homes. Some of us have called those numbers before. We’ve waited on the bridge or with our pills/gun/liquor/noose/blade in one trembling hand and our phone in the other while some automated voice tells us where we are in the queue. We’ve beaten ourselves up for wasting somebody’s time when there’s probably people with “real problems” waiting behind us. We’ve thought about hanging up and felt trapped because of all our what if spiraling. What if they send an ambulance to my house? What if they send a SWAT team to my location? What if they mistake me for a criminal and kill me instead of helping me?
It Helps You More Than Us
When you post this number, you’re done. You think you’ve done your part by passing the buck. News Flash: You’ve. Done. Nothing. Harsh but true. I’m not going to sugarcoat it because we’re talking about the lives of your friends here. Trust me, in a moment of genuine crisis, we’re not frantically scrolling through Facebook trying to find the helpline number you posted in between your funny memes and lukewarm takes on politics.
We’re trying to slow our breathing and getting more wound up by the minute. We’re not thinking straight. We’re acting on impulse and trying to find a safe space in our contact list. Who can I message that isn’t going to freak out? Who can I call that isn’t going to make this worse? Who can I talk to that will understand? We’re almost never going to land on calling a stranger if we can help it.
It’s the Only Time You Post About Mental Illness
Look, I get it. Suicide is not dinner party or water cooler conversation. I once had a friend call me the Queen of Despair and Darkness because I’ll talk about the things everyone else wishes we could paper over until the cows come home and then some. What that friend and others like her don’t know about? The middle of the day texts. The late night calls. The early morning visits.
People think it’s weird that I’m down for the angsty conversations…………………..until their parent dies. Until their heart is broken. Until they’re stuck in a spiral. Until they’re scrolling through their contacts with tears in their eyes and they think “Her. I could talk to her.” Three years later, when that friend had a moment of crisis, I was there for her too.
You Assume Only A Certain Type of Person Struggles
What’s a positive descriptor of black women in America? If one of the first words that came to your mind was “strong”, you’re not alone. In some cases, it is the only prevailing positive trait Americans associate with us. The problem with that is you can get away with piling a lot of bullshit on a person if you make them think the only good thing about them is how well they can handle it. Take the tragedy and turn it into #blackgirlmagic.
Two of my best friends in university were a redheaded theatre geek and an Asian-American jock. We used to joke we were the knockoff versions of the Three Musketeers. We weren’t what people imagined when they thought of mental illness, but all three of us wrestled with issues in that area. One conversation we had is ingrained in my brain when we all realized that we had all been told “You’re not supposed to be depressed.” Listen to me very carefully. STOP. SAYING. THIS. I’ve told multiple friends depression doesn’t care about your race, gender, political status, sexual orientation, interests, hobbies, personality, religion, relationship status, etc……Depression is an equal-opportunity motherfucker if there ever was one.
By now, you’re probably thinking so what can I do then? At least, the suicide helpline helps some people, right? I wouldn’t know how to talk someone down from killing themselves. I’m not a skilled negotiator.
I got you covered. Here are some practical things you can do instead of posting the suicide helpline number.
1. Stop Supporting Entertainment with Botched Depictions of Mental Illness
a. Yes, I’m side-eying Thirteen Reasons Why up in here. Living with mental illness is not glamorous or exciting. Mental illnesses are complex and highly individualistic. Contrary to popular entertainment, those of us who have them are not inherently dangerous, props that propel someone else’s story, or here to teach you about the “deep meaning of life.” I may be a manic pixie dream girl, but I can tell you for a fact, my depression ain’t what makes me one.
2. Donate When You Can
a. Not just to large organizations or charities that give you a break on your taxes. To the homeless vets on the corners of your city. To the friends on disability struggling to make ends meet. To the people who’ve lost their job due to their mental illness. No strings attached. No requirements. If you can give, just give.
3. Stop Treating Mental Illness as Cutesy Quirks
a. No, you are not “feeling a little OCD” when you rearrange your books. No, you are not “in your manic phase” when you feel excited. No, you are not being “crazy” or “acting retarded” when you feel a little off or do something silly. STOP. THIS. NONSENSE. Get a thesaurus and learn some new words.
4. Educate Yourself on Wellness
a. Learn how and why certain stereotypes of mental illness are not true. Speak up when you hear friends or family making disparaging comments or jokes about the mentally ill. Read about the changes to the brain from trauma, how mental issues can crop up as physical symptoms, and why most people have their first mental health episode between the ages of 16–25. Learn to recognize the symptoms and read your friends.
5. Hand Out Your Number
a. Let people know that you’re down to listen if they’re having a rough patch. Share about your own experiences with mental health issues. Reach out in private to your friends and ask how they’re mentally doing. Venting to a friend before it gets to the point of no return is so helpful for so many people. Be the person that someone could imagine calling when they’re stuck in that spiral. I promise that’s much more effective than posting a hotline and walking away.