I am going to be referencing this podcast throughout the post. While listening to the podcast is not needed to understand this post, it can provide a helpful background.
I recently listened to “(Don’t) Kill Yourself”, an episode from the podcast Conversations With People Who Hate Me. To set the scene: this podcase involves the host, Dylan Marron, calling people who had written mean comments on his online work. In the episode I am referring to, Dylan calls an individual (referred to as E) who posted a comment that encouraged Dylan to “kill himself”.
The episode started like many others, they calmly and respectfully discussed why they disagree on the topic of the Youtube video. The call then moved into the comment itself, which, let me say again, was to “kill himself”.
Dylan explains that the comment was perhaps needlessly triggering to many people. He explained that he has felt suicidal at multiple points in his life, though he emphasized he never made an attempt.
E stated that he too had felt suicidal at one point in his life, but then went on to say that the suicidal thoughts back then were because he was a “pussy” and was a weak person who was never taught to be strong willed.
E said that he has been spending his life working to be more of a “go getter” rather than a “lazy sad piece of shit”. He then went on to say that suicidal people are “lazy sad pieces of shit” because they are weak. Dylan did a good job of disagreeing with the general statement without disagreeing with E’s personal experience.
Dylan told E that he thinks people who look at their emotions and sit with them are strong. I want to add to what Dylan said; like in improve, I am going to say, “yes…and…”
The scientific truth that seemed to be lingering just outside the conversation between Dylan and E is that depression is an illness. Something is going wrong in the brain. Being strong willed, in some ways, can make depression worse. If someone feels that they should be able to will themselves out of their depression, they may not seek help from a professional. This can lead to more pain and suffering. To look at it from a different angle, someone who lives with depression can no more will it away than someone who is diagnosed with asthma.
What E is saying and what I believe he is implying, is that people who are depressed and/or suicidal are just not strong willed enough to become happy. Perhaps for the caller, his unhappiness and past suicidal thoughts were due to situations that were in his control, but for so many people that is not the case.
Many people, like me, work their ass off to try to be mentally well. No matter how hard I work, and how hard I will myself to be well, at the end of the day, I still have the illness of depression which can flair up unexpectedly.
E is not alone in thinking of depression as a choice, but those who are informed on the topic know that depression, and the suicidal thoughts it can produce, are a result of a biological condition. Understanding this is an important step in ending stigma.
As always, you can find a list of resources on my Get Help page – these resources are helpful if you are considering suicide, or just need someone to talk to.