Dying to live
Destigmatising depression can take the death out of the living, writes Elena Koshy
“ITRIED so hard and got so far, but in the end it doesn’t even matter,” Chester Bennington wails plaintively on the chorus of In The End, an early single. In the end, it didn’t matter to him. On July 20, the vocalist for the nu-metal band Linkin Park was found dead in his California home from an apparent suicide.
Suicide has claimed yet another life. For a brief dark moment in my life, it almost claimed mine.
I tried to kill myself once. When I was 13, full of angst and thought that life with all its twists and turns was just too hard to figure out. It wasn’t a planned attempt. More like an impulsive decision that led to me attempting to swallow a sea of pills scattered on my bed.
Suicide can feel like a kind of dark contagion — an idea that slips into a room and lingers, cruelly. It’s not a sudden flick of a switch in your brain.
On the contrary, it’s a build-up of circumstances and reflection, a long battle against darkness and despair and the fact that you can no longer see the way forward without pain.
In his last poignant interview with The
Mirror, Bennington mentioned the feelings he’d been struggling with, including not even wanting to get out of bed in the morning.
He discussed how he managed to move past his “demons” and accepted that life might not always be perfect.
Shortly after, he hung himself — a reminder that mental illness is a tough beast to fight and that people can be saying one thing outwardly and feeling quite the opposite internally.
His death comes just two short months after Audioslave vocalist Chris Cornel (Bennington’s friend and occasional collaborator) ended his life in a similar manner.
Closer to home, a 20-year old college student jumped off her condominium in Setapak back in June after writing a suicide note to her mother, telling her that the pressures she was facing was too much for her to handle. DARK TUNNEL OF DEPRESSION
Why do people want to kill themselves? It’s the one question everyone asks without exception. Why? For those whose loved ones succumbed to suicide, it’s a question that rises from their bewilderment and guilt of failing to see it coming.
For most part, suicide remains festering in the shadows. Nobody likes to talk about suicide. The stigma that depression and mental illness only affect the weak and the lonely helps in propagating its secrecy and hinders any possibility for intervention.
It’s a challenge navigating through the tragedy for those who get left behind in the wake of a death by suicide.
Many fail to understand that in most cases, suicide is usually the result of multiple causes, often involving depression and not something that can be blamed on a person or a single event.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that approximately one million people die each year from suicide. That staggering figure makes the prospect of preventing suicides daunting.
Here, four out of every 10 Malaysians will fall victim to some form of mental health issue in the course of their lives and many psychologists believe that the numbers will continue to rise.
“Snap out of it!” or “Stop feeling sorry for yourself!” are some of the well-meaning advice given by family and friends who think that depression can be overcome through willpower alone. But they can’t be further from the truth.
The Malaysian Mental Health Association defines depression as “an illness due to a chemical imbalance in the brain”. It maintains that it’s not a sign of personal weakness or something that you can “snap-out” of.
Many suicide cases are committed by people who were depressed and untreated. Depression is an illness and should be treated as such.
Comedian Robin Williams was beloved by America and yet he felt deeply alone. His suicide was like the culmination of a daily struggle with severe depression. On-screen, he was funny, vivacious and ready to make someone smile. Offscreen, depression ate him from within.
If this celebrated star felt alone, imagine how isolated the average sufferer can become, locked in a struggle against depression with little support and understanding from family and friends. Depression can make you feel like the loneliest person on earth. I’m well acquainted with that feeling.
LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL The truth of the matter is that while depression can be a debilitating disease, it can be addressed.
However, the stigma that exists around mental illness, depression and suicide prevents people from seeking the help and support they need.
Many suicides are preventable and removing the stigma is key to reducing the number of people who take their own life.
My own journey from being in a dark tunnel to finally reaching the light wasn’t a quick one. But having friends and family to help me navigate through those dark moments saved my life.
There are few things to understand if you’re struggling with depression:
1. You’re not a failure
You’re not a bad person, or crazy, or weak, or flawed because you feel suicidal. It doesn’t even mean that you really want to die — it only means that you have more pain than you can cope with right now. Feeling suicidal happens when pain exceeds the resources you have for coping with pain.
2.Care about yourself
Your mental health is equally important as your physical health. Well-meaning people might advise you to “snap out of it” but don’t wait and hope that your mood might resolve itself. It’s nothing to feel ashamed about, and you need to advocate for yourself.
Depression is a serious illness that requires treatment so don’t be ashamed to get the necessary help.
Identify a trusted person whom you can go talk to. Contrary to how you may be feeling, there are people out there who can be with you in this horrible time, and will not judge you or try to talk you out of how badly you feel.
Don’t give yourself the additional burden of trying to deal with this alone. Just talking about how you got to where you are releases a lot of the pressure, and it might be just the additional coping resource you need to regain your balance.
4.You can survive this moment
You need to hear that people do get through this — even people who feel as badly as you’re feeling now. Although it might seem as if your pain and unhappiness will never end, it’s important to realise that crises are usually temporary.
Solutions are often found, feelings change, unexpected positive events occur.
Remember, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Give yourself the time necessary for things to change and the pain to subside.
Depression is real. And in today’s world, the feeling of disconnect and isolation is more prevalent than ever. The need for connection and meaningful relationships is never more keenly felt than the present.
To those of us who can, we must reach out. To those who struggle, we must also do the same. Having healthy relationships not only helps to alleviate depression but also helps to prevent its recurrence.
Isolation, however, makes one more vulnerable to mental and physical illness.
As we move towards destigmatising the myths and fallacies around depression and other related mental illness, may we constantly remain vigilant in our compassion and never presume to know the depth of internal battles being waged in the minds and emotions of others.