The recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain are jarring for many of us. But especially for people who are vulnerable to suicidal type depression, seeing celebrities who supposedly have it all leads to even greater feelings of hopelessness. These celebrities were successful and talented. If they didn’t have enough to live for, what do I have to live for? This is a common sentiment of those struggling to survive with severe depression with suicidal thoughts. And in this way, celebrity suicides can set off suicide contagion, which has been the case after celebrity deaths like Robin Williams.
But if you struggle with suicidal depression, the fate of Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain does not have to be yours.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that suicide rates have risen dramatically in the past 15 to 20 years in the United States. The reasons for this are surely multifaceted and complex, but I want to speak to an idea that I have come to believe through my work with suicidal depression.
The Secrecy of Suicidal Thoughts
Depression that leads to suicide is a condition of social isolation. If you are suicidal, you likely feel profoundly disconnected from others and alone with your suicidal thoughts and depressive feelings. Very often, the people closest to you may not even know the extent to which you are depressed. You might be so good at hiding your internal world that your thoughts remain a secret from the people you love. Like so many people in this places, you may put on a happy face, use humor or interact with friends and family as if nothing is bothering you. And you remain alone with the depths of your despair.
After a suicide occurs, so often loved ones are blindsided. They had no idea this was remotely possible and they are left to reconcile the person they thought they knew with the action of suicide that marked the end of their loved one’s life.
This is the extent that people with suicidal depression hide their internal world. And why not? It seems so shameful and scary to have such dark and feelings and thoughts. Let alone to tell anyone about them. “What would people think if I told them about what I’m thinking and feeling? They might judge me or I might be misunderstood. I might be a burden on other people and bring them down. No one can help me anyway. Why worry the people I love?”
But what I want you to know is that even if it seems hard or pointless to open up and allow someone in, it is crucial, a life or death matter. People who have moved through suicidal depression will say that finding a way to share their internal experience with someone who cares was essential in turning things around. The nature of this type of depression is that it tells you nothing will work and you are alone, but suicidal depression takes a stronger hold when you remain isolated. It’s immobilizing so it’s even difficult to conjure up what it takes to reach out. But you must open up. Whatever small step is available, let someone you trust know about your inner world.
What does connection do anyway?
Feeling connected to someone in your depression doesn’t magically take the depression away, that’s true. But it does a couple of things that start to change your experience of yourself and the world at a fundamental level. Slowly but surely, this can rewire your nervous system and lay a new foundation for your life.
First, to courageously tell someone you trust how you are really feeling combats the illusion of depression that you are alone in the world. The alone belief is an emotional experience. You can intellectually know you have friends and should feel loved, but it’s the emotional experience deep down that emerges when you’re in the depths of despair. It tells you that you really are alone. You might feel trapped with the those crippling thoughts and feelings that make it seem suicide is the only way out.
To make an authentic connection at that time allows care to flow in and disrupt that belief on a cellular level, not just on an intellectual level. When you feel someone with you and you feel acceptance, it can take the edge off of the fear and aloneness. Just enough to start healing.
Second, allowing your true self, even when fragile and vulnerable, to be seen in a safe relationship infuses you with strength. Even if it’s initially a small measure of strength, allow it to nourish you until your next “meal.” Allowing yourself to be this real is courageous. Some people find it hard to receive to this extent. Perhaps you are used to being the giver in your relationships and you think you shouldn’t need this level of care. But experiencing this place of vulnerability gives you a profound capacity for compassion and a deep reservoir from which to serve others in the future. Take in care and let it strengthen you.
Connection can come in many forms. Not all relationships are safe enough to allow for this level of disclosure and care. Maybe you trust a close friend, your partner, a family members or a therapist. Use discernment and follow your intuition. Also know that there are resources available at all times for you.
Depression of this nature can require a slow process of healing. But it is possible to effectively heal by reaching out and receiving help. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide or is severely depressed, there are resources for help:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
Crisis Text Line:
Text HOME to 741741 to receive 24 hour support about any crisis