By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
I recently received an email from The Dark Light Project, which is asking for support to make a short film and is working to fight the stigma of depression and suicide. As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to write about it. I have worked with many people who were struggling with how to cope with their loved one being depressed. I have also worked with many who have struggled with the aftereffects of the early death of a parent – sometimes from suicide. People too often forget that depression doesn’t just affect those who are afflicted by it, but they also deeply impact those around them.
This website shares the sad numbers from last year: Nearly 40,000 Americans took their own lives. Suicide remained the second leading cause of death among college-aged students. And, the site also notes that more than 20 million Americans suffer from a depressive illness each year.
The numbers are too big to fully comprehend and they lack the personal connection that can make you truly feel the emotional impact of depression and suicide. The personal reality is that watching someone you love suffer from depression can be heart-breaking. Telling them you love them might not sink in. Encouraging them to join you for a fun time might be met with refusal and indifference. And, they don’t seem to feel your hugs. It can all make you feel impotent.
Then when someone you love attempts suicide – or actually commits suicide, it can turn your world upside down. You struggle to understand how they could feel so awful that they’d prefer to leave this earth. You might feel angry with them. You might feel angry with yourself – and guilty – for not doing something (even if you don’t know what) to have stopped them.
Both as a loving bystander and as the person struggling with depression, this heavy black cloud can feel impenetrable. But there is hope. There are professionals who have successfully guided depressed people out of the blackness. They do it with therapy and medication. They do it with caring and with the help of supportive others. So, if you know someone who struggles with depression or struggle with it yourself, it’s important to remember you are not alone. You can find help by educating yourself and reaching out to caring people in your life and to professional healthcare providers.
Remember, a good place to start learning more and finding help is The Dark Light Project.
The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.