Oftentimes when news break of someone having taken their life, we hear the same old self-centered rhetoric of “how could they be so selfish”, “what about their family”, “why can’t they think about how this will affect those they leave behind?”
While I understand how you might feel anger and hurt from losing someone so close to you and how knowing that they took they own lives and you never once knew they were going through something can hurt even more, really I understand. I still feel that a lot of this anger has now turned into victim-blaming and really just goes to show how we really don’t see depression and other mental illnesses as real illnesses.
Think of it like this: someone who you love is diagnosed with cancer. It’s too late to do anything really, cancer has spread too far (stage 4) and they start showing symptoms before finally succumbing to their illness. In this case would you blame them for dying? No right. Because we understand cancer is an illness that can kill if not treated properly and timely.
So now try applying the same example to mental illnesses. Depression, just like cancer, is an illness. Those who have it have to take pills regularly, they have doctor appointments and sometimes they don’t feel good too and might show symptoms that include suicidal thoughts. Like every other illness. This is why it makes no sense to blame and shame people who commit suicide. They succumbed to depression, the cause of death in this case would be depression. It is not an act of selfishness, just like someone dying from stage 4 cancer didn’t kill themselves but rather was killed by their illness cancer.
To add on to this suicide was the 4th leading cause of death amongst South African youth in 2012, according to a study done by Statistics South Africa. With all the pressure (academic and personal) that we as young people experience daily whilst also trying to find our purpose on this earth, suicidal thoughts can cross one’s mind. These thoughts become more frequent and worsen when you don’t have anyone to speak to about them. You might try and tell your close ones about how you’ve been feeling lately but this because so difficult when all your friends are going to tell you is that no you’re just being selfish and inconsiderate instead of trying to help you through them. Which is why it is so important to be so careful with how we talk about mental illnesses because close friends might be going through it to but too scared to come out because of your ableism and suicide-shaming.