Relationships

On Mental Illness

Why Suicide Isn't Selfish

A couple weeks ago, I started crying to Alex at the kitchen counter…

I felt the monkey of depression on my back. “I think it’s coming,” I wept to Alex, as he stood by the stove. “What do I do?” In the five years since I’d experienced postpartum depression — with Toby and then worse with Anton — I’d felt like regular myself again, but now and again, I’d feel a glimpse of it.

Recently, after Anton got sick, and Toby got hurt, and everyday challenges continued, I began feeling down. But in a dark, flat way that gave me chills. I felt exhausted all day; I had a hard time making decisions; I felt boring around friends.

Thankfully the feelings passed after a week, but it was terrifying to see the shadow roll by.

When I read this week that Kate Spade died from suicide, my heart broke for her and her family. There are many misconceptions, and it feels more critical than ever to talk openly about mental health. Since suicide can seem especially hard to understand, I thought I’d share five smart points I’ve read (and I’d love to hear your thoughts):

1. Depression is a disease, not a personality trait.

“Even though science has proven it a million times over, our culture doesn’t yet fully recognize that MENTAL ILLNESS IS A BRAIN DISEASE, just like hepatitis is a liver disease. Depression (and bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and everything else) affects our brain — the organ we use to make decisions. If you’re suffering from suicidal depression, it doesn’t matter how beloved you are or how much you love your family or how much money you have, because your brain is telling you that despite all those things, suicide is your only option. (Or that you need to isolate yourself, sleep all day or other behavior that a healthy brain would recognize as bad decisions.) This is one reason mental illness is so deadly: the part of our body that’s affected is the same part that’s responsible for our behavior. It’s like if you broke your leg and then had to use that leg to walk to the hospital… Depression is an ILLNESS. It’s not weakness. It’s not your fault. And it’s impossible to think or reason your way out of it without help, due to the part of your body that’s ill.” — Emily McDowell

2. Depression isn’t just sadness.

“[Some] imply that they know what it is like to be depressed because they have gone through a divorce, lost a job, or broken up with someone. But these experiences carry with them feelings. Depression, instead, is flat, hollow and unendurable.” – Kay Redfield Jamison

“It is very hard to explain to people who have never known serious depression or anxiety the sheer continuous intensity of it. There is no off switch.” — Matt Haig

“It feels like I’m desperately homesick, but I’m home.” — Sarah Silverman

“Is there no way out of the mind?” — Sylvia Plath

3. People who die from suicide don’t want to die.

A person doesn’t try to end her life “because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors.” – David Foster Wallace

4. There’s nothing selfish about suicide.

Some people say that “it’s selfish to leave children, spouses and other family members behind… What they don’t know is that those very loved ones are the reason many people hang on for just one more day. They do think about the survivors, probably up until the very last moment in many cases. But the soul-crushing depression that envelops them leaves them feeling like there is no alternative. Like the only way to get out is to opt out. And that is a devastating thought to endure.” — Katie Hurley.

“It doesn’t feel like you’re abandoning [your loved ones]; it feels like you’re freeing them from the burden that is you and your illness. You feel like you are doing the world a service by leaving it.” — Jen Simon

5. People don’t “commit” suicide, they die from suicide.

“This is a much less judgmental, more straightforward way to talk about someone who dies from mental illness. They are not ‘a suicide’ any more than someone who dies from cancer is ‘a cancer.'” — Kelly Williams Brown.

Sending so much love to anyone who needs it today. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Things can and will get better. I encourage you to reach out for help. xoxo

If you’re suffering, please call 800-273-8255, and someone will be glad to talk to you. Or text TALK to 741-741, if you prefer texting.

P.S. Wholeness vs. happiness, and a runner’s thoughts on depression.

(Illustration by Alessandra Olanow.)

  1. Whitney says...

    I have always been a very upbeat and positive person. I very rarely struggled with sadness or even negative thoughts. When I left the hospital with my first son the nurse gently told me that she has never met a mother who hadn’t faced some sort of postpartum depression. Being such a naturally happy person and so excited for motherhood, I kinda blew her comment off. Well…she was right, and I experienced depression for he first time in my life.
    As crushingly hard as it was, I am SO, SO thankful for the experience because I now understand depression and the STRONG people who live with it every day. While I was going through it, I was desperately in love with my son, I had many happy moments, and I didn’t even want the situation to be different – I just felt hollow. I vividly remember the first time I felt like myself again after his birth and I nearly wept with relief. And my heart also broke for those among us who suffer from chronic depression and don’t get that relief. For the first time in my life I genuinely understand depression, and for that I am so thankful.

  2. Nato says...

    You don’t necessarily need to be happy to go on living. Helping poor, abandoned old & young, and/or animals in kill-shelters put things in perspective. Re-focus from self-pity doing something for others

  3. Gabrielle says...

    Have you read ‘Lost Connections: Uncovering the real causes of depression and the unexpected solutions’ by Johann Hari? It’s an incredible book that delves into recent and older research into depression and anxiety and reveals common untruths about mental illness we are told daily. It reads more like a memoir than a psychology book — I highly recommend it to everyone, whether or not you have suffered from depression or anxiety.

  4. Darina says...

    This. All of this. You ladies are wonderful and thoughtful and inspiring, and I’m feeling really connected to you all- isn’t that odd how that can happen with complete strangers?

    I have dealt with some level of anxiety ever since I was a little kid. I’m now 35. My anxiety got WAY worse after having my daughter almost 2 years ago. It’s this oftentimes constant feeling of being overwhelmed, it truly sucks and is so scary at times. I started getting post-partum depression but not until I started weaning around 11 months. It ended up being a really slow process once I figured out that it was this sudden drop in my hormone levels, but I felt like I was going crazy at the time. Being aware that you’re literally losing and not knowing why is terrifying.

    I am now in an anxiety management class, third session of 6 is tonight, and it’s been so insightful. I’m also looking for a new therapist- i haven’t gone in years, and it’s really time to start talking about someone about why this takes over me sometimes and also what to do about it.

    Sending you all much needed love…if we just show a little more love for eachother, I really believe that will help make this world a little brighter for those that are in the dark.

  5. Kate says...

    I’ve sat here for the past hour or two weeping while reading these comments…

    My fiance and I are getting married in one month. The past year has been an intense one for us… partly because we’ve moved abroad for his job, which is so, so much more demanding than we expected. Over the past 5-6 months, he’s become anxious and depressed. Doctors here have just told him to just take a few weeks off from work. That’s not really an option. So, he’s angry. He cries multiple times daily; he can’t make decisions; he won’t get out of bed; he won’t even pet or play with our dog; he’s become over-reliant on me. He reminisces about happy times from the past and worries about never being able to give me what we dreamt about for our future. He isn’t able to live in the present, but still gives up his (our) weekend for work. He told me that if he ever thought of doing something drastic, saying he wouldn’t, he’d tell me….

    This is terrifying as we begin the next chapter of our life together, with plans to start our family soon, too. The person I fell in love with is buried and I don’t know how to get him back. I’ve tried to help him with love and with tough love, by holding him and yelling at him, by running our household and by mothering him.

    It’s so, so tough on me, and I don’t know how to keep this up, either. All I want to do is cuddle with our dog on the couch all day watching Netflix, rather than explore my new city/country, try to find new friends, apply for jobs, or even cook, which has always brought me comfort before.

    I don’t really know where to turn to for help, for me or for him.

    • JCT says...

      Dear Kate,

      I’m sorry to read your comment. Your situation is really difficult for you both, and compounded by being away from home and your support networks. I’m glad that your partner has been able to seek medical help, and I’m sorry the doctors’ response hasn’t been helpful.

      I’m not a doctor, and I don’t know you or your partner, but I do have plenty of my own experience of mental health difficulties so I thought I’d share what does and doesn’t work for me (and my husband) when I’m experiencing a difficult period. Obviously, this is different for everyone.

      I try to be honest about how I’m feeling, however bad that is and including if I’m having the darkest thoughts. I owe him the truth. For his part, my husband tries hard to just listen, without judgment and without offering any solutions. He allows me a little time to mope if I need it, but after that he encourages me to get out of the house for a little bit of sunlight and some exercise, and for me that really helps.

      When I had post-natal depression my GP talked about the importance of sleep, and although I was skeptical at the time I’ve realised since how poor sleep (and a bad diet) affects my mood. In the longer term, medication has helped stabilise me when I’ve needed it, and talking therapies and CBT have helped equip me with coping strategies and taught me to recognise the signs.

      For me, depression is all-encompassing. When I’m depressed I feel like I have always been miserable, and I can’t imagine or foresee that I will ever feel happy again. I can’t imagine what I bring to anyone and why my husband, infant son, friends or colleagues would want me around. I feel a burden to everyone and useless and hopeless at everything. I can’t imagine anything about the future, or I imagine a future that doesn’t involve me. I get around that by thinking one day at a time, or even literally one hour at a time, and I try to have faith in my own strength and remind myself that I’ve got through these times before.

      For what it’s worth, I would call the doctors on your partner’s behalf, and go with him to the appointment. Insist on proactive treatment, not just having time off work. Do you feel able to talk openly to your families and friends?

      I would add this: you cannot pour from an empty cup. Do whatever you need to do to care for yourself. You cannot live both your lives, and you should feel no guilt about that.

      I hope the comments on this thread have reassured you that you are so far from being alone, and shown you that there is a way forward.

      Please stay in touch and let us know how you both are.

    • Elle says...

      I wish I could pick you up and take you for coffee and tell you everything will be ok. I don’t know that it will be, but if I were you I would want someone to hold my hand and say that it would be ok, no matter what happened. So let’s imagine that happened, and we cried, and we laughed, and maybe coffee became beer.

      The next morning its still dark in your house but I hope its a little better. You are carrying a lot. He is in a terrible place, and you’re doing everything right. But no matter what happens to this chapter in his life you need to make sure you turn out ok. Don’t let your heart trick you into thinking this is selfish: you need to do whatever brings you joy.

      My heaviest rounds of depression came after moves. I don’t have magic to help them get better, but all the anchors for my joy were thousands of miles away- somehow I got through. It takes a lot of practice and effort to put down new anchors. I joined an old ladies running club where everyone was almost three times my age. I didn’t say anything to any of them for months, just followed their pace and listened. For me breaking up my routine and getting out of my house and so out of breath that I was out of my brain too. Its not a cure-all but it is a cure-some.

      Last thought: babies are hard and sleep is hard with babies, so I would wait another minute. I always want people to butt out of my uterus, but a good friend told me to wait until I was on the other side of depression to see all the joy so that I could really enjoy it and smother those fat baby knees with the love they deserved.

      Anyhow. Lots of love from Texas.

    • Bonnie says...

      Hi Kate,
      My husband struggled with depression before we were together and has struggled through it off and on for a few years. I never understood depression until he had it. There were days he also would cry and not get out of bed. I use to not understand and take it personal but over time have learned to be there for him by giving him support, listening, stepping up my role in our marriage (including taking care of the kids when he is feeling super depressed or anxious) and trying to be positive and strong for him.
      What has helped him is working out regularly, which naturally boosts endorphins. Also getting out and talking walks outside and having fresh air helps.
      Change is also something that my husband is sensitive with. A move in general is stressful and on top of that a job change. I’m hoping that over time you both will find a new normal. In the meantime have you thought about therapy or counseling? It’s amazing the clarity a counselor can help you with. Changing and understanding thoughts can also shift moods. Wish you and your husband the best!

  6. isavoyage says...

    “It feels like I’m desperately homesick, but I’m home.”
    Have been thinking about this since i read the post, a few days ago.
    Thank you, it’s helpful to put words on my feelings. So far, i worded it out as “i feel desperately nostalgic of things I have never lived”. That still rings true, but this quote adds something deep and important for me. So, again, thanks.

  7. This is such an important topic to keep talking about. Thank you for the post!!

  8. Elle says...

    Thank you. I grew up with a close family member, whom I still speak to daily to make sure they are still here, who suffers with suicidal thoughts. They are capable, brilliant, and good. And 99.9% of coverage of mental illness or suicide makes me angry.

    It also makes me angry when people post the pedantic comments on Facebook: “Just call me! I’ll be there!” Will you? My family member calls. Openly states the reality: invite them to dinner or something may happen. Nobody says yes twice. Turns out that most people don’t want to spend that much time with a depressed person. Turns out its a lot of work. Turns out for most people they would rather be “surprised” when suicide kills their “friend.”

    I don’t have a solution, just the thought that we could all give up a few hours a month for those people we know or think are struggling. Even if you have to cry when they leave because it wasn’t fun and it was hard.

  9. Ru says...

    Thank you so much for this post! I found it very helpful when I was going through a bit of a rough patch. I think that another fundamental issue is that depression and mental ill-health are often regarded as interminably extreme. Many are quick to offer support in the cataclysmic moments of suicidal depression, but are more likely to treat everyday forms of mental ill-health with irritation or indifference. Because of this, in some ways, the day-to-day is harder to live with.

    This is the first time for many of my friends, family, and readers that I have been open about my own mental health struggles.

    Thank you, really,
    Ruari

  10. TRD91799 says...

    I get so tired of people saying, “It’s going to get better.” I’ve been dealing with depression and anxiety for 35 years. It ebbs sometimes, but it doesn’t get better. The only thing that has ever helped me is medication, proving that this is a “brain disease”. The only reason I hang on is because I don’t want to hurt my family, but it’s not easy. It’s very isolating because no one wants to deal with a depressed person, and then you don’t want to bother people with your problems, so you isolate yourself, it becomes a vicious circle.

  11. Stacey Rogers Bilberry says...

    Thank you so much for this blog post. I can’t tell you the peace it gave me. My mom died from suicide when I was 18 years old. I do not suffer from depression so I can’t imagine how she must have felt. Your post helped me to see how she must have felt and the thoughts she probably had. Thank you for helping me have more understanding and compassion for her and so many others that God has placed in my life that suffer from depression daily.

  12. Emily M. says...

    I consider myself to be a generally optimistic, joyful person. When the blanket of depression falls over me, I’ll find myself driving down a sunny street feeling empty and honestly wondering what everyone is so cheerful about.

    Your posts continue to hit the mark in just the most touching way, Joanna.

    xo

  13. Jessica says...

    Thanks for this post.
    A thought that keeps coming up for me:
    While I applaud all the calls for the reduction of the stigma of mental that I’ve been hearing this week since the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, I can’t help but feel that they are somewhat blaming and misguided. It’s as though people are saying that if there were less stigma, these individuals could have been helped. If they just had the courage to go get help. I’ve read many posts that say ‘if you need help, don’t be afraid, call someone, get the help you need.’ Sadly depression as an illness doesn’t make you too scared to get help it makes you feel as though you don’t deserve help or that help won’t help. Depression is an intense and, at times, terminal illness and we don’t yet know how to cure it. Let’s be sad for them the way we’d be sad for someone who died of cancer or a heart attack and not search for the things that they, or we, did wrong.

    • L R Thacker says...

      Much of this is true, Jessica.

      But there ARE things people who are suffering from depression can (and need to) do and there ARE things that family members and friends can do for someone who is suffering from depression.

      People with depression need tools and support! But people with depression are not without agency. In fact, in probably most cases, a significant personal effort is needed for a person to treat their depression. Just like a teacher can’t teach a student to learn if the student does not actively participate in the learning process, the tools and support available to people with depression do not magically work without the active efforts of those who are suffering depression.

  14. Theodora Matta says...

    Thank you for your honesty. Acknowledgement and sharing your thoughts and feelings are vital.
    My 35 year old son, Josh his life on September 10, 2017 in Bushwick. He was beautiful, kind, loving and very funny.
    He suffered from bipolar disorder for many years.
    In the wee hours of that morning, after a few hours of drinking, he went home and ended his pain….just like that.
    What I want to warn those who are serioudly depressed is alcohol is a very simple catalyst for that final split second, irreversible decision. 💛

  15. Elga says...

    So sorry to hear about that Joanna. But I think this is a very important post. I have been depressed in different moments of my life. Since the end of last year, I found myself depressed in the moment I least expected it to happen: I was engaged to the love of my life to be married in February, living in great conditions and in a job I always thought I wanted. The thing is that the process that lead to all of this left me utterly exhausted, and I was one feeling like I was in train-mode for the last 10 years which leads also no space to change plans, and ask yourself if these are still the most important things for you, etc. So I started to struggle a lot, have medications, therapy, different medications. Decided to quit my job for a little while (since I was finishing a project) and seek for some change in my life. Then in the middle of this messy situation I found out that I was pregnant for the first time, which is a whole different light in my life but also: Depressed, unemployed and pregnant was never a combination I was going for.
    I know that I’ll survive this because I did before, and I’m more motivated then ever, but it is so heartbreaking to see how it’s hard to talk about this with friends, family, and to find understanding ears in society. Sometimes the fact itself that you have no obvious reason to become depressed is a reason to deepen your feeling of inapproppriateness”, shame and “unbelonging”. Good luck for all! Especially those who lack a support system from society, family and friends. (And sorry for the super long text)

  16. Sally says...

    Thank you.

  17. Tre says...

    Just catching up on the blog and as always love the insight, honesty, and community.

    I have a question though: why has there been such a large spike in suicides over the last twenty years? Is there research answering this questions?

    Does anyone have any opinions on that?

    • Manga Lloyd says...

      Tre,
      I believe the increase in suicide rates is correlated to the unprecedented increase of systematic soul crushing debt (a.k.a. “credit”) that is a requirement to live any kind of life (other than that of a vagabond/transient) in modern/current society.

    • Elga says...

      Yes to the debt issue. And I’d add it’s not only about money but the feeling that you need to do more, earn more, be happier, healthier, instagrammable at all times.

    • SEVDI says...

      When it hurts too much to go on, when just the thought of not having to wake up ever again brings relief to your heart even though we -like all living things- are hardwired for self-preservation, the only thing that may stop you is the smallest sliver of hope that it will get better. The belief that tomorrow, or next week, or next year you’ll feel better, at least good enough to want to live again. Our current world doesn’t have enough hope in it. The generations before us had an abundance of hope going for them. I guess it wasn’t sustainable after all, because it’s all but gone.

    • Tre says...

      Sevdi, a void of hope… that is so interesting and it certainly correlates to the huge debt, etc.

      Thank you to all of you for your responses.

  18. Shannon says...

    I really appreciate this post. Kate Spade left such a beautiful mark on the world. Wish I could have carried her feelings for her through her darkness.

    I feel like the world is constantly sending messages of negativity and hate to individuals. Inviting people to reject themselves and their lives, to abandon self-compassion. Imo, deep, abiding self-love is the only way through life. In a cruel world, how can we love ourselves more?

    Thank you for sharing such an honest and uplifting blog.

  19. N says...

    Thank you so much for this post, Joanna. I have never experienced depression, but have grappled with it from another angle as I try to support my husband through his struggles with bipolar disorder that trends towards longer periods of deep depression with shorter, milder manic periods interspersed at unpredictable intervals. I am so glad that as a society we’re slowly getting better at talking about mental health and mental illness without the judgement and stigma that has further isolated people who are already doing their best to cope with a heavy, invisible burden.

    I have a question for the wonderful CoJ community (and perhaps a suggestion for a future post from a partner’s perspective)- what resources are there for spouses/partners of people suffering with chronic mental illnesses? I find it incredibly isolating and very difficult to talk about my own struggles in being the primary support person for someone who can go through periods of time in which just getting out of bed (much less holding down a job, helping take care of children/household, etc.) seems impossible. It feels so selfish to think or talk about my own needs in this situation, but at the same time it’s so overwhelming to have to constantly play the role of the strong, unshakable pillar holding up the weight of our marriage and family alone. I feel like I can’t ask family or friends or coworkers or really anyone except my therapist for the support I desperately need without violating his desire for privacy.

    I’m six months pregnant and am starting to feel really frightened about the baby’s arrival because I’m not sure I’ll be strong enough to hold us all together on my own if the stress of the transition sends him into a tailspin. I want to ask my parents to come and stay with us for a little bit to help, but I know that they will judge my husband very harshly if he’s unable to be the kind of engaged caretaker he wants to be due to his mental health, and I think it might destroy their relationship with him. We don’t have the money to pay for the help of a postpartum doula, but we also don’t have anyone that is able to help unpaid and without judgement. If there’s anyone out there who has struggled with this, could you share any resources or approaches you found helpful?

    • Jessica says...

      Hi N,
      That sounds so hard, and you should be able to talk about with people who understand-people you won’t have to explain or define the illness to. Depending on where you live, National Alliance on Mental Illness offers support groups for family members and a free class called Family to Family. Both the support groups and the class changed my life and I met one very close friend who I can talk to about everything. I hope this helps, and I hope that your parents can understand that the best way they can support you is by being understanding and nonjudgemental about your husband’s illness.
      https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Family-Members-and-Caregivers

    • Beth says...

      Hi, there. Have you ever looked at the website for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), specifically its page for living with someone with bipolar disorder? It has a wealth of information, including a tab for support resources. The link is below:

      https://www.nami.org/Personal-Stories/Living-with-Someone-with-Bipolar-Disorder

      Not knowing where you live, may I also suggest that you reach out to the reference librarian at your local library, who should be able to confidentially point you to resources (for both bipolar support, as well as resources for handling a newborn) in your own community. If you do not feel comfortable going to the library in person in search of this sort of information, most library websites have an Ask a Librarian online tool, so that you could ask for resources from anywhere (no library card needed). As a library worker myself, I can attest that librarians truly want to help you find resources like this, and we take your privacy seriously. Good luck!

    • N says...

      Thanks for your kind encouragement and suggestions, Jessica and Beth! I have not heard of NAMI and will be sure to check out the links you included. Jessica, the support group for family members sounds like a great resource and way to connect to others who would understand without judgement. And Beth, I love my local library and hadn’t even thought of them as a resource in this case, so thanks for that suggestion as well (and for your service to your local community through library services!).

  20. Stephanie Chaplin says...

    I listened to Aisling Bea talking on Adam Buxton’s podcast and something she found helpful when dealing with her father’s suicide was knowing that he didn’t want to die forever, he just wanted to die in that moment.

    http://adam-buxton.co.uk/podcasts/ep67-aisling-bea

    She also wrote about her feelings in a letter to the Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/nov/04/aisling-bea-my-fathers-death-has-given-me-a-love-of-men-of-their-vulnerability-and-tenderness

  21. LT says...

    As someone who has suffered from bouts of anxiety and depressing thought multiple times throughout my life, I cannot stress the importance of reaching out to get help.

    It’s funny, I find with so many people who deal with depression their lives seem perfect to the outside world. You may have it all- a good job, a loving partner, family and friends but none of that matters when you feel this way.

    For so long I refrained from going to see a therapist and getting assistance from my doctor, but when I finally did, my outlook on life completely changed. It wasn’t until I started on anti-depressants and talking to someone that I realised I had been in this weird type of fog for numerous years. It was like the sun finally came out and my whole outlook on life completely changed. If you are feeling sad or upset, it shows as a sign of strength when you seek help- not weakness.

  22. SR says...

    Thank you for this Jo. You’ve emphasized a lot of important points here. My dad died from suicide when I was 6 and being too young to really understand what he was going through, it was hard deal with it all emotionally –– especially when there is such a stigma and a culture of silence surrounding suicide. I think in the last few years (I’m 20 now) I’ve finally come to understand what was happening in his head. And although I know I can never fully know what he was going through, I have a better understanding than I did when I was 6, and it’s helped me make peace with what happened.

  23. Annette says...

    Depression is not an easy road. I’ve been through 4 major episodes in 12 years. I am on medication to treat it, currently. It’s lonely, isolating and all encompassing when you are going through it.
    But, it can get better!
    Anyone out there feeling hopeless. Call a friend, loved one and share your pain.
    Ask for help.

  24. Heather says...

    My husband struggles with depression. When he’s in the middle of what I call a “down swing,” I always remind him of times before when he’s felt bad and how he’s survived and pushed through it. It seems to help remind him that he has prevailed over previous bouts and will prevail over this one, too. People say “one day at a time,” but I say sometimes one minute at a time is good enough.

    If you live with someone who suffers, support them. Love them. Cook their favorite meal. Do their chores for a few days. Give them a warm towel after a shower. Rub their back. Hug them. Love them. Just BE there.

  25. Megan says...

    Hang in there, boo.

  26. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Jo.

    What I struggle with most is trying to explain to friends and family what living with depression actually means for me. It is not a sadness from a particular event or situation. It’s empty, hollow, nothingness. It goes away for awhile and just when I think I’m “better” it creeps back in. It’s exhausting, all consuming. I have to constantly remind myself “to just keep going”.

    Thank you again for sharing so openly and honestly. Conversations like these are so incredible helpful. Sending lots of love and light your way, Jo.

  27. These are in fact, THE most important things people don’t know about suicide. It’s hard for me to think of a topic that is more important. Thank you for this post.

  28. JTL says...

    Joanna, I’ve read your blog for years and years and this is my first comment. I have a long history of mental health difficulties, including an eating disorder, and post-natal depression with my son, and have felt suicidal multiple times.

    I wanted to say thank you for addressing your feelings publicly. It is a difficult thing to do, but I know that you do so out of hope that it may empower your readers to have their own difficult conversations about their own health or that of people close to them.

    I am so glad to read that you are feeling brighter than a few weeks ago, and I hope that if that changes you will feel able to seek help in whichever way works best for you. In the meantime I hope that you are able to take gentle care of yourself.

    By the way, another reason that we don’t speak of people ‘committing’ suicide is that the word ‘commit’ refers to a crime. Here in the UK it was illegal to take your own life until 1961, and if you survived a suicide attempt you could be prosecuted. It might seem like a small detail, but language around depression and suicide is important because it can either contribute to stigma or to help break it down.

  29. In Germany, there is a term used for the choice some Jewish people made during the Holocaust to take their own lives rather than risk deportation and death in the camps and it is “Flucht in den Tod”, which literally translated means “escape into death”. I always have thought it a particularly kind and non-judgmental way to see the desperation behind these acts (though suicide to escape Nazi persecution is not the same as suicide to escape depression)

    • Mrs Z says...

      I heard one Holocauste survivor told a young man who said he was depressed & better end his own life, that « it’d be a waste, go study medicine & go out to India to treat leppers »

  30. Amanda says...

    As a mother of a teenage boy who suffers with anxiety and depression, thank you for this insight. So many times when I’ve asked him what’s wrong or how can I help?, his reply is always the same ” I don’t know Mum, I don’t know why I’m feeling like this”

  31. Kzilla says...

    Sarah Silverman’s comment is spot on. Thank you for this post.

  32. Lizzie says...

    This is a post that changes culture. For example, I’d never seen the suggestion to say someone “died of suicide” rather than “committed suicide” before this post, but it makes so much sense. It immediately changes the tone and assumptions about the death. Then, this morning I saw the phrase used (so sorry, I can’t recall which publication) “…Anthony Bourdain has died.” Not sure if it was a result of this blog, but can’t help but think CoJ’s voice is becoming significant by contributing to humane living in America and the world.

  33. JCR says...

    I have a brother who I lost to suicide when I was 12. I remember feeling it was selfish/short-sighted of him to leave us all behind, and it took me many years to fully understand/process what it must mean to struggle with mental illness and particularly depression. I’ve lost the anger and now, 20 years later, there’s just regret (there’s no adequate word, but I guess regret is the closest) that we weren’t adequately equipped to give him the support/proper medical care he needed.

    A year or so ago, I was watching a documentary about the 1800s, and as an aside the narrator commented on the note that a particular historical figure was said to have “died of a broken heart,” which was then explained to be a euphemism in that era for suicide. This hit me in the gut—not only reframing all the times I’d heard that expression and thought it was just poetic—but also because it felt so much more honest… not a perfect analogy, but to me it felt somewhat closer to the mark; less clinical, more sympathetic of the pain and hopelessness a person who struggles with depression must feel, even if “heartbroken” still misses the understanding of the disease.

  34. Rosi says...

    I’m glad you posted this, and I wish more people understood depression from this angle. Sadly, many don’t and never will… unless they experience it themselves or have a relationship with someone who is afflicted with mental illness.

    The hardest part about depression is not just explaining it to “outsiders” (it kind of feels like it’s everywhere now), but the notion of “getting help” for it. Whether its reaching out to others, seeking therapy, taking meds. These are all great steps to take, among the numerous self care modalities. But the constant that I hear from depressives and mental health professionals is that there are really NO good treatments for depression. We are in the INFANCY stages of even beginning to know how to treat these mystifying brain diseases. The medications are useful to some, but even they have their burnout, and you’re back to square one. Many people have sought help for years, and still end up taking their life. This disease can be maintained, but it is no surprise that people have their breaking point. It’s quite true, there are many things worse than death.

  35. Grace says...

    I always think of this Rainer Maria Rilke quote to help me:

    “Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”

    Thank you for having such courage to be vulnerable and share your experience and to say that you struggle with mental health and are on antidepressant medication.

    Because it means that maybe if you…this beautiful, wise, funny, loving person, wife, mother, friend, writer…have these struggles AND are STILL lovable then maybe I could be lovable too and not worthless…that having anxiety and depression doesn’t mean that I am nothing and less than everyone else…that I don’t need to live in such suffocating shame.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart

    • Kate says...

      Grace, when I saw this rule quote it resonated so much with me: both because I love rilke and because it felt familiar: not because I’ve read it before, but because it reflects how I feel too. Thank you for sharing. Anxiety and depression dont make you worse or less than anyone else, ever. They may give you more struggles, but we learn the most about ourselves from struggles. I know you must be a beautiful, smart, loving, wonderful person, just from reading your comment. You are special and deserve love.

    • Grace, if you like Rilke (who I love) though I’ve never seen that AMAZING quote, then I highly recommend the poet Rumi. Google Rumi: The Guest House as a good starter poem. :)

      Also, some facts about you. I am 100% sure of them so please no need to question me:

      1. You are lovable.
      2. You are worthy.
      3. You have nothing to be ashamed of.
      4. You deserve love.
      5. You ARE love.

  36. I wish only to add that people do not “commit suicide” – as in the old Catholic discrimination ( refusal to have mass and family suffers with shame) when someone “commits a sin”. People choose death by suicide or take their lives by suicide – a kinder way to speak of this person. And, sometimes, it is the brain chemistry – not a logical, thought out decision.

  37. Leslie says...

    Beautifully said. Grateful for people that are willing to talk about this painful illness and bring hope to those that suffer from it and those that are close to them. xoxo

    p.s. I hope that your bout of depression is short and that you can get some relief.

  38. Katrina says...

    I suffer from OCD anxiety, and I’m starting to feel the flat empty strangeness that I’m guessing is depression. Which I’m unhappy about. Obsessive anxiety has been difficult enough and pit strains on most relationships in my life. I just wanted to put out there a favorite author of mine, Brandon Sanderson, if you are into sci fi/fantasy. His Stormlight Archive series is epic in every way, and many main characters and heroes of the book suffer from different forms of mental illness. One in particular has depression. When I’m struggling, I think of some main themes or sayings in the book, which I know sounds absolutely ridiculous, but it works for me. The books mean a lot to me (and so many others) and I have talked myself down from panic attacks with those phrases. Also “accept what is,” which was suggested by my therapist. This one is calming in a different, less emotional way.

  39. Claire Miller says...

    Vitamin D saved my life. Everyone should get tested for low D levels. My levels were so low that my doc put me on a megadose for 8 weeks. Within one day I felt like a light had switched on. I’ll shout it from the rooftops: TAKE YOUR VITAMIN D!!!

  40. Caitlin Ashley says...

    Once again, you have taken a topic with so many shadowy corners and shed light in a most thoughtful way. Thank you for being here, Joanna.

  41. Diana says...

    My husband suffers from depression and we read a book that has been extremely helpful: Uncovering Happiness. It has taught me so much and it has giving him some very interesting tools. Hope it helps everyone today.

  42. Martina says...

    Thank you for sharing. Your description of your own depression is closer to home than anything else I’ve ever read. I’m not depressed in the way that I expected depression to be from all the portrayals in media. I’m depressed in the way you say it. Over the past few months, I too have felt down, “in a dark, flat way that gave me chills. I felt exhausted all day; I had a hard time making decisions; I felt boring around friends.” I’ve never had anyone describe it like that before, but that’s exactly it. I started taking meds in February and I’m so relieved to have the help. It’s also so relieving to know that I’m not alone. Thank you for sharing.

  43. Karin Connor says...

    I have debated and debated about if I should write this post but I feel I need to.
    After witnessing the HORRIBLE mental devistation my husbands family went through after his mother’s suicide I cannot help but feel the real victims of suicide are the family and close friends.

    I worry that the media attention these recent suicides,as well as shows like “13 reasons”, are romanticizing and normalizing suicide and making it appear more of an appealing and “OK” option. And that now people are supposed to be ok or understanding when it happens, so no harm done. Or less harm done.

    But it does not work like that. Suicide throws a bomb into a family, and those that lose a family member will never ever be the same and are statisticly more likely to commit suicide themselves.

    I think we also are forgettimg about all the people who have experianced severe suicidal depression and never go through with it because of the harm it would do their family. Those are the real heroes. They do not take a way out of their anguish for themselfs but refuse to hurt their family and loved ones.

    Losing a family member to suicide is NOT like losing someone to cancer. Even if someone was in a dark place, a decision was made. A decidion that resulted in taking a life and hurting those around them.

    I DO whole heartedly support destigmatizing mental illness- talking about it is how people will get the help they need. But maybe the stigma surrounding suicide is there for a reason. Seeing what horrors it has left for the family and loved ones left behind, we cannot allow it to become normalized. For it to become an “OK” option- that would result in more families and lives torn apart.

    I feel people have a responsibilty to do no harm. And especailly when it comes to their family. Suicide is a final act of devistation to all those around you. We have a responsibilty to get help, not wreck others lives.

    Maybe instead of romantasizing and normalizing suicide in the media it is worth not only talking about prevention but touching on all the other lives who are affected by this final act- the parents, the children, so people see what pain this causes them. My heart goes out to THEM.

    So if you are thinking of suicide. Go get help. If not for yourself, then for the your family and your friends. Because you cannot hurt other people.

    The washington post has a good artical https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/suicide-is-desperate-it-is-hostile-it-is-tragic-but-mostly-it-is-a-bloody-mess

    • Linda says...

      Karin,
      I hear what you are saying and understand why you feel as you do about suicide. Your concern about the pain for those left behind is heartfelt, and yes, they are the victims. What you are leaving out is the horrible pain the person who makes that decision has been enduring–has been the victim of–usually for many years. As others have said, this is not something one just decides to do one day. And they are not making the decision from a brain that functions the way you understand.
      I failed at a suicide attempt (just barely) 7 years ago. Believe me, I did think hard about how my choice would affect those who love me. For 17 years, I went to various therapists and psychiatrists, took various antidepressants, tried various alternative therapies, and “tried to pull myself up by my bootstraps.” I didn’t have a life worth living most of that time, even though I had a husband I loved, a wonderful home, and satisfying work. None of that could change how depression had co-opted my life. I felt as though I was in a deep, dark pit and my brain was filled with heavy fog. I was unable to really feel anything. Much of the time I was barely functional just moving through the world trying to hide my pain. Can you imagine how that feels and how it is to experience yourself as a worthless failure who is a burden/problem for everyone around you? Meanwhile, the only one who can understand what you’re going through is someone who has been there themselves. Not even the psychiatrists or therapists really understand!
      I have been one of the lucky ones. After I was released from the hospital and sent to a new psychiatrist, I finally found someone (and remember this is after 17 years) who worked with me to uncover the missing piece of my disease. I had been diagnosed with “Major Depression” but was actually suffering from “Bipolar II.” After some tweaks in medications and two six-month group sessions of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), I gained the skills to manage my disease. I have been living a good life with only the normal ups and downs everyone experiences for the past several years.
      So knowing how my story has unfolded since my decision to take my life, would I now choose differently in the same circumstances? No, I don’t think so. Please don’t judge until you can walk in someone else’s shoes.
      I’m am so sorry that you and your husband’s family have had to suffer. I am also very sorry that your husband had to suffer so much that he felt the only way out was suicide.
      With love,
      Linda

  44. Melissa says...

    Thank you for having this open honest conversation. It is such an important one. I remind myself every day that I’m not alone in my thoughts. That there are many people out there struggling too. Sending lots of love and light your way.

  45. Jen says...

    Wonderful post.

    My Daddy attempted suicide several years ago and there but by the grace of God miraculously survived (one day I’ll write an award-winning book all about it).

    The dark cloud / the black dog are certainly real and you are brave to admit they hovered/walked with you recently x

  46. Elaine says...

    Thank you for such an honest post about depression Joanna. I found your blog years ago when I googled stopping breastfeeding and depression, at that time I had a beautiful baby daughter but felt so down and unhappy when I had stopped breastfeeding her. I’ve read your blog every day since. I live in Scotland but love this connection to American women that your site gives me. Thank you again ❤️

  47. Such a wonderfully honest post Jo! I wish people would think before they speak and try to understand anxiety and depression better than they do. I have struggled with it for 7 years and have had some pretty dark days before. Meds can help wonders. I was saddened to hear of Kate Spade passing I understand a little of what she felt and so sorry it took her.

  48. Estee says...

    I have since heard other people refer to their depression as a black dog but it has been revolutionary for me. My dad gave me the analogy years ago when I was struggling with depression. When I feel depression coming on I imagine a black dog swirling around the edges of my life. Instead of being scary it’s comforting to see my depression as something tangible. I acknowledge the dog’s presence and in that way it makes the depression less heavy and oppressive. I have found ways over the years to help keep the dog happy-walks in nature, baths, naps and giving myself grace when I feel stressed out or stretched.
    Thank you for sharing your experience so beautifully and candidly. Thank you too for making this a safe and encouraging space.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes! i think of it as a demon (kind of a scarier analogy, but it reminds you that the dark thoughts are the illness, NOT YOU).

    • Fiona says...

      I saw a series of images an artist made of mental health as monsters and decided to try and understand what mine looked like (a huge mouth that always said the wrong thing, a big tail that knocked things over, tiny hands not big enough to be of any help), then I thought about all the precious things in my life and pictured the monster (I named him Malcolm) knocking things over and causing so much hurt and damage, until I realized that I should not have left my precious things in harm’s way – it wasn’t Malcolm’s fault he was knocking everything over, I should wrap up my precious things in bubble wrap (yoga, naps, reminders of kind words), and be sweet with Malcolm, he’s not a monster, hes my roomate. Reminds me to be sweet with all parts of myself, even the parts that mess up.

  49. Maike says...

    Thanks a lot for these insightful, sensitive, honest and appropriate words (and useful quotes). I speak from a place of own experience.
    Seaking professional help is always a good idea, this can’t be emphasised enough. There is help and there is hope. Nobody has to go through depression and/or other mental illnesses alone. Though oftentimes it is not imaginable that anything could make the situation better. And to be true, it takes a lot of courage and hard work to get better. But professional help means that one does not have to shoulder this alone. It rather means that for a start ones situation is validated and some other person helps to carry the weight of the illness. There are no quick fixes, but there can be some sort of instant mini-remedy that helps to live through today, through tomorrow and to eventually, liitle by little, (re-)gain the confidence that that’s worth it. That one’s worth it, that there indeed is a place on this world for the self to exist and to live and to be appreciated,
    and most importantly that this path will be manageable. The tricky part is doing the first tiny steps despite the utter inner feeling of hopelessness and desperation. To master the first strokes in icy water even if one never learned how to swim.
    The best thing anybody can do for those who suffer is to not give any advice (except the urgent one to get help), and instead to acknowledge the reality of mental illness which often enough is characterised by the aforementioned feeling of insufficiency, lack of hope, and inner tiredness.
    This seems to be contradictory. But in my opinion focusing on the positive (too much) can do more harm than good and those afflicted by e. g. depression simply cannot connect with an optimistic approach anymore. They, we, really can’t due to the brains malfunctions (and furthermore can feel even more insufficient in not doing so when confronted with this – well intended – perspective). And nevertheless, there IS a way out.
    Being non judemental, offering the most profane help with everyday tasks, simply being there and listening may help, too. It’s a great gift to accompany someone in his*her desperation without pushing and at the same time to constantly offer emphatic, sensitive, and informed understanding. The only thing to be pushy about is getting help. But even this should be framed by empathy, so maybe offer to search for helpful contacts, to do the first telephone call, to give a lift to appointments etc.
    And do seek help respective support for yourself: Professionals can talk you through the process of supporting another person who might need you.
    *** If you have the tiniest feeling of an emerging emergency regarding the mental state of someone, do not hesitate to step in. Call an ambulance, or call a crisis-/help-/lifeline for a start. Somebody will know what to do next. ***

    We need a lot more of awarenes of mental illness and of insightfulness in its implications and you, Joanna, did a great job today towards this.

    I wish you all the best for your own mental health, and I thank you for your openness.

    With love from Germany, Maike

  50. Colleen S says...

    My sister suffers from depression. She fits nicely into the category of Millennials suffering from this disease. Some days she is fine, laughing and being happy. Others, she is curled up on the couch, sleeping with cartoons playing in the background. Her most recent bout was caused by a long distance relationship gone sour, and the guy has been treating her like crap to force her to move on (it hasnt worked yet). I hate seeing her like that, especially knowing she’s contemplated suicide at night after I’ve gone to bed.

  51. Tracy says...

    I have dealt with depression for the better part of 30 years. It started in my 20s but they were small bouts that I could usually pull out of without a problem. Then when I had by son at 37…WHAM, full blown depression. I was weeping and weeping and my poor husband did not know what to do. We went to the Dr and he started me on medication. I remember the Dr saying I was depressed as I was crying so hard in his office and I thought to myself “no I’m not, I have this wonderful life with a husband that loves me and a son so incredibly beautiful I could stare at him for hours, what are you talking about??” Prozac was the first medicine I recall being on. It was a better alternative to awful. It lifted me and allowed me to function but I still didn’t feel normal. I felt zombied out. After many years I was prescribed Lexapro which was wonderful. I was my most normal on this. But very recently (and after a fight with my insurance provider about covering the brand) I have done some research and found this site: https://bebrainfit.com/natural-antidepressants/ I also was told about taking collagen. I take a tablespoon of collagen powder in my morning coffee and evening tea. It helps tremendously with my sleep! Now I’ve cut my dosage of Lexapro in half, I’ve been able to take the generic (which I have never been able to take before) and I take a tumeric capsule and a saffron capsule twice a day. This after 20 years of being on an anti-depressant. I hope that when I retire I can go to all natural remedies. But still…life is too busy and stressful for that. Besides above, I recommend keeping your stress to a minimum, doing things you enjoy, exercise, and a couple of these natural choices. Best wishes to anyone that is dealing with this awful thing they refer to as depression. I hope you find these things helpful!

  52. Lise says...

    One thing I noticed in so many of the comments is that so many people in the trenches of anxiety and depression actually have friends. They aren’t reaching out because of the debilitating nature of depression and anxiety or for other reasons. But at least they have friends. What do you do when you don’t really have any friends? Depression + isolation=misery of loneliness

    • i so agree with you, lise. there are people who have it all…husband, kids, parents, a successful job, money, house, friends; yet they’re feeling miserable. it’s clear that genetic factors are important in many cases of anxiety but while overcoming depression isn’t quick or easy, it’s far from impossible. get support, do things that make you feel better.

      thank you joanna for this honest post.

    • Melissa says...

      This is me. I’ve moved 4 times in 5 years. No friends and don’t even know my neighbors. My husband and therapist are the only people I’ve spoken to for months. Isolated myself from family that live across the country. I’m very thankful for my husband and therapist and also the support of online communities such as this one and Facebook support groups. I very rarely comment but reading others stories let’s me know I’m not alone in my thoughts. <3

  53. French Girl says...

    Thank you for these words, Jo. This is what makes your blog one of the very rare healthy places on the internet.

    Here’s my story. Ten years ago, I was 17, and had a severe depression. It lasted a year and a half. I skipped high school for weeks at a time because I could not manage to stand up and get dressed. My only activities were stress, sadness and anxiety. All day and all night. I was drained, empty and exhausted by my own mind. I felt useless and ugly. I hated my body. I hated myself intensely. I did not want to be alive. I also had very high expectations for myself and a vivid fear of failure. The only relief or future seemed to be suicide. But that was scary (I did not want to hurt myself, ironically) and I did not want to make my family sad.
    My parents, witnessing my unstoppable weaping of the rug in my room, had no idea what to do. They did not recognize the symptoms. I remember my mother telling me ‘but life is so beautiful” or “but I love you so much” over and over. It hurt to see their sad faces looking at my pain and my incapacity to live. There were a lot of screams and slammed doors.
    At some point it became obvious to everyone that I needed professional help. I met a psychiatrist. After a few weeks of getting to know me (3 times a week and with her phone number “in case I need it”), she told me I was going to have to be strong in order to get out of that situation, especially if I was refusing medical help. She was right. It takes a huge lot of strength to deal with the pain of depression. Depression, before all, hurts the soul. It hurts a lot. Slowly, I learned to manage that pain.
    I started a garden on the balcony of our appartment in Paris in order to try and keep my mind focused on something else. I planted a raspberry thinking “If this plant grows, I will get out of my depression”. The plant became huge. It gave me courage.

    Since then, my mother died of cancer (I was 22 and heart-broken). My father had a serious car accident, which left him handicaped. Both events were very painful and tragic. But having survived and overcome depression I knew that I would make it. And today, I know that everything is going to be OK, even if sometimes it hurts. Pain comes and goes.

    There are times where I start feeling empty and worthless again. In these moments I see it coming back. I recognize the first signs of the scary shadow on my life. I have not found any magic solution to make it go away. Here’s what I do. I cry a bit, tell someone how I feel. I watch TV. I focus on the movement of leaves in nature. Usually, the pain goes away when I protect my mind from it. And nobody knows how much strenght that requires, appart, maybe, for a few of you who have gone down the same path. <3

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “I started a garden on the balcony of our appartment in Paris in order to try and keep my mind focused on something else. I planted a raspberry thinking “If this plant grows, I will get out of my depression”. The plant became huge. It gave me courage.” = this is beautiful. you must be in awe of yourself for getting through this incredibly dark time. xoxo

    • Krysten says...

      I hear you, and understand. In my mind depression is like a giant whirlpool. I can feel it’s tug getting stronger and know that that’s the time to make changes, and to be aware of my body and mood, because once I descend into the pit, it is so, so hard to claw my way back. It’s been almost 18 years since my (now) husband found me in my dorm room slitting my wrists. You’re so right, now that I’ve done it once, I carry with me the knowledge that coming back to real, Joyful life is possible. It’s just the hardest work I’ve ever done.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      love this, really wonderful. thank you so much for sharing, megan.

  54. Laura says...

    This week has been particularly tough. My best friend took her own life suddenly in February and I am just now trying to come to terms. She had made plans for her birthday just 2 nights later. She was 36. She seemed to be happy and full of life. She has left a gaping whole in my life and for countless others. The ironic thing is she was the one that always reached out and tried to help people. Why couldn’t she let us help her? Everyone has asked me why – but there is no answer. She was suffering and now she is not – that’s all I can think of to get through it. She is at peace finally. Miss you sweet Melissa!

    • Rana says...

      I’m so sorry Laura. Sending you love from Philadelphia. You are not alone! XO

  55. I’ve never posted a comment to a blog before, but this topic really hits home for me as I have been struggling with disorienting and painful waves of postpartum depression and anxiety since my son was born three years ago.
    Just when a patiruclarly low week had left me feeling like the worst mother/wife/human being on the planet, I discovered this podcast on one of my favorite websites and it has made me feel so much less lonely and confused in it all.
    Please please please, listen to it, and pass it on to anyone you know who may be feeling lost.

    https://onbeing.org/programs/the-soul-in-depression-mar2018/

    • Michelle says...

      I listened to the podcast, it’s really good. Helps to understand what someone feels like when they have depression, which if you don’t have it can be difficult to figure out.

  56. Anna says...

    From someone who has been struggling with intense and recurring depression for many years, this is so important and so spot on. Thank you.

  57. maïa says...

    Thank you very much Joanna for this article. (And the CoJ team too!)
    I’ve suffered from depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts as a teen and then of anxiety and panick attacks later.
    I just speak for myself but it never helped me to name it a disease. Particularly for the panick attacks that were so so scary and felt so unconfortable and lonely at the time.
    A disease meant it could come back or would be there all my life and that was really unbearable.
    And also I didn’t feel it like a disease at the time but as symptoms of something. It meant there was some stuff that happened in my life, in the history of my family maybe, that caused that. And my hopes were that with therapy, I would understand better myself and my problem and get rid of panick attacks.
    So, please, if you want to help a relative (who is not in deny of his/her problem), be interested in how they understand what they live, how they want to name it…

    Also, I would like to add that a lot of depressions and anxiety disorders are related to trauma and effects of violences (that affects the brain so much that we can see it on a IRM!). To read more about that (it’s a French website but it’s articles in English) : https://www.memoiretraumatique.org/publications-et-outils/articles-in-english.html?PHPSESSID=ec7a3lu5n4udhjbf5c2r2hij02

  58. Jarmila says...

    There are so many comments and so few “technical” hints. Most of them are in the “soul” or “psyché” level. While I do agree this can help, when you have a real illness, I believe you have to treat it in the physical way as well…
    I have suffered depression most of my adult life ( I am 42, and “cured” for the last 8 or so years). The looking for what would work for me took many long years and since I did find it for myself, I would like to share it and maybe help someone.
    In my case, all the magic is magnesium, vitamin D, and Polygonum multiform pills (the forms and amounts of all three “ingredients” must be tested individually). This “cure” has been a real life changer for me, and since it is so simple and accessible, I would encourage anyone suffering depression and/or PMS just to try it…

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, jarmila! great point — it can be so so helpful, and often imperative, to treat in the physical way, as well. i’m on antidepressant medication and it allows me to be my regular self — of course, i still have regular life ups and downs, and sadness/grief/etc — but not the deadened flat darkness that depression brings. i’m so grateful for medication.

    • Kay says...

      Vitamin D was a game changer for me, prescribed by my Naturopath for my feelings of depression. I’ve been dealing with depression for 20 years. I’ve been on anti depressants and while helpful at the time, as I aged I found I did not like the side effects. I went on a fitness, improved diet (omega 3) regime for a while which helped me manage it – not cure it – but it’s become my own prescription. I know I must do it to keep it at bay. Then, Vitamin D. My naturopath had my blood work checked and said I was pretty deficient – I didn’t thinking that was possible as I do get some sun daylight. In any case, I’ve noticed great improvement. I wish everyone success in finding their own path to finding what works for them – advocate for yourself if you can and explore different angles. Xoxo

    • Jarmila says...

      Joanna and others suffering depression. I would be really interested whether you take optimum magnesium. In my country, the doctors are quite unaware of this issue (along with vitamin D). I have quite a terrifying theory that the rise of depression is closely linked to the lack of magnesium in our diet (which is relatively new issue)… so I am really interested about your experience and if you take magnesium (must be optimum doses not recommended). Thank you. Jarmila

  59. Amina says...

    Thank you so much for this article. Thank you for your honesty. ❤️❤️

  60. Amina says...

    Thank you so much for this article ❤️❤️

  61. Jennifer Love says...

    Sarah Wilson has a new beautifully written book addressing depression and anxiety. Her podcast on mindbodygreen was so enlightening and honest. First, We Make The Beast Beautiful: A
    New Journey Through Anxiety is the title. Suggested reading for all of us.

  62. Ingrid says...

    I agree so much with this post. My husband, when not in the throes of depression, is funny and loving and great. When he’s in a bad place, it’s all gone, and he blames me. It was a long time before I finally realized that it wasn’t my fault. I thought that would help, and it did, but not as much as I thought. I still feel so bad for him (and to be honest, for me) when he goes through a wave of depression. I know he can’t help it, and I know he’ll come out on the other side, but it’s so hard for us both. He finally found a medication that mostly works well, but sometimes the valley is so deep, even that isn’t enough. So if your spouse is depressed, please don’t take it personally. It’s not anyone’s fault. As others have said, help them get help. Go to appointments with them, make sure they are following the treatment plan, and hang in there, waiting for the person you love to come back to you.

    • Jen says...

      Thank you for sharing this, Ingrid. Wishing both you and your husband strength for next time you’re in that valley together.

  63. Jamie says...

    I so appreciate this. I personally have not yet suffered from depression, but it runs rampant in my family and I have spent the last several years of my life trying to climb out from crippling and isolating obsessive compulsive disorder. I look at depression as an inevitability for me, and it terrifies me, but it is so comforting to know I am not alone.

    Throughout my own journey with mental illness, aloneness is one of the strongest emotions I have felt. No matter how many PR campaigns there are to de-stigmatize mental illness, it remains a hush-hush shameful group of diseases. One day, I would love to have children. With 50% of my DNA, they will almost certainly face some form of mental illness in their lives (even if it’s only their mother’s). I would love for them to live in a world where that is not embarrassing, where people gather around you and lift you up as if it were a cancer diagnosis. We’re far from that world, but can make microscopic progress each and every day with dialogue and hope.

  64. Jay says...

    I needed this post & all the comments this week. A coworker of mine died this week…suicide. He is survived by a wife, a 9 month old daughter, family that loved him. He was a lead in our department….a department & job dedicated to saving lives. I couldn’t wrap my head around it but this post helped me. Thank you.

  65. Jen says...

    When I first experienced suicidal thoughts it felt so big and so horrible that I was sure the universe or god or all the people I loved must have sensed the immensity and severity of it and would react. I thought they would rush in to save me. But no matter how large the feeling is to you, no one else can sense it. At first I was enraged that no one intuitively knew. “How can they not sense the severity of the problem? How do they not know what to do? I don’t know what to do and I need help.” I thought. These thoughts surprised me and made it worse, I felt desperate.

    I finally found the words to ask for help. The first two people I told reacted poorly (which is not their fault… not everyone knows what to do) and I almost gave in. Then one night I called my sister who lives in another state and I told her. She listened and then said without hesitation, “Should I move there? I’ll move there if you need me to.” I knew she meant it. I knew she would uproot her very successful life for me. Just knowing this gave me the beginnings of strength. I got better for her in a lot of ways. I knew I had to get better and get the help I needed or she would quit her job get on a plane and show up at my house to sit with me in my pain. She called and visited so many times in the months that followed. We figured it out together. I can never repay her for what she did for me.

    I guess I wanted to share that it feels like people should intuitively know you need help you but they don’t. The well of darkness is deep to you but others can’t see it. You can ask for help. It may not be the first person who can help. Or the fifth or the tenth. But there are people who care and you will find help.

    And if someone asks you for help, it’s OK if you don’t know what to do. Just be there. Be there without judgement and without an expiration date. Then figure it out together.

    • Hannah says...

      You are repaying her by staying alive, and as healthy as you can.

      My boyfriend suffers with depression and anxiety and he was so scared to tell me about his suicidal thoughts, he thought they would scare me off. It didn’t shock me and I appreciated his total honesty. When I said that, every muscle in his body seemed to relax. So I see it from your sisters perspective, you asked and she was ready to be by your side.

      I’m so happy you have your sister, and she has you.

  66. Colleen says...

    Thank you, thank you for this post. It inspired me to post on Facebook that I have struggled with severe depression, and recurring suicidal thoughts, my entire adult life. Thanks to incredible loved ones, modern medicine, and great doctors, I am able to remain constantly vigilant in my fight to keep darkness at bay.

    Someone who met me casually would know me as someone peppy and outgoing who has their life together. Someone who knows me intimately knows how profoundly I sometimes struggle with everyday life.

    I want to do my small part to change the perception of mental illness and thought sharing you link, and my story, with my 594 “friends” on FB (many of whom just know me casually) was a start.

  67. This resonated with me. Thanks for the always thoughtful content, Jo. x

  68. Mel says...

    Joanna, you walk such a beautiful light and bountiful courage into this world. Thank-you for voicing whats true and real.

  69. I have so much gratitude for this post on so many levels. I work as a therapist in primarily women’s mental health, and the refrain that so often silences my clients across the board is, “I don’t want to be a burden.” We somehow live with this communal myth that sharing our hardships is a burden to others. This idea seems to have made its way into the collective consciousness with as much universal reach as blowing into the Nintendo games to work out glitches did in the 90’s. No one really overtly shares this idea, yet everyone seems to operate with it. If I had the power to change one narrative, this would be it. Sharing hard allows the other person to rise to an occasion, to show up, to connect, to support, to playfully distract, to relate, to listen, to pour a drink… to do SO many things. It is not a burden to carry, it is an occasion to rise to and one that if we are lucky, others will let us rise to in return.

  70. During my studies of psychology and during the training period in particular, I saw many cases of depression, I know that it is painful and black, but the treatments in this age are very advanced and beneficial, I have seen many cases that have been fluent and now have a happy life, yes there is a way out and do not lose hope :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      what a lovely note, hala. thank you.

  71. Kandice says...

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I’ve known several people close to me who suffer from depression but never really knew how they felt. This helps to explain a bit.

  72. Nam Aster says...

    Nearly 27 years ago, my dear friend committed suicide. I just recall understanding that he must have been in excruciating pain that none of us could see. I was not angry at him. I was shocked and deeply sadden for all the potential that would never be.

    We went off to college, grad school, moved away, and some of us started families of our own. About 12 years ago, on our friend’s birthday, another friend and I (along with his 4 year old son, my God son), drove to his favorite spot in Maine. His parents where there. Initially, it was an awkward reunion.

    For the first time, we realized they not only lost their son, but his friends! We all missed our friend/their son deeply, but we felt so ashamed of how we treated his parents. His parents also needed to know that their only child would not be forgotten.

    It was not intentional, but we simply walked out of their lives when they needed us the most. We inaccurately assumed they needed privacy. My only excuse, which is not a very good one, we were teenagers. We should have simply asked: what can we do? What do you need? None of us asked. Too much time had passed and we didn’t know how to restart a dialogue. Thank goodness for gregarious 4 year old little boys! My 4 year-old God son proclaimed (very loudly) that “he was named after his daddy’s best friend, who would be his uncle; today was his birthday! Why where they at HIS uncle’s favorite spot?”

    Since that day in Maine, things changed. Our deceased friend’s parents are invited to every event – weddings, birthday parties, graduation, bar and bat mitzvah, soccer games, school plays, family vacations, etc. We can never reclaim the lost years, but we are holding on our friend’s parents tightly!

    • Nadege says...

      Beautiful. Thank you.

  73. S says...

    I can relate to the feeling of depression and anxiety creeping in… I just so happen to be in that same space right now as I’m pregnant again and had terrible post-partum depression and anxiety with both my children. I just wanted to say how grateful I am that you – a successful woman who dresses well, writes thoughtfully, smiles in photos and has earned the respect of readers and peers in her industry- is speaking openly about her experience with mental illness. It gives me hope that our society is changing for the better around this issue. One additional note: I know for many people treatment for depression/anxiety (for me it is therapy) can seem inaccessible financially and emotionally. Its terrifying to pick up the phone for the first time and make an appointment to speak with someone at your most vulnerable, desperate place – especially if you really can’t afford to go regularly. My budget can only handle 2 sessions per year with my therapist and it is SO worth it for me. I book one session right at the beginning of the year and save the other one for when I am at my lowest and it feels like a lifeline in my back pocket. In case that is a helpful idea for anyone. I felt embarrassed admitting to my therapist at our first meeting that I could only afford two sessions with her per year but she was very understanding and said she would try her best to structure them so we could make the most of the time I could manage.

  74. Elise says...

    Thank you, Joanna, as always, for your wise, warm words. I lost my mother to suicide twenty five years ago at age 10. She was warm, funny, always laughing. It pains me now to think how she must have battled her illness alone; it took me a long time to put the two people together (that probably doesn’t make sense, but as a child I only saw my mother as happy). I wish I could express in words how much I appreciate your post; it was hard for me to understand as a child what happened, it still is actually; you help explain it in a soothing way. Thank you.

  75. katie says...

    Last night I tried, in vain, to have a conversation with our Dad about mental illness in our family. I don’t know why it continues to be tough to discuss, but I’m going to keep trying. Thank you for bringing this topic out into the light, and inviting your readers to comment. Just writing this – vague as it is – feels like a step in the direction of truth & health. We are one human family. We have to take care of each other.

  76. Steph Thorne says...

    I’m going to bookmark this article, as I did with your article on weaning depression that I have revisited many times. I have realised at this point in my life that my depression is hormonal – I had terrible anxiety and depression as a teenager and then I was completely fine until I was postpartum with both my children – depression with weaning with my first and chronic anxiety with my second. I am currently weaning over a 5 month period and I am feeling great so far. Depression is like drowning, each time you sink down it is harder to come back up. I’ve found weekly circuit training (intense, sweaty exercise) has helped my mood immensely. It really frustrates me when people hear about suicide and talk about how selfish it is – unless you have been close to that deep, dark brink (I remember telling my Mum I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t want to wake up anymore) you can’t really understand the depth of it. Thankfully my Mum got me help and I still use my CBT skills to this day.

  77. M says...

    Just…so much love to you, Joanna. You are a source of light in the world.

  78. Isabelle says...

    Just wanted to say thank you. As someone who works as a therapist and who also has suffered from awful anxiety that led to depressive symptoms, these words cannot be said enough. I try to let my clients know that I get them because I AM them, that we all suffer, and that the more we can seek to understand another person’s experiences rather than judge it or explain it for them, the more helpful and close our connections can become. I also want to say that so many of us feel that our sensitivities are “bad” or that we’d be better off without them, but the things that make us vulnerable to enduring painful emotions also allow us to deeply empathize, relate, and create in a beautiful way. This doesn’t negate the pain and suffering that comes from mental illness, but it’s simply to shine a light on the bright spots that allow us to use those superpower sensitivities for good as well. :)

    • Sarah says...

      Isabelle, I love this! Thanks for sharing. I am a therapist too and have my own wealth of struggles (trauma, loss, etc.) (I’ve found that all my therapist colleagues have similarly too). Sometimes it is so easy for me to see strengths in others but to be hard on myself about my sensitive nature. This is a good reminder to me to see it in a positive light. Thank you for the encouragement.

  79. Gjora says...

    This may seen random, but all these tragedies (coupled with the 20th anniversary of Sex and the city) make me think back to that episode where Miranda’s mother dies and the girls attend the funeral. We need our people during the ups and the downs.

  80. Meg says...

    I know I am echoing so many other comments on this post, but I wanted to say thank you. You are so brave. Your blog is a kind and compassionate space. I come by daily and am always happy I did. Joanna, I hope that you have more sunshine than shadows ahead.

  81. SEVDI says...

    Dear Joanna, I guess you can call me a long time listener first time caller. I’m thankful for your honesty and courage in talking about such a difficult and deeply vulnerable subject. To my infinite dismay, I can relate to the terror you face when you feel depression coming for you and you’re powerless to stop it much like a sneeze at the most inopportune moment. Coming from a culture not quite comfortable with mental illness (is there a culture which is comfortable with it?), I’ve been told to snap out of it, to appreciate all that I have, to think of all those less fortunate, to get up turn on the light instead of wallowing in the dark. And these have all come from people who presume to like me. I have long stopped trying to tell them that I know the darkness is coming, I know that I can’t stop it, and that there isn’t anything they can do to stop it either, thank you, but would they please stay at a safe distance where I can reach out to them if I need to. And at the risk of sounding like a cliché, it’s not them, it’s me, it has always been me.

    There is a Turkish folk hero, who is the protagonist of many funny but thought-provoking stories. In one story, he falls off a roof. As he’s lying on the ground in pain his neighbours run around trying to help him. One pulls on his leg, another pulls on his arm, yet another rushes to call a doctor. Hodja silences them and pleads with them to find a man who has fallen from a roof like him. He is the only one who can truly know what Hodja is going through.

    I am reaching across the ocean to touch you as someone who has also fallen off a roof. I truly hope you feel better. Much love.

    • Stephanie says...

      Well said! Thank you for your brave words!

    • Sarah Jane says...

      What a perfectly fitting folk tale. In my scariest moments, I have felt exactly like that man who fell off the roof– All I have wanted is someone who can understand the depth and complexities of what I am going through, and the last thing I have wanted is too much emotional space taken up by people who don’t.

    • Deborah says...

      You write beautifully Sevdi.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      this is incredible, Sevdi. I just read this with my husband and then sat here nodding and nodding. thank you so much.

  82. Luna says...

    Thank you so much, Joanna! And all the readers who commented. I somehow trust the readers of CoJ when they suggest the ways that could help. Thank you!

  83. Claire says...

    Not that we actually know each other, but I know if I ever get the chance to meet you, I will have to fight off all my urges to give you a huge hug. It’s so important to be told (or reminded) that depression is a disease.

    What really struck me was the way you described depression in a glimpse and like a storm – that, I understand. That makes it sound terrifying – like a bogey man.

    • Anathea Ruys says...

      I happened to sit at a table next to Jo at a restaurant in California (it was my birthday and we had just moved to LA). We started chatting – I had no idea who she was at this time – and as it dawned on me I completely fan girled! I Am still slightly embarrassed by my reaction but adore the site and the comments.

  84. Kelly says...

    Thank you for this. It is so needed.

  85. Kirsten says...

    I just want to throw this out there, in case anyone needing help reads it and it strikes a chord with them. I am currently in acupuncture school because acupuncture changed my life and mental health, and I currently see it helping so many people in our clinic; everything from anxiety to depression to severe PTSD. I suffered since adolescence, and it was the only thing that helped me to heal. It is an ongoing healing process, and sometimes a treatment just gives you a boost to get through the next day, or week…but after some time, you may notice that something has gradually shifted and the thoughts aren’t happening as often, or you are finding joy in something again you once loved, or a veil has lifted and you have more motivation to get out of bed, or you aren’t crashing as soon as you get home. It is not a cure-all, and should never be used as the only treatment modality, but in conjunction with therapy and Western meds if you need them, it can be a game changer. Know that you are loved and there are people here to support you in your healing journey.

    • Vero says...

      I am an acupuncturist! I went to school to become an acupuncturist after acupuncture helped me leaps and bounds with my anxiety. My world had become very small (only spending time with ~3 people I felt 100% comfortable with), I was anxious crossing the street, had repetitive/cyclical thoughts and now I would say I’m almost completely free of anxiety. Every once in a while, it starts to creep up but getting an acu treatment helps that to fade away so I can live my life. Glad to see someone sharing the power of acu for mental health in this space!

    • Stephanie says...

      Thanks for sharing that acupuncture has helped you. Family members need more information on treatments along with all of the information on the symptoms.

    • Kirsten says...

      I’m so happy to hear this, Vero. We’re all in this together!

  86. Maureen says...

    Despite all of the social media that says “Suicide is preventable” there are times that it just isn’t. The signs of depression or thoughts of suicide are sometimes so well hidden or masked from others that there isn’t an opportunity to help, and even if there is, help given isn’t always enough.

  87. Hanna Merkley says...

    Thank you for your wise and brave words Jo. Please know you have the support of hearts around the world. Anyone out there, feeling a sadness on their backs, or a sadness pulling them down, know there is someone out there to ask for help. We are all human. No one is whole without another…feel the strength of the hundreds who have come before you, holding you up. xo

    • sasha says...

      That’s beautiful Hannah. Thank you.

  88. Irina says...

    As the spouse of someone with multiple mental health diagnoses, I want to argue a bit with the first point in this post: “Even though science has proven it a million times over, our culture doesn’t yet fully recognize that MENTAL ILLNESS IS A BRAIN DISEASE, just like hepatitis is a liver disease.”

    Mental illness is in some ways the same as physical illness, and in other ways it isn’t. It’s the same in the sense that it is real and that a person can’t just “snap out of it.” It is also, however, very different in many respects.

    Mental illness is much more difficult to treat than most physical conditions. Many medications for mental illness come with pretty significant side effects and the risk of developing tolerance and/or dependence. It can take years to find a medication that works; something that has worked well can stop working down the road; and for some people, none of the available medications work.

    Increasingly, research shows that a host of social factors contributes to mental illness. Isolation, stress, traumatic experiences, and childhood abuse or neglect can all play a role. When these issues are addressed through therapy, or through modifying a person’s social environment and lived experience (helping them meet others they can connect with, or find a job, for example), the prognosis is generally much more positive.

    Along the same lines, how mental illness is seen by the person’s culture makes a huge difference. In Western culture, a someone who hears voices or experiences visions is labeled schizophrenic, medicated, and frequently shunned by friends and family. In a more traditional culture, they may be venerated as a person with a special connection to the spiritual world. More communal, tightly knit societies generally experience lower rates of mental illness.

    And, last but not least, while I did say above that a person cannot just “snap out of” their depression or PTSD or what have you, they do play a central role in their own recovery. To continue the hepatitis analogy, someone with hepatitis may not care about getting better, but give them the right medication and they will recover despite themselves. With a mental health diagnosis, this doesn’t typically happen. What I believe is key is the social support that can help the suffering person see that there is hope, and lead them to actively take steps to feel better, whether that involves lifestyle changes, seeing a therapist, or medication.

    • Isabelle says...

      I agree with so much of this. I love the push to see mental illness as a disease in the sense that it is aiming to VALIDATE the REALNESS of the struggle, and for that I am grateful. However, because treatment is often so dependent on a person taking active steps to manage their behaviours and respond to their thoughts differently, and to potentially modify their environment, in this way it is different. I like to see this difference as a good thing, because it means that we have some say in how things go, but others take it to mean that we are choosing to be depressed or not depressed. That’s not the case at all. No one chooses to experience mental health difficulties, and given that the treatment typically involves a TON OF WORK, it makes sense that it can seem overwhelming at first. Over time, for many people, the “mental health checklist” gets easier and a little more automatic, but it needs to be done all the time to maintain a good balance, and that is tough for anyone.

    • Sadie says...

      Thank you for putting this into words so well. In the western world, we often want to believe that our thoughts and feelings are fully within our control, and so if mental illness is “merely” composed of thoughts and feelings, then it should be very simple and straightforward to fix. Of course, this isn’t true at all. You cannot believe what you don’t believe. You cannot always live as if you feel what you do not feel. We aren’t always fully aware of the thoughts and feelings that inform our behavior (in fact, we spend a lot of time trying NOT to be aware of them!). We don’t always know how to respond to our own thoughts or feelings. Managing mental illness is a very complex process of working with all these factors.

      I am in training now for a second career as a counsellor, and my fear is when we treat depression as ONLY a biological illness, we then describe all the thoughts and feelings of depression as irrational, uncontestable, and meaningless, when in fact, they may have their own logic and purpose, and may in time be countered with re-framing, increased awareness, the compassion of loved ones and skilled helpers, and the formation of new habits. Biology is of course playing a significant role, but the influence of biology on the brain also goes the other way– what we think, feel, and do can influence what physically happens in our brains. It would be a mistake to surrender that tool for managing mental illness and to look only to “physical” tools like medication, exercise, and nutrition. Our thoughts and habits matter. Mental health, like physical health, has to be built, maintained, facilitated, and supported.

  89. Thank you for posting this x

  90. Jenny says...

    came back to this post after hearing about Bourdain…We treat mental health as something that needs to be fixed – which I think is the fundamental issue with our culture/society. Each of our lives is coping and reacting to living. Just because we cope and react differently than each other, doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with one person and something right with someone else. Mental health is purely learning the best way for how YOU cope and react. When we treat mental health as something tangible that needs “fixing”. We say that there’s a right way and a wrong way – and this makes people who cope differently think there’s something wrong with them. Which causes a whole spiral of issues. We can use therapy, medication, diet, exercise, community, art, goals, etc to all help cope and react in our individual ways – but there is no fixing. We all have different sized feet, but we’re not passing laws, shaming and blaming each other, or even just ignoring the fact that your shoes might not fit my feet. We need to start thinking of mental health this way.

    • Jessica says...

      Jenny, your comment is brilliant. I wish there were more people who see it like you.

    • Sia says...

      This. ♥️

    • Nadege says...

      So true, what a great perspective

  91. Cait says...

    I just have to say that although there seems like not a lot of hope out there, I truly believe times are changing. I work in Accessibility Services at a University in Canada, and the number one disability in our population is mental health illness, and the numbers are growing every year. I truly believe that our students are recognizing that their mental illness is disabling them, rather than they have “a mental health disorder”. I’ve seen it often lately that this is the reason why students are reaching out. More and more students are seeking help and resources, are slowly becoming more comfortable reaching out to our advisors, attending support groups, etc. The conversation that has started on this blog is a big help as well to the wider community. Thank you Johanna, and the COJ team. Let’s keep the conversation going, and rid the stigma.

  92. thivia says...

    This is so important and beautifully put. It might be my favorite post from this blog. Thank you so much for this. I’m sharing it widely. <3

  93. Lesley says...

    Thank you, joanna.

  94. Emily says...

    Thank you for this post. It was brave and helpful and I realize that posting it means that your team needs to be particularly vigilant of the comments.

    This might be outside the purview of your blog (I know you can’t be everything!) but I wonder if you could do a post on finding a therapist. It’s an incredibly confusing world of mental healthcare options and I know your readers (me included) would really appreciate any tips you might have for finding someone who is a good match for your mental health needs and preferences.

    Thanks for being so much more than a lifestyle blog and for fostering such a wonderful community of readers.

    • C says...

      Ditto!

    • Hilary says...

      Emily,
      I don’t know if it helps, but for me, one of the hardest parts of finding a therapist had to do with time and money. I’m a working mom who runs her own business and travels a lot, so both time and money are at a premium. I’ve found TalkSpace, an online text/video chat/audio message therapy platform, to be amazing. I can ping my therapist whenever I feel like it and I know if I wanted to see her face to face, we could meet.

      It’s just been so nice to have an outlet for anxious thoughts and someone non-judgmental to text, the way I would a friend, but get back some actionable advice and homework so I can keep getting better.

      Sending you cheerful thoughts!

    • Agnes says...

      Depending on what country you live in, there are different options for finding a therapist who will be a good fit for your needs. Here is a link for those living in the UK (where I did my training as a psychotherapist) https://www.bacp.co.uk/about-therapy/how-to-get-therapy/ I can’t speak for countries in North America but usually a good first port of call is your family doctor to start off. Depending on what your needs are, he/she may already know your history so they would be able to give recommendations. It’s also good to know what you want to get out of it. Are you aware of past trauma that you want to work through (possibly psychodynamic / psychoanalytic could help)? Are you looking to alleviate symptoms (perhaps CBT)? Are you looking to bounce ideas off of someone and just talk through life stuff (person-centred / life coaching may help)? It’s worth researching the different modalities of therapy that might be best for you according to your needs and wants. Very off the cuff generalized suggestions, so it’s worth doing some research and trusting your gut to find a good fit for you and don’t be afraid to try a few therapists. Good luck!

    • Emily says...

      Thank you friends!
      Hilary- that’s a great idea and I’ve thought about using TalkSpace. I wasn’t sure if that format would work for me as compared to face-to-face therapy, but it’s good to know it’s working for you!
      Agnes- that’s exactly the sort of information I need! maybe a flow chart would be useful here :)
      I guess my curiosity is always this: when people say “I see a therapist and it has helped me so much”- what kind of therapist are they seeing and what was helpful about it? I feel relatively okay these days but I know when I’ve been feeling low for extended periods of time I completely lack the wherewithal to do this kind of research and help myself.

  95. Karyn says...

  96. Lacey says...

    I have battled depression and anxiety on and off since middle school. I didn’t realize this until my junior year of college. Fast forward to my 20’s, I experienced crippling anxiety in relationships, which usually helped lead to their demise (realized later, of course).

    Then, I enrolled in grad school to become a therapist. I decided to find a therapist to see while embarking on my studies, having only seen counselors briefly in the past. A friend recommended a psychologist who had helped her through a divorce. Little did I know the imprint of my life this therapist would leave.

    I saw her almost weekly, for about 20 months leading up to my wedding in the fall of 2013. I have joked that at times I don’t even think I would have ever married without her gentle guidance and ability to help me make sense of my incredibly dysfunctional upbringing that likely was related to my bouts of anxiety and depression.

    She had some health issues that led her to have to take a few extended leaves of absence from work. She was quite the optimistic, it seemed, always positive about her circumstances and trying to find a balance of self care during this season vs maintaining her practice. This is why I was not overly surprised to get a really lengthy voicemail from her 3 months before my wedding that she needed to take some time off due to some complications from surgery.

    I thought of her often, excited to see her after my wedding (when she was supposed to be back at work). She had brought me a beautiful candle one of the last sessions we had, in celebration of completing my graduate program. I was so touched by her thoughtfulness- that she had thought of ME outside the space of our visits. I contemplating sending her an invitation so she knew I was thinking of her, even though she had already told me she wouldn’t be able to make it due to other commitments. I forgot in all the busyness of wedding planning and job hunting to send it. I really wish I had sent it.

    I remember the details of all that came next as if it just happened, yet it was almost 5 years ago that I found out she had died by suicide, receiving a call from a pained therapist colleague of her’s tasked with sharing this with her patients.

    I went to her two memorial services, craving some type of WHY to be answered. I walked away knowing her “illness” as it was referred to, had overpowered her in her last days. I knew she was acquainted with depression herself, but obviously I didn’t really know anything. I was terrified it could happen to me, if it happened to her, my therapist. I was terrified to become a therapist for fear I could do this to someone.

    I’ve had a couple more serious bouts of anxiety and depression but have sought help as needed, with therapy for a few months and getting back on medication, likely for the long haul at this point.

    I miss her insight, she was truly a gift to those of us struggling with mental health issues. It will be 5 years on September 12. I think of her often. (I did become a licensed therapist, I know she would be proud. :)

    • Jess says...

      Sadly it’s not uncommon for people who devote themselves to caring for others to self-harm and die by suicide. I think a lot of people want to do for others what they can’t do for themselves, or in healing others they find some healing for themselves. I’m sorry for your loss, and glad that she left you with some light in your darkness and the strength to continue on. Good luck, and congratulations on becoming a therapist. Take care of yourself. <3

  97. Emily says...

    Thank you for sharing :)

  98. nan says...

    To say depression is a disease is a relief in some areas, but stuffs it into a different box. I don’t want anyone to think that the moment they admit they have depression they have to live with it the rest of their life. Some people do, but not nearly everyone. If people knew there were small things that would help, would it be such a fear? I don’t like it compared to cancer for that reason.
    However, if we treat it as a disease, then let’s do, all the way from the beginning. Let’s find the warning signs and let people know, and I mean long before the deep darkness sets in. Because once the darkness arrives it’s like being stuck in the bottom of a well and you need someone to send a rope. Hence our fear.
    If we can learn to recognize thought patterns that attract the monkey :-) then we stand a chance at moving before he can jump on. Exercise can help, and enough sleep, and something to do that we can make us feel fulfilled or maybe something we’re at least interested in. Vitamins can help, sunlight can help, friends, and, definitely, God. There doesn’t seem to be cut and dried answers for everyone, but if we can discuss it openly, thanks to people like you, Joanna! and if it can be viewed as a more normal problem, then maybe we can all together find more prevention.

  99. BLG says...

    I’ll be thinking about you today. Know you have an army of “lil cuppers” out there who are doing the same Jo.

  100. Nora Fitzgerald Fino says...

    The book All my Puny sorrows completely changed how I think about suicide. Its a beautifully written, sorrowful (but yet still very funny) story about 2 sisters, one of which is grappling with suicidal thoughts. Sending love out to the world

    https://www.amazon.com/All-Puny-Sorrows-Miriam-Toews/dp/1940450713

    • Marissa says...

      I also loved this book. It was devastating and actually inspired by her own relationship with her sister. Also recommend it even though it can be difficult to get through because of its emotional impact.

    • Justine says...

      I love this book

  101. meg says...

    thanks, man.

  102. Still processing the shock of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide. I read this on twitter which resonated and think it’s important for highlight https://twitter.com/PedestrianPoet/status/1005091093468229633. I’ll paraphrase so that people who go ahead and read the whole thing
    “Stop checking. ‘Checking’ is just a cop-out and assuages your guilt. Be there. Physically. Drag them to buy groceries. Go over and make sure they shower. If you’re not in town, send them food and make sure they eat. Don’t just rush to us every time someone famous dies. Please.”

    • SEVDI says...

      Thank you for sharing, but what this post advises (hell, guilts people into doing) is actually my biggest nightmare. The thought of being dragged to buy groceries or being forced to shower by well-meaning friends makes my chest tighten. The person who wrote it may need this kind of attention, but prescribing it to all those suffering from depression is not helpful. Everyone copes in their own way and needs different forms of support, but if you’re anything like me, friends who “force” their help would only cause me to hide deeper.

  103. Nicole says...

    This is actually in response to a comment I read and can’t get out of my head. A reader’s husband has bipolar disorder and his meds stopped working (and now working again). She stated that he is bipolar. But would you say that someone is cancer? Someone is diabetes? I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, type 2 (I only have a manic episode when I take only anti-depressants and I cycle through varying levels of depressions rapidly). I have bipolar disorder. It is not something that defines me. I would never say, “I am bipolar disorder.” I encourage people that have used this language to remember that you’re defining it as that person in that moment. It’s very difficult to move forward in relationships when you let something like a mental illness define your loved one.

    • EC says...

      This is a good point. Bipolar by itself is an adjective, so it functions like saying I am depressed (rather than I am depression) / I am diabetic; I have diabetes. Really it comes from the fact that the disorder is named after the term bipolar, which is obviously much older…which I find interesting because naming the disorder after the characteristic inherently defines the sufferer by it very strongly. I honestly think this contributes to the stigmatization of the disease.

    • BLG says...

      Well said Nicole. I think you are making an extremely important and valid point.

    • Shira says...

      Person first language is so important!

  104. Sally says...

    Thank you for this.
    When Kate sadly died, I was sad. I have one of her handbags and love its cheerfulness. Every time I went in one of her shops, I loved the colour and the fun. Her brand made me feel good.
    When I went into work the next day, a colleague ran up to me to say she was cross Kate had died, because “no more handbags!” I didn’t say anything, but I was kind of mad. I honestly didn’t care about the bags. I was sad that a wife and a mother had suffered so intensely, and now was gone.

    My father struggled with his own mental health in the last year of his life and had a pretty catastrophic, but short-lived, breakdown. He always seemed such a tough guy growing up. But as I’ve looked back, I see that his mental health had a few rocky patches over the years, that we were mostly shielded from as children. But now having seen what it can be like, I do all I can to speak for, and advocate for mental health awareness. You honestly never know a persons demons. To me, it is absolutely paramount to look after our own mental health, and that of the people around us.

  105. Kristin says...

    So, so refreshing to have someone be HONEST about struggles with depression and having very low moments. Thank you for always speaking the truth and for not hiding behind pretty pictures that give the allure that everything is just perfect. Life gets tough, motherhood is tough,, and life+motherhood+depression is just the worst, but knowing that you aren’t alone in this is so wonderful.

  106. ximena says...

    I spend an hour last night reading through this post and all the comments and today I wake up to the news that another amazingly talented human being died from suicide. It just made me think how scary it is that we have NO idea what people may be going through… maybe someone we love is struggling and we have no idea because we don’t talk about mental illness… so thank you for this post! thank you for sharing your experience with PPD and for illustrating what depression is actually like.

    Today my thoughts and prayers are with everyone who is suffering from anxiety and depression.

  107. LAURA says...

    There is one good output of suffering some sort of short-term mental struggle at some point in your life. It makes you develop humility, empathy and commitment towards people who suffer from mild, and specially, strong mental illness. It makes you aware, it makes you more kind, more human. It once happened to me and it made me a wiser person.
    Posts like this one are GOLD. All my love for you, Joanna.

  108. Ashby says...

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I can’t say it enough. I am 30 and suffer from severe depression — every word rings true and painful and hard and real. We need more of this conversation. My heart is still breaking for Kate Spade and her family, and now for Anthony Bourdain and his, too.

    For others who have depression, a book I’m reading that’s helped me significantly is called “The Power of Now,” by Eckhart Tolle. (I should also mention that it’s the *only* book that’s ever helped me.)

    <3

  109. Kali says...

    My Dad died of suicide eight years ago. It started a string of suicides in close family and friends that shook us — my stomach still drops every time my phone rings after 10pm. Of course, I have a hard time understanding but fully know that depression is a disease of the brain and affects one’s thinking, so much so that they are literally not in control of their own thoughts. To that end, one thing I still can’t wrap my head around … my Dad made his lunch for the next day of work, and then took his life that night. My nephew completed his homework for the next day of school, and then took his life that night. It’s as if their bodies were on autopilot until their brain said otherwise. If suicide were selfish, I’m fairly certain one wouldn’t bother with tomorrow’s lunch.

    • Mara says...

      God I’m so sorry for your losses, Kali.

    • Amy says...

      “It’s as if their bodies were on autopilot until their brain said otherwise.”
      Such a good point!

  110. I’m so grateful for this post and for the collection of remarks both in your post and in the comments. I wish I had more words to accurately describe my gratitude. Thank you, everyone.

  111. laura says...

    thank you so much for writing this

  112. Thanks so much for using this platform to put these myths to rest for anyone who reads it. So so important and the details of language matter a lot.

  113. Karen says...

    Thank you for this post, Joanna.

  114. Danna says...

    I am a survivor of suicide. My mother took her own life when I was 32 years old. I believe that suicide was an option on the table for her from a very young age so I am thankful everyday that she hung on as long as she did and didn’t leave me with the burden of her suicide during my formative years. She got to see my brother and I each get married and become parents. Much as our relationship could be fraught at times, I am thankful for all of the moments I had with her and that she gave me the gift of watching me become an adult. None of this is to say that her suicide wasn’t devastating, but her choice was not a selfish one.

    • Emily says...

      I am so sorry for your loss. What a brave and beautiful testament you are to your mom. xo

    • Keri says...

      This is beautiful ❤️

    • Jess says...

      Thank for for sharing this, Danna x

  115. Ricki says...

    These thoughts are a good education for me. There has been some speculation that my mother died of suicide, I’ll never know for sure. If it was intentional or not (drug overdose), I don’t feel anger that she was being selfish, I understand she was self-medicating for a relentless mental illness (bipolar). This is a difficult topic for people to “get” unless they have some experience with it, I think. Thank you for compiling some very good thoughts and leading this discussion.

  116. Megan says...

    I’m a neuroscientist whose work currently focuses on suicide. Yes, depression is a biological disorder, which, like most diseases, has both genetic and environmental causes. Suicide can be a devastating endpoint of that disease.

    But unlike some other psychiatric diseases (such as schizophrenia), social interventions and societal policies can play a big role in the incidence of suicide.

    For instance, suicides are more common in societies with high rates of gun ownership. Suicides are often impulsive and desperate, and guns and depression or substance abuse are a very dangerous mix. Although we focus on reducing homicide rates when we talk about gun control, suicides outnumber homicides 2:1 in America.

    I don’t know why suicide rates are increasing in the US. I hear a lot of people saying that they feel more isolated and alone than in the past.
    So maybe we can use this moment, after the prominent suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, to reach out to friends and family and check in. Not just friends who you think might be going through a rough patch, but even those who seem successful and happy– you can’t always tell what’s hiding behind peoples’ brave smiles.

    • Christine says...

      Yes — please take the time to check in with the people you love and let them know you love them. I woke up in early April to a group text that a friend of ours from college had died from suicide. We all thought he had been doing well and it had been a while since we’d connected. With the recent suicides in the news, I just keep going back to my first thought when I found out, that I had fallen out of my routine of checking in. Keeping in touch would probably not have changed anything, but at least he would have known that I still thought about him and wished him well and missed his presence.

    • Sasha says...

      As a fellow scientist, and someone who is concerned about gun violence, I appreciate your comment.

    • Terese says...

      I suffer from extreme depression and have had many episodes in the last 20+ years where I have contemplated suicide and, honestly, if I had had access to a gun would have killed myself. Thankfully, I didn’t, nor did I have other “easy” options. By the time I had worked out how to kill myself, something or someone had intervened.

      I also second Megan’s comment. If you met me, you would never know I have been suicidal and that I regularly cut myself and beat myself up when I am depressed. (Lest you worry, I am in therapy and on a very significant dose of anti-depressants to try and prevent future episodes of self-harm and suicidal thoughts.) I come across as peppy, upbeat and outgoing. I seem to have my life together (happy marriage, great kids, nice home, fulfilling job and volunteer work, etc.) and, after so many years depressed, I am a stellar actress.

  117. Megan says...

    We love you, Joanna!

    Remember, if you ever need to take some time away from the blog, you can and should. Just hang up a “closed” sign and come back when you are ready. Everyone will understand! You wear a lot of hats and need mental health days too– we all do. Sending love <3

    • Mina says...

      Well said!

    • Carolyn M says...

      Agreed! <3

    • Jen says...

      Co-signing this.

  118. Thank you so much for this. Just, thank you.

  119. Claire says...

    As a lifelong depression sufferer, the idea of it as a disease to be treated or managed has never worked well for me, in part because antidepressants never worked very well for me.

    So I offer this alternative comparison: depression is like allergies. Some seasons are worse than others. Some years the pollen count is really high. It can feel entirely out of your control and like nothing you are doing or taking is helping one bit. Push through. Keep going. A new season is on its way.

    • C says...

      I love this, thank you for sharing this comparison!

    • Marissa says...

      I find your perspective helpful and comforting. Thank you.

    • Mara says...

      Love this perspective, thank you, Claire!!

    • Katherine says...

      Wow, this rings so true to my experience. Thank you for articulating it like this!

    • Terese says...

      Claire, as a fellow sufferer, I love your way of thinking.

      I am also sorry you haven’t had luck with antidepressants. Have you ever tried an MAOI? It is restrictive, but changed my life when I had no luck with the traditional slew of anti-depressants (lexapro, wellbutrin, prozac, zoloft, etc.).

      Good luck to you.

    • Dee says...

      Thank you for this analogy, it really rings true. ❤

  120. Ashley says...

    Around six weeks post-partum I spiraled into a deep depression that included graphic intrusive thoughts, suicidal ideation, and a general feeling of hopelessness– I would cry on the kitchen floor while my husband was at work and think, “Why am I even here? What is the point?” Prior to this experience with PPD, I had incorrectly believed that depression and suicide was something a person “had in them” or “didn’t have in them”– I honestly thought some people intrinsically had the tendency to end their lives, a type of short-sightedness that the rest of us did not have. I know understand this mental illness differently through my firsthand experience. The best way I can explain suicide to a non-sufferer is that it is an infection of your thoughts. Thoughts that you are not actively thinking popping into your head bringing with them horrible images and horrible ideas. It is not rational. It is not active thinking. Depression and suicidal thoughts feel like your brain has been hijacked. I am thankful to report that my husband called my primary care doctor on my behalf (I was too embarrassed) and with the help of an antidepressant and talk therapy I am feeling in control and motivated again at five months post-partum. Also, if a partner, friend, or anyone shares with you that they are struggling, offer to call their doctor or a mental health service for them. Sometimes it’s really hard to seek professional help even if you want it. Let us look out for one another.

    • Maria says...

      I agree with ALL of this!! I found myself in a similar situation and you hit the nail on the head that when you are in the depression, you CANNOT see beyond it. Even if you were able to before and after, you it is impossible when you are in the depths of depression.

  121. Liz B. says...

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and for talking about mental health. The stigma around it is ridiculous and so frustrating. As someone who has major anxiety, I try to not be embarrassed to talk about it with the people around me. I feel that it helps remove the stigma one person at a time if I am able to talk about it with people who don’t understand it.

  122. amber says...

    My spouse has depression and anxiety although often I think he has bi-polar. For the past 20 years hes been off and meds, tried alternative and expensive therapies, done genetic testing, done a stint in rehab….what ive learned is its a feelings disease. A DISEASE. He has graduated at the top of his MBA class, and is super smart, hes struggled with work because there is so much judgement around that- hes had to hide his issues. Some days when he could barely get out of bed, hes had to work and yet people thought he was a slacker or anti social…try being in marketing tech where you have to be on ALL the time and dealing with debilitating depression. Our society is not set up to have folks with mental illness in the corp world. Hes hid his diagnosis and challenges from so many because of the stigma. Thank you for talking about this today. I heard a statistic just this week that Suicide will be the number one cause of death in the country in just 20 years with the current climate….staggering.

  123. Charlotte says...

    Dear COJ Community,

    I went to an Andrea Gibson spoken word concert yesterday in Berlin: It was listening to somebody saying tough things out loud within the shared & safe space of a gentle community – just like here.

    Chances are, you may feel a bit more understood, carried, gently treated and embraced by their poems, many of which cover depression, understanding, suicide amongst others. –> Andrea Gibson (them/their) / spoken word artist / @andrewgibby / http://www.andreagibson.com

    COJ, you are gold.
    Charlotte

    PS: Joanna & Team, if you are ever looking for an interesting person who has something important to say and uses words wisely, please introduce Andrea Gibson to the COJ-Community. Thank you.

    • anja says...

      Dear Charlotte, thanks so much for this tip. I had never heard of her and am now watching several videos of her beautiful performances. You have brightened a sad day. Love from Berlin to Berlin, Anja

    • Charlotte says...

      Hi Anja, glad you like it! I think they are amazing. See you next time at the concert :) , Charlotte

  124. Marta says...

    Thank you Joanna. Such great and compassionate post. It is really difficult to convey the feelings of depression/anxiety to someone who never felt it. It is totally irrational yet the feelings are too real. I think the post does a great job with it :) So, thank you again.
    News of suicide always bring such sadness and some anxiety for me. I had a glimpse of the despair, and I just wish no one had to experience it.
    I went trought a year long period with a dark cloud around me. It came out of nowhere. Nothing had changed in my life. I just woke up one day felling like that, and stayed like that until the day, about one year later, I woke up like me again. It was quite unsettling knowing I had nothing to blame. Nothing particular to focus on. But eventually I took it as: some people have diabetes, some people are born without a hand, depression/anxiety is my battle. It does not need a justification.
    It was a constant fight to do not be controled by the fear. That fight taught so much, specially about gratefulness, mindfulness, and how resilient I can be.
    I know the dark cloud can come back, I actually take it as certain. And I just tell myself that I will fight it. It is my battle after all.
    Sending lots of strength and love to everybody fighting mental disease.

  125. Erin says...

    Depression is so hard. I’m no stranger to bouts of it, whether it be feeling sad for no reason, or flat and apathetic. I still have my moments, but because of some interventions I’ve figured out for myself over the years, it’s now pretty minimal.

    I did neurofeedback treatments years ago, and my brain map showed a strong “depression marker” pattern- meaning a neural network that had become embedded. After treatment, it no longer showed up on my brain map, and when I got depressed, it wasn’t as deep and passed much more quickly. Neurofeedback can be great for creating new neural networks so your brain has a chance to respond to life differently.

    I’ve also figured out (after doing 23andMe) that I have some genes that predispose you to depression (MTHFR), and feeling flat/unmotivated due to low dopamine (the COMT “Warrior” gene). Knowing this has helped me to add a few supplements like methylated B vitamins and tyrosine and make a few dietary changes like always eating enough protein at breakfast, lots of leafy greens for folate (not folic acid- this actually messes me up!), and drinking tea for the compounds in it that support COMT function.

    Side note- I sometimes get bouts of acute anxiety and I’ve figured out that they’re totally brain inflammation related, because they abate within 2 days of taking lots of curcumin. I go from laying in bed at night, thinking and worrying about loved ones suddenly dying, to feeling normal again.

    One last thing- the book “Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom” by Rick Hanson is such a wonderful book. The most important thing I learned from it is that we have to be aware of our mind’s naturally negative bias, which creates a background tone to our thoughts and life and how, when something good is happening, we need to make an effort to really take it in for about 60 seconds, so that it can register in our mind and start to shift that background tone.

    I hope that my experiences might be helpful to someone else out there.

    • Heather says...

      Woah – this is fascinating. How did you know which genes impact depression and what vitamins to take?

    • Margaret says...

      Yes to all this! I feel that there are nutritional and supplemental supports that can make a huge difference with depression and anxiety. Big pharma pretends like they are the only answer out there. It is so hard to research things that are going to help when you feel such a heavy weight, but it is so so worth it. For me curcumin, fish oil, enough saturated fats and b-vitamins and eating whole foods changed my life. Much love and gratitude for your honesty, Joanna.

    • Liz says...

      Well said. Working with a Functional Practioner can be a real eye opener. Instead of prescribing drugs, they will test the saliva for cortisol levels, seratonin, dopamine, GABA, etc..,plus other testing like a stool test to check gut biome. Any vitamin deficiencies will be treated with the correct dosage. I had very low seratonin levels, high night time cortisol which led to severe insomnia which just made me feel down all the time. I now am pretty much back to my old self.

    • Erin says...

      Heather, 23andMe has “raw data browsing” (you don’t need their health report to get this) and you can just enter the SNP number of the gene you want to look up to see which version of it you have. I was already aware of COMT and MTHFR and suspected I might have them, so it was validating to see that I did.

      I looked up info from numerous websites, but Selfhacked and Genetic Lifehacks both have great articles on gene/nutrition/supplement stuff. Here’s an example of an article I found helpful. I bet those with the other variation of COMT will recognize themselves, if they tend more toward constant anxiety and low stress tolerance, rather than lack of motivation and apathy.
      https://www.selfhacked.com/blog/worrier-warrior-explaining-rs4680comt-v158m-gene/

      I just finished reading a fantastic book called “Dirty Genes” by Ben Lynch that has easy action plans for each genetic variant of a group of major genes that affect mood and detoxification function. But you don’t need to even have testing done to follow the program- it has questionnaires to help give you clues as to which genes aren’t functioning properly. Even a normal gene can get overloaded and need a little help.

  126. Ruth says...

    This morning, waking up and seeing the news about Bourdain, I can’t believe another beautiful soul is gone. The NYT had an article also about how suicide is now killing more people than homicide. We need to take mental illness and access to support/care in this country way more seriously. My therapist, who helps me deal with my long-term anxiety, equates mental illness to the same as if you had diabetes. You wouldn’t NOT see a doctor, manage your medicine, etc. Same goes for mental illness. We need to take care of each other, and also remove the stigma. Long road ahead.

    • Joaquina says...

      Hi Ruth,
      The NYT article on suicides and Bourdain hit me especially hard.

      My doctor uses the “depression is like diabetes” analogy frequently and something about it seems a little off, to me.
      Perhaps it’s because she uses this quote to push medicine over anything else. Diabetes is SO much more understood than diabetes and I find that general practitioners (like most people) do not understand depression.
      The words come from good intentions but conversations about depression should be less dismissive and more thoughtful.

    • Cole says...

      Joaquina,

      I respectfully disagree. I am a general practitioner, and I assure you that we understand depression very well! Every day at least 1/4 of my patients are dealing with some form of mental illness. Some patients have anxiety, some have depression, some have psychotic disorders, some have addictions. Some people are aware and have insight into their conditions, and some do not. I strongly encourage anyone who is struggling, to speak to their primary care provider! We are here to help. My goal is not to push medications on people, but to help normalize their experience (after all, as I said about 25% of the population is dealing with this in one form or another), and to help them navigate the disease. Sometimes medications are necessary, sometimes they aren’t.

      Mental illness is such an incredibly difficult burden to bear. I say this as someone who treats it, and has also spent a lifetime personally experiencing it. I am fortunately in recovery now, but I know at some time in my life it will flare up again and I will need to figure out how to cope.

    • Joaquina says...

      Cole,
      I gave my perspective as a patient who has struggled with severe depression for 20+ years. Regardless of medical school or clinical knowledge, too many practitioners have been dismissive of my illness. Please listen to us.

  127. lizq says...

    If you have never experienced depression, depression among other things, takes your frontal lobe off line and you are left trying to navigate the world without the capacity for organized rational thought. Depression also has physical components that make it very difficult to navigate daily life (imagine trying to walk through hip high mud 24/7). More evidence is coming to light that shows that there is a correlation between childhood trauma and depression. I have had depression for over 40 years. I have tried everything short of electric shock therapy and hospitalization. I grew up with forward thinking parents that encouraged me to seek therapy and were able to afford to pay for it. I’ve tried diet, exercise, meditation, medication, therapy (40 years and many forms) and on and on and on. So for people who have had trauma but do not have access to care? What part did they play in their depression? I wish that people blessed to never have been touched by depression would say “I don’t understand it” rather than put forth theories or judgements. I have diabetes and depression and have had cancer, and the experiences are all different. I imagine when people compare depression to cancer they are trying to explain something inexplicable – like what it’s like to eat ice cream if you’ve never had ice cream. Would you ever tell someone who had cancer that if they die from it they had better acknowledge their part in the disease and the pain they will cause when they are gone? I promise you, I have done everything I could every day of my life to not give up but I refuse to judge anyone that made the other choice. It is my sincere hope that at least, one person softens their views towards those of us with mental illness after reading these comments.

  128. Ticiane Marassi says...

    Thank you for sharing this, Joanna. I had never comment here, because of my rusty english, but today I had to. I am from Brazil, and we do not talk much about mental illness since we like to play happy people. It was amazing read about this from someone who looks genuinly happy.
    I feel like you sometimes…

  129. Lisa says...

    This is very spot on. I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety. Even though I’ve been doing really well, it still hangs over my head that it could come back.

  130. Kate S. says...

    I love this site for countless reasons but one in particular is the way your posts always leave me feeling. They make me feel like I’ve learned something new, gained a different perspective, glimpsed more joy in the world or found a solution to an issue circling around in my head. And at many other times… just hungry :) As we consume our daily media, more often than not, there is only recognition of problems and straightlaced reporting on issues but rare is the journalism that offers hope or has a clear here’s what you can do or how to help message. I find your posts to be heartwarmingly empathetic, uplifting and thoughtful. Inclusive and insightful. A joy. Thanks for all that you put out into the world. You are wonderful.

  131. Micaela says...

    WHO launched a campaign last year on World Health Day called Let’s Talk, specifically about depression, because the mental health burden worldwide is only growing. So many people do not speak about it because of the stigma.

    Thank you for being a part of the conversation on mental health. It is such an important one, affecting so many. For instance, I wasn’t surprised when I started reading Educated by Tara Westover, mentioned in your previous post this week, that her father was bipolar. My father is bipolar, and though his mania and depression reflect differently than what Westover covers in her book, there’s a certain gut feeling it generates, when you know.

    What her book is yet to reveal, as I am only 40 pages in, is whether or not the ‘true’ version of her father, beyond his ‘moods’, is one she knows well and admires. My father is my best friend and I love him to pieces. But, for instance, right now he is manic, and he is absent. Trust me, trust my mind, he says to me. But you and your mind are not the same right now, I respond. But he doesn’t hear me. Right now, he is the Universe. I am only human.

    Because I have been so close to a man who has an ‘Evil Twin’, as my family refers to him when he is manic, I have grown up very aware of my own mental well-being. I have known deep depressions, and am cognizant of my social anxieties. There is so much work to be done to be resilient. Some of it can be done independently, but it so often requires others -conversation, human touch, being heard. I remember in low periods, the joy I’d have during a yoga class (when I managed to leave my house) when the teacher would adjust my posture in savasana. The gentleness of an embrace!

    272 comments on this post and growing. What an embrace. Let’s keep talking.

  132. Joanna, thank you for your making yourself vulnerable with this post (and so many others) so that others don’t feel alone. I am a HUGE proponent of seeing a therapist or psychologist — I’ve been seeing one weekly for several years now. I have found a huge shift in my mental health as I’ve had two kids, navigated relationship challenges with my partner, and as I now embark on opening my own immigration law practice. Regardless of if its in therapy or with friends, I encourage everyone to reach out to someone if they are feeling depression coming on. Sending light and healing to everyone out there.

  133. Kate says...

    Thank you from my heart. During this painful time of loss from suicide, this hits just the right note. I wish everyone could read this good piece of writing.

  134. Thank you for posting about such an important topic. I suffer from depression. In hindsight, I have probably for a long time. But I grew up in a “You’ll be fine” household and was never really taken seriously when I shared any pain or sadness. So I learned not to.

    The last wave of it hit me two summers ago. It was by far the scariest one to date. Longer lasting and lower than anything I had experienced previously. A friend connected me to another friend of hers, who has gone through similar waves. She told me something that put things into perspective and that I’ll never forget. She told me that what I was feeling was not me. It was something separate from me altogether.

    It helped so incomprehensibly to be able to separate myself from the disease. Because when the disease takes over, it makes you believe that you really are this sad/horrible/pathetic of a person. When in reality, it’s the disease that’s making you feel that way.

    I’m not sure if this will help anyone currently going through a rough time, but I leave it here in hopes it will. My Instagram is linked to my username, and I welcome a DM anytime.

    Let’s take care of each other.

  135. Heather says...

    Did you ever read that CS Lewis book, ‘The Silver Chair’? It’s been about 30 years since I read it, but as I recall, the prince knows he sometimes turns into this dark, cruel person, and he needs someone to tie him to a chair before he falls into one of these spells.

    This is how I felt before I had my twins. I’d had PPD after my first baby, and while I told myself repeatedly that I would not let that happen again, that I knew better this time, that I wouldn’t let myself be so hard on myself (and I’d be chill about making BFing work), I also knew that it doesn’t really work like that. The person I was a month before I had twins and the person I was the month after I had twins were two different people. Me-with-newborn-twins was a GD mess. What saved me was my mom, who knew I might need to be in that silver chair. She’d semi-regularly ask me, “Do you think someone else could do a better job raising your twins? Tell the truth.” If I said yes, she didn’t spend much time trying to convince me I was wrong (what’s the point? I wouldn’t have believed her), she’d just make me go take a nap and a walk and a bath and have an iced coffee and take my medicine and take deep breaths. She’d agree with me it was SO HARD, and tell me I wasn’t alone. She’d remind me it was the exhaustion talking, that my thoughts weren’t me, that it would pass.

    I think part of the reason suicide is on the rise is isolation. We are raising our kids in isolation, we are living in isolation. Taking on depression on your own is so hard because you can’t count on yourself to take care of yourself. It’s so critical to have a friend, a parent, a partner, who you can ask to put you in the silver chair if needed.

    • Emily says...

      This is such a lovely thought, but he was actually tied to the silver chair by an evil witch bc it was the only time he was his true, uncursed self and she didn’t want him to break free from her enchantment so she gaslighted him and trapped him. BUT the people who truly saw and cared for him believed him and cut his ropes and then he was able to destroy the silver chair and be his true self always so I think your metaphor still holds just flipped?

    • Courtney says...

      Your mother! <3

    • Heather says...

      Oh my gosh Emily!! I had it totally backward. Im so glad you corrected me because the real book is even a better metaphor – needing to have your true self set free!

  136. sc says...

    dear joanna, i’ve read your blog for 6-ish years and you’ve always been inspirational in your taste, writing and honesty. my kind of cool hero. hope that in spite of the lows, you’ll always come back to peace. sending love from Korea. :)

  137. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this piece. I do crisis intervention on a college campus, and there has been a sharp increase in depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and a lowering of protective factors in recent years. These things are real and they are scary, and some days I feel like I’m fighting an impossible battle.

    If you’re struggling, look for help. If you don’t get it from the first place you turn (for example if you’re under the legal age to consent to treatment w/o parental approval- usually 16), then turn to someone else. Don’t stop fighting for your health and your life because you are loved, you deserve to live a full life, and there is help out there. If the work you’re doing isn’t “working” (your meds aren’t working, you don’t like your therapist, etc), then find different help (especially if you’re a woman, a woman of color, or non-binary or trans- stats show that these populations are especially mis-diagnosed or under-treated).

    There is someone out there who will help you, you are loved, and you deserve more.

  138. Sasha says...

    Such timely post, with the terrible news about Anthony Bourdain. As an educator of young college-age people, I’ve had quite a few students who suffer from depression. I want to help them, but do not want to pry into their personal lives too much. After all, I only see them 3 hours a week in a fairly large lecture hall, unless they choose to come to office hours, talk to me, etc. For others, who suffered from depression as college students, what, if anything, could your professors do to help?

    • Ally says...

      Seeing an on campus therapist at Health Services when I was suffering from depression in college really helped me. I was initially embarassed to go there and ask for help so encourage students to use that resource. And just tell them they’re seen.

    • Hey Sasha,

      I do crisis intervention work at a college- there is so much help out there, and so many important ways that you can make a difference! Finding the counseling services, crisis intervention, and diversity and inclusion offices on your campus and then including their contact information on your syllabus is a great first step! Understanding how to refer students to these services (for example, having their contact information readily available to you, knowing walk in hours, and know/meeting the staff so you’re making a specific referral to a PERSON, not just an office) is hugely important. When you’re working one on one with a student, make sure to ask open ended questions- something as simple as “How are you doing?” or “you seem quieter than usual, is there anything you’d like to share?” can help develop empathy and rapport with a student and allow them space to open up. Lastly, you can use your own experience (or the experience of other people you know well) to normalize a student’s experience- Some students may feel comfortable talking about their struggles with mental health, but some may not have the language yet to describe what they’re feeling. Being able to share your story can give them the tools to express (with honesty, openness, and dignity) what is going on with them. I hope that helps! I’m happy to share more if you want to talk more. (alexandra dot graves at goucher dot edu) Thank you for all the important work you do!

    • Samantha says...

      Maybe periodically saying to the class that anyone is welcome to talk to you, even if it’s not about the class? I’m not sure if it would be appropriate for all students, but if there are certain ones you are concerned about, could you send an email just checking in, asking if they are okay?
      In the position of a professor, I think it may be all about the small gestures.

    • Jane says...

      Another person working in college mental health here! I echo everything Alexandra said, and want to add consulting with the counseling center staff as an option. I’ve talked to many professors before who might be worried or uncertain about a student and how to best support them. Don’t hesitate to lean on us for consultation! We can help you think through how to approach a specific student, how to offer more general support and encourage openness with your students at large, or even just offer some reassurance and empathy about how challenging it might be.

    • Terese says...

      Sasha, I think it is great that you want to support young people who are suffering enough to give it some serious thought.

      I had very severe depression throughout college; it would have been helpful to have any professor who recognized that give me the opportunity to make up the work when I was feeling better. The idea that I was supposed to turn in term papers while also battling suicidal thoughts was ludicrous (would ask a student going through chemo to finish his or her term paper?), but that is exactly what was I was asked to do, even after I had confirmation from on-campus mental health professionals that I was suffering from severe depression.

      I think — when you choose to mention campus resources available — also acknowledging publicly that depression is a disease like any other and, like diabetes or another disease there are tools for managing it but that it is a disease, is a small step towards helping get rid of the shame that currently lives around mental health issues.

      Lastly, don’t assume that just because a student seems fine he or she does not suffer from depression. Some students are drowning but are better actors than others.

  139. Thank you for this. While I’ve struggled with depression, it’s never gotten to that point for me, and I’m grateful. I used to not understand suicide (I think a lot of it has to do with my Catholic upbringing where it was taught as an absolute sin, akin to murder) but reading more about it and as the stigma has started to unravel a bit, I’ve changed my mindset.

    I also wanted to add that the single thing that helped me understand the mindset of a suicidal person the most was the book “All The Bright Places,” by Jennifer Niven. It’s a beautiful love story in which one of the protagonists is mentally ill and being inside his head is like no other book I’ve ever experienced. The author writes from a place of knowledge also as it’s something she’d had experience with. Anyone who’s still struggling to understand, I cannot recommend you pick up this book enough. (In addition to what it teaches you, it’s also a really great, well-written book.)

  140. Thank you for this post. So many people suffer in silence because they believe they should tough it out.

  141. Lindsay says...

    Your willingness to share such deeply personal parts of your life is beautiful. Thank you for your honesty. I hope with all my heart that you’re feeling well today ❤️ and for all the days ahead.
    While I don’t suffer from depression, I do experience anxiety and it can be quite gripping. Sometimes I ask myself, Why am I like this??

    Sending hugs :)

  142. Jess says...

    This post makes me so sad, but thank you for addressing it. I just heard the news of Anthony Bourdain. It would help so many people to end the negative stigma associated to mental illness. Breaks my heart to think of all the hurt people suffering alone. Some of the people who have brought me the most light in my life are the ones suffering most.

    To any sufferers, it isn’t you, it’s your disease. And that’s okay. There are so many support systems out there, whether it be therapy, text crisis hotlines, medication, exercise, support groups, etc. You are worth seeking help over.

    For non sufferers, let’s show up for those who need it. Donate your time or money. Let people know you’re there for them and offer whatever assistance you can. This is a crisis that we can actually do something about.

    • Annie says...

      So true. It is heartbreaking to think that so many people who have bought so much joy, curiosity, and inspiration to the whole world, like Anthony Bourdain, suffer in silence. Hoping he is at peace and that his family and friends can find it in the future.

  143. Brooke says...

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    Thank you for writing this.

    Thank you for being open and frank about depression and suicide.

  144. Chelsi says...

    Thank you for your honesty and openness Joanna. Like so many of your posts, this one is timely. We lost my uncle last week to suicide. Having experienced PPD, I understand. However, he leaves behind two teenage daughters that I know will struggle. I was wondering if anyone might recommend a book that would be appropriate for a child who has lost a parent in this way? Thank you.

  145. Heather says...

    I read this post with breakfast this morning and sent the link, along with so many of the helpful comments onto my husband. The point that depression isn’t a sadness and is really the absence of vitality really resonated with me – it made his experience so much clearer.

    Then on the way into work I got the news about Anthony Bourdain and cried – its too much – he made the world so much better, brought us all a little closer.

    Thank you for this community, Jo!