A few years ago, a good friend of mine killed himself. I did all the things you do: I blamed myself. I got mad at him. I grieved.
While talking to a friend, I expressed the thought that if I’d only called him that day as I’d planned… and he said, “Sometimes depression is a terminal disease.” Sometimes, you cannot save someone with depression.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
Take depression seriously.
Don’t tell a depressed person they should just smile more. Or that they’re just being dramatic. Or that they should just think positive, or just shake off the negative feelings.
Depression is a disease. You wouldn’t tell someone with cancer, or in liver failure, or heart failure to just let it roll off them. You wouldn’t even think of making one of those people feel bad about themselves for their inability to just “get over it.” So don’t do that to someone suffering from the disease of depression.
One thing depression does is make you more likely to remember negative events, so when a depressed person tells you she’s not happy, she’s never been happy, and she doesn’t have any hope of ever being happy, that’s not her being overly-dramatic, that’s her reality. That’s the world she lives in. It looks a lot like the world you know only she truly does not remember happiness the way you do. Her brain won’t allow it.
And for God’s sake, if someone you love is talking about death and dying, about wishing to be dead, or about killing herself – that’s not normal! Don’t roll your eyes and assume she just wants attention.
Some years ago I made the decision to take a loved one seriously who was in the habit of threatening suicide. The next time that person threatened it, we went straight to the doctor and reported that the person was a suicide risk. What followed was a profoundly difficult few weeks, but we’re the better for it. It was one of the best decisions of my life.
To my fellow writers:
If you want to write about depression, be sure you know enough to be respectful of the disease. Don’t have your victim of depression suddenly cured by a kiss, or a flower, or a butterfly. If you’ve never suffered it yourself (and, by the way, that time you were sad – that wasn’t depression), talk to someone. Try to understand before you write something trite and dismissive about a disease that will kill some of its suffers.