This post is the fourth in a new series of guest conversations called Voices on Mental Health. I am honored to showcase inspirational people with unique and important perspectives on mental illness.
Our fourth piece in this series features the perspective of Maura Keaney, a survivor of suicide loss who lives with depression. Maura has been part of my life for a long, long time. She was my middle school English teacher the year that my dad died by suicide. She was the one I wanted by my side on that very first, most awful day, and she has been my mentor and friend ever since. (She also taught me how to write so we can all thank her for my stellar grammar skills!) When I was in the midst of my severe episode a few years ago, I talked to Maura almost every day. Her sincere, uncritical acceptance was a lifeline for me. Maura helped me see that my fight with depression, anxiety and PTSD was heroic. That I had a legitimate, medical illness – not a personal flaw or failing. It’s hard to express what her support has meant to me over the years – and still means to me today.
Yesterday she posted the below statement on her Facebook page in response to the death of Chris Cornell, lead singer of Soundgarden, who died by suicide – and I want to share it with you. She captured my thoughts exactly. Every time we lose a celebrity to suicide I am so triggered – not by the death itself, but by the insensitive way that the media and the general public talk about it. We don’t ask people whose loved one died of cancer why we didn’t do more to save them. Severe, suicidal depression is no different. As Maura says, “If love could cure it, then none of us who have lost someone to suicide would have lost our loved ones. Suicide doesn’t make Chris a bad person – it makes depression a really bad disease.”
Chris Cornell’s death from depression by suicide is heartbreaking, and some of the reactions to it are infuriating. I’m reading a lot of recrimination of him even among my own friends and their friends, implying that he is a horrible person because his family should have been reason enough to live, or that with all of his money, he should have been able to get himself lifesaving treatment.
The story here is that all the fame in the world, all of the talent, all of the success, all of the money, and the love of devoted family are not in themselves vaccines against lethal depression. Depression is not a deficiency of love, success, or money. It is a brain illness. Money in itself can’t cure it any more than Steve Jobs could cure his pancreatic cancer with half of the wealth of the Western Hemisphere at his disposal. If love could cure it, none of us who have loved ones who have died by suicide would have lost our loved ones. If love were a cure, I could have cured my mom’s depression when I was a preschooler, and I’d have plenty of medicine for my own.
I do not mean to imply that it is hopeless. Deaths by suicide are preventable. But there is no perfect medical cure for depression. There is no guaranteed path that makes everyone better or a magic pill that always works. We don’t know how hard he tried to save his own life. We don’t know what lies his brain was telling him yesterday. All we know is that he had every reason to live but that depression killed him anyway. Suicide doesn’t make him a bad person. It makes depression a really bad disease.
If you’re feeling suicidal thoughts, you are not a bad person. You are not selfish. You deserve to live. Many, many people want to help keep you alive.