for release July 16, 2004
by Melodie Davis
Hidden Depression and Mental Illness
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a four-part series looking at depression, mental illness, religion and suicide, in relation to an upcoming documentary on Hallmark Channel, Aug. 22 for which Ms. Davis served as lead writer.
§ Jami was an active, outspoken, fun-loving older sister to three younger brothers, exploring the next stages in her dream of becoming a holistic healer. She went to a botanical school in Colorado, on a spiritual trek to Nepal, and was living by herself in a tent on an organic farm in Hawaii when she became very depressed. After going home to be with her mother who is holistic psychologist, at the age of 21, she took her life.
§ Matthew was an active, capable guy who was full of life and himself. His twin brother has great memories of their growing up years as inseparable friends. Interested in pursuing a career in the environment/recycling, Matt was employed at a greenhouse after stints during college working at recycling in New Mexico and organic farming in Australia. His parents, a medical doctor and an educator, were completely shocked when at 24 he died of suicide.
§ Gloria Jean Akinduro was an American who married a Nigerian; they had a son, Stephen. Because of the husband’s job, the family was transferred several times, finally moving to Nigeria. There, Stephen’s mother became depressed, due in part to cultural adjustments. Stephen was only nine when his mother ended her life, and the rest of her family had no idea she was depressed.
The families of each of these persons share their stories in the upcoming documentary, Fierce Goodbye: Living in the Shadow of Suicide on Hallmark Channel Aug. 22. (See www.fiercegoodbye.com for more information.)
But everyone gets depressed. How do you know when it’s something serious? As parents, we look at our teenage and young adult children and wonder, how well do I know them? You may even run down the lists with warning signs of depression or suicide and check off five of them and think: but everyone has these symptoms. Knowing when someone intends to take their life is tricky, tragic and fatal business.
Dr. Kay Jamison, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University and chief mental health expert for the documentary, says that depressed young people especially become experts at hiding their symptoms, pain, and illness. They want to fit in and have fun like everyone else so they may succeed at camouflaging their pain. She gives the example that she and a friend—both had been seriously suicidal at various points in their lives—made a pact to “call each other” if they again became very suicidal. Her friend ended up taking his life, and had never called her. This didn’t really surprise Jamison, she said, because she had also attempted to take her own life and hadn’t called him.
“Suicide is not a nice business,” reflected Jamison. “It’s not a kind business. It doesn’t give you the kind of choices you’d like to have. You’re not thinking at your best. All you’re thinking about is there is nothing else that seems to work. You’re a nightmare to your family, you’re a nightmare to your friends, you’re a nightmare to yourself, you don’t recognize yourself. It is a dreadful state.”
Jamison said her mother assured her that, of course, they much preferred her alive, even with her problems, than to lose her and cope with her death. While people find some measure of healing, she said families never really get over a death by suicide. She said that suicide notes do not often talk about getting back at people, or hoping people will now feel sorry for them, or wanting to hurt others the way they have been hurt. Instead, they talk about “I cannot get beyond this pain and this hopelessness.”
The feeling of not being able to get beyond pain and hopelessness is frequently caused by depression or other mental illnesses. So, families most often should not take personally the death of a loved one by suicide, even though it feels personal. Persons who are struggling with depression and thinking their families would be better off without them need to know that their families will suffer their death endlessly, oftentimes to succeeding generations. But that is a difficult thought to comprehend and believe when your brain has been scrambled by illness, which prevents normal, rational thinking. You need desperately to think clearly and you can’t. So that’s where counseling, medication, prayer and a lot of hard hard work come in. When you think of all the tough stuff so many people have dealt with and are still kicking, (Jamison herself a prime example) it can gives you faith and courage for the fight.
For a free booklet “Bearing the Special Grief of Suicide,” write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 817 words; end material = 105 words
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