award-winning educator, mental health advocate, social entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, author/writer, program executive, and radio host
The world was shocked to learn about Robin Williams’ death and the manner in which he died two years ago. Mr. Williams death-by-suicide led to bewilderment on many different levels. The question many asked about his death was “How could someone seemingly so happy and who brought happiness to many others die this way”?
A partial answer might come directly from one of Robin Williams’ quotes:
“I used to think that the worst thing in life was to end up alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone”.
Too many individuals suffer silently and alone with some form of depression. A reason for this might be that there isn’t enough information shared about the potential signs and affects of this disease. For me --- at the time I started to feel depressed, I was familiar with the word “depression” but didn’t understand its meaning, warning signs, or the devastating impact it can have on someone’s life. The harsh reality is that untreated depression (in its worst forms) can result in death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2014 National Center for Health Statistics, over the past 15 years, age-adjusted suicide rates increased by 24%.
Around the world, countless individuals die every day due to fear, shame, and being told to suppress or not disclose their mental health challenges. These types of stigmas lead to this illness not being treated, unnecessary suffering, extended pain, and preventable deaths. No one should die because others make someone feel ashamed or unworthy because of a bona fide medical condition!
Individuals who are affected by depression are sometimes told that they need to toughen up, they’re being weak, called effeminate names, or other forms of degradation. It’s interesting that these types of descriptors are used because pain, disappointment, and sorry happens to everyone. The manner in which emotions are processed varies, but sometimes the impacts of tough moments can cause prolonged feelings of extreme sadness.
Something that was said to me numerous times as I disclosed my mental health challenges was “You were depressed; you always look so happy”! I understood this sentiment, but there’s a false perception that someone who is depressed will look, behave, or react a certain way. Nevertheless, if someone changes their normal routine (e.g., withdraws from regular activities, stops connecting with friends/family, becomes more isolated), then there might be a need to provide support. However, don’t push for disclosures, judge them, or compare their feelings to the way someone else might respond --- including yourself.
Numerous individuals use fear as an excuse for inaction for themselves and others. It’s understood that fear can be a barrier, but oftentimes it can be overcome by pushing – sometimes just a little – to take steps toward forward-progress. Moreover, change can be uncomfortable, but silence can lead to unnecessary complacency that allows negative forces to prevail --- whether internally or externally.
During my recovery, I used an unlikely tool… Facebook. This social media application that’s sometimes condemned for allowing heartless attacks on it... changed and saved my life. I used Facebook – and my blog on The Huffington Post – as my personal diary for my emotional outlets and an extended support group; my first post “Depression – An Unnecessary Stigma” was the hardest. Nevertheless, by sharing this article publicly, I visibly demonstrated to others – who might also be affected by depression – that they’re not alone.
In the middle of the worst parts of my personal storms, I had mental turmoil, emotional damage, and financial/material losses. However, these impacts pale in comparison to the significant societal value I’ve added for myself and others by boldly, openly, and without reservations sharing the toughest moments of my life --- my path to recover after a near-suicide.
Silence about my struggles led to personal and financial losses; however, a greater loss would have been for me to surrender and give-up by ending my life. In March 2014, I was minutes from doing so. In those moments which felt like an eternity, I called one of my brothers not to save myself but instead to ensure that our mother would be cared for after I was gone. This is yet another example that by caring for something or someone greater than myself… my life was saved. Without these feelings of caring and compassion, my life would have certainly ended that day.
During the hardest parts of my recovery, I reclaimed my life moment-by-moment by using writing to share my pain --- while also attempting to change viewpoints about mental health challenges. In the years since my depression began, I’ve addressed, brought awareness to, and challenged stigmatic beliefs about depression/mental health, ethics, workplace bullying, criminal justice reform, and learning to live a fulfilled life.
I didn’t want this treacherous, life-altering, and heart-wrenching experience by any means, but it’s my mine; I own it! I could have surrendered to the pain, agony, and feelings of worthlessness by drinking, doing drugs, or any other reckless activities; instead, I searched inward, purposely worked harder, and reclaimed my life. Being in the darkness of depression is a very lonely place, but each individual must find their way back towards the light --- whether it’s with counseling, drug therapy, prayer, writing, volunteering, or other positive outlets.
Whenever you’re feeling bad, wanting to give-up, or thinking about ending your life, consider my quote entitled “Darkness Fuels the Light”:
“Your darkest days don’t define you, but instead provide an opportunity for you to display your strength and character, which will ultimately drive the individual you become”.
Today, I have clarity, purpose, passion, and direction. Prior to my depression and near-suicide, I went through the motions and lived someone else’s life. It hasn’t been easy; it’s been at times an ongoing battle to get-up, keep moving, and remain positive. Conversely, if I stayed down or ended my life, I would have missed some incredible experiences these past cost of years, which began with learning who I am and helping others to do the same.
If you’re depressed, please get help; you’re not alone; understand that there’s always someone who is willing to assist you!
I never imagined that a little over two years since my near-suicide, I would have authored a few books, would reach countless individuals by blogging on The Huffington Post, connected with various thought-leaders on my radio show “Beyond Just Talk with S. L. Young,” taught hundreds of inmates, and realized that regardless of my struggles my life still has value. Notwithstanding, the most important things I’ve done were to connect with individuals who are also dealing with depression, and those who lost loved ones that told me that my articles/books helped them to better understand mental health challenges.
Initially, I didn’t have the strength to fight for myself after being beaten down by unethical workplace bullies for far too long. Although, it’s interesting that my strength derived from reading a judgmental comment on Facebook about Robin Williams who was unnecessarily scrutinized – after his death – because of the manner in which he died. It was at this point, I said enough!!! I didn’t get mad, but I unbelievably decided to share my journey to recover to help, change, inspire, and save lives.
Robin Williams --- I didn’t have the gift of meeting you, but in some distant ways I know you. I watched you as a child, laughed with/at you as an adult, and now understand that our untreated depression can kill. The true measure of a life isn’t in the things that someone acquires, but instead by the value of the contributions left behind after their time is done. From the day we’re born until the day we die, none of us lives alone or navigates life alone; therefore, we must be willing to support each other during sometimes very challenging times. Please know that your untimely death helped me to identify my light --- for myself and others. For me Mr. Williams, I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the light your life directed onto mine at a critical time that I was ready to put out my flame.
Don’t be silent about your struggles, as silence can be deadly. If you’re affected by depression, please get help and know that you’re not alone. Also, remember that there’s always someone, somewhere who is ready and willing to help.
Anyone who needs assistance should contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org or 1-800-273-8255.
For additional information on Mr. Young’s journey to recover after his near-suicide, read his books “Choosing To Take A Stand” and “Turning Darkness Into Light”.