Okay, there’s something I’ve been quiet about for a while. I thought maybe I was quiet out of respect for people’s mourning, but I think now I realize that the person these people are mourning for is more important than the mourning.
In October, there was a boy in our community who committed suicide. I won’t use his name for the sake of privacy. He was 18 years old. He had just started his first semester at a university. His family was part of the Indian community that I was familiar with growing up. We used to see him and his parents around at friends’ houses sometimes when there were parties and other gatherings.
He committed suicide. I can’t imagine how painful that must be for his parents and his brother. I can’t imagine what it is like to lose someone into whom you have poured so much love and hope for 18 years.
I think the reaction I have seen from a lot of community members is a marker of how little our community is allowed to celebrate the humanity of people. So much of what I’ve seen are comments about mental health, as in, “mental health is so important! Reach out to me if you ever need help! Oh, and RIP friend!” and the like.
I cannot express the kind of fury this ignites in me. I cannot express how sad it is to me that this boy, who was so talented and so full of life when he was alive, is being reduced to his mental illness after death. I cannot believe people are allowing him to be remembered in this way, as some kind of victim of mental illness. In my opinion, that is an insult to his memory, and an insult to every person who is still alive and fighting for their lives. As a person who is living with depression, I refuse to allow this to be the narrative you tell. He is no longer alive to tell his story, but this is not the story you will tell about him.
Why didn’t it matter enough to you to check in on him while he was still living? Why didn’t it matter to you to tell him you love him while he was alive? Why didn’t you tell him how smart he is, how amazing he is, that you like his company, that he means something to you, while he was alive? Do not dare say another word about how sad it is when someone commits suicide if you are not brave enough to tell people you love them while they are alive.
I have seen people go to all kinds of lengths to avoid responsibility for what has happened. Saying things like, oh, it was the residence hall that was the problem. Oh, he picked such a hard major. Oh, he should have stayed closer to home. Oh, it was this, that, and the other thing, continuously blaming him. As time goes on, the list of accusations gets longer. This tells me that people know exactly what could have been done and just didn’t do it. It is our responsibility at the end of the day. Yes, ours. We are responsible for his death. We, his community, the people who were close to him and did nothing to stop this from happening. It is our fault.
And I have seen people have the nerve to call him selfish for leaving in that way. For writing a note to his parents that he is finally making a decision on his own. This tells me how little people actually know about mental illness. Of course it is selfish. To consider suicide, a person has to feel as though there is no other escape. Taking their lives comes to be a logical option. Unless you have felt that kind of entrapment, you cannot possibly know the pain he was living with in the last few days of his life.
Be a better community for him. You keep complaining about the stigma in this community around mental health. Are you doing anything to help stop the stigma? Are you educating yourself on mental illness? Do you let people know you are present for them when they need help?
Furthermore, are you honest about your own mental health status? This community is known for pushing young people to their limits, making us compete ruthlessly with the people we should be able to go to for support. It is common for young people to feel anxiety and depression without knowing it because they think this is a “normal” way to live life. I certainly did. Take stock of how well you are taking care of yourself. Go further than just the physical necessities of eating and sleeping regularly. Do you surround yourself with upbeat people who care for your well-being? Do you have people in your life who listen to you deeply, who know how to validate your feelings and recognize your pain? Do you have people in your life who take accountability for their actions and admit when they are at fault?
Notice how a lot of these questions have to do with people.
Do better for him. Do not make his story some melodramatic tragedy about depression. Remember his accomplishments, and appreciate how much he achieved in spite of his mental illness. Who knows how long he was affected by it? But he was still brave enough to get out of bed and go to class every day. He was still brave enough to move away from home. Remember his courage. And remember that about all the people who come out to you with their mental illness. Remember that while you suspect they are just lazy, while you accuse them of not trying hard enough, while you say ignorant things like “mind over matter”. I didn’t choose to live this way. No one wants to live with a mental illness. I live in spite of my mental illness.