In the wake of Miss Jessie’s founder Titi Branch’s death, we are going through the same stage of collective grieving that always follows a high-profile suicide. We regurgitate the same verbiage. We ask the same questions: How is it that someone so beautiful, so prominent, so successful could have felt that they had no other way out besides suicide?
We log on to our computers and offer our condolences while looking around suspiciously at our family and friends and wonder if they could be next.
Depression is not the only reason a person may choose to take their own life, but it is so often at the root. Lacking details and personal information, we are left to speculate the ‘whys’ and the ‘what ifs.’ We ache inside because their death is more than just the loss of an individual, but it also creates an atmosphere of fear. Depression is not the flu. Individuals don’t grow a scarlet letter on their chest or some outward means of alerting those around them that their turmoil has become too great to bear. So we creep around unknowing of who else might be capable of making a permanent decision for a temporary problem. We crouch and brace ourselves for the next blow because we all know…it is coming. The statistics are a Google search away.
So today, as we have many days before, we mourn.
We mourn and we read articles about depression and mental illness and suicide rates but we come no closer to truly understanding what it means to be so low that the unthinkable is now a thought. That the unfathomable is now a plan. We can only attempt to peer inside the minds of those in that space and stumble around like unwanted trespassers. Piecing together final conversations, old Facebook posts, Instagram pictures, anything for a glimpse of what the final days of depression must look like.
We need to know. We are desperate to know.
As a person diagnosed with bipolar disorder II and clinical depression, I know firsthand the heavy weight that depression bares. I know the physical embodiment of your mental state that makes you feel as if you can not put one foot in front of the other sometimes. I know the dark, murky thoughts that creep into your head that seem so unlike your own. I know what it means to think, if just faintly, if just for a mere second, what life would be like…without you. Just thinking such thoughts reel you further into your depressive state and it seems as if seeing the light of day is now an impossibility.
Once upon a time, I was quietly admitted into the psychiatric ward of my local hospital. With no access to phones, social media or any technology of any kind, my five day stay went unnoticed by those outside of my inner circle. When I was discharged I never signed back on to my social media accounts. Sometimes the world wide web can be to much to bear for us manic depressives. The atrocities of the world, the seeming unattainable successes that people flaunt, the stories of murder and mayhem; it all is just too much and to heavy. I logged off. I logged out.
While there I met a young man that just wanted to talk. He told me he didn’t know why he was there but he knew he was unhappy. He confessed to me with sad eyes that all he wants is to have someone to love him as much as he wants to love, but everyone around him seems to fall short. While he was there he had visits everyday, he seemed to have phone calls every few hours. He seemed to be loved and supported in so many ways, but in his mind it just wasn’t enough.
The families of individuals who are going through depression and/or have committed suicide must recognize that many times when a person is depressed, when they are in need, when they feel utterly lost, sometimes the greatest efforts of those around them just may never be enough. You must absolve yourself of the guilt that accompanies the hopelessness of feeling as if you are not doing everything you can to help your loved one.
Everyone isn’t going to be formally diagnosed bipolar or clinically depressed. Many people don’t show “the signs” we have prepared ourselves to look for. Everyone isn’t going to reach out for help and even those that do, sometimes the help they need may be beyond our control. Even so, we as a community must remain vigilant and responsive to the needs of those close to us. Let us stay aware of the sometimes unspoken cues no matter how minute that someone we care about may be in need. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t be afraid to give it.
Again, though these unfortunate events have not been formally attributed to depression, it opens up the dialogue for a greater conversation that is routinely neglected in the African American community, the one about mental illness. Hopefully through this tragedy someone will be willed to ask for help or recognize the magnitude of their own thoughts and behaviors. For us to live in the era of “Black lives matter,” we must learn to love the ill as much as we do those who have already fallen, and to preserve the lives who are still with us.
We are going to get through this loss. Together as a community we will envelop each other with kindness and compassion and be each other’s support system and grace.
There is hope for the seemingly hopeless.
Kasey Woods is a mother and mental health advocate. Additional information and resources can be found on her Facebook fan page.