On mental illness, suicide, and survivor’s guilt

This is a facebook post of mine, modified. It discusses some of my thoughts on mental illness, suicide, and survivor’s guilt. For that reason, if you are already in too much pain to read on, I wish you much love and future good health.


Social media has been filled with posts reminding people to tell others to love them, to make that call for lunch, while posting the suicide helplines. And let me say – those are GOOD things. Even if somebody isn’t suicidal, keeping up with your network – friends, family, spouse, partner, children – always makes for a better society. A more loving and empathetic society is better for all. So yes, check on that friend you haven’t heard from for a while. Tell your kid you love them. Do. And yes, sometimes, those small little things, the most random of little things, save lives.

But I’m watching social media, I’m watching these posts, and what I am often hearing is, “If I just be a better partner, child, friend, this will never (again?) happen to somebody I love.”

Don’t do this to yourself. Please. I beg of you, don’t do this. Love large, but do not put that on your shoulders.

Because mental illness comes in many forms and states. Many, many, many, forms. There is no one fix. Some people need medication (do not ever make somebody feel guilty for this), some need therapy, some just need empathy and love. But there are people out there who suffer so deeply, so great, they are so damn tired, that your call, that interruption – they’ll just schedule their demise at another time. They are exhausted, done. They know you love them. They know you care. They want you to love them, to care. But they are in So. Much. Pain.

I’ve never had anything more than low grade depression, but I understand physical pain. So let me walk you through it. There was about three solid years of my life where I had the burn. It sat under my skin and burned. It still happens, I just got over a three week slog of horrible horrid. But this was three solid years of no relief. If you want to understand what I mean, the next time you light a fire, get just that too close. Not enough to hurt yourself. Just that point where your body is telling you this is uncomfortable, that it is too much, take a step back.

Now, how long can you stand that discomfort? One minute? An hour? A day? A year? Chinese water torture is a real thing. That’s a drop of water. What if you can’t get away from the burn? Do you start bargaining with yourself? “If I keep it together until my kids are adults. If I keep it together for…”

That’s just a physical problem that impacted my mental state, not the other way around.

Now imagine that horribleness is your brain. Your mental hell that you fight to work through Every. Damn. Day. In order to function. You know people love you. You know life has good things in it. But you are enduring what you never believed it was possible to endure without relief.

Suicide is awful. We lose a beautiful person, while their death will leave lasting scars on the survivors. But the more I have looked into the state of people who have reached that level of chronic hell, I’m not even sure asking them to keep living is ethical. And I can’t even begin to tell you how hard it is for me to have reached the point where I am asking that question. To admit, that there is truly a point in humanity where keeping a person alive while their mental state is harming them to such a degree may actually be nothing short of torture.

Which is very different from many other forms and stages of serious mental illness and / or depression. Even if for that time––months, years––it is its own hell, they can keep living. Your love and empathy and the medical community will help these people cope and live their lives with their mental illness.

The problem is: I don’t know how a person who is not  in their shoes tells the difference between “we can help them get through this” verses “they are at the end of the rope and making them feel obliged to live is cruel”. There are times where I am sure they don’t know the difference. So you try, and try, and hope, please do…But, also, please quit telling yourself and others that you can save all with your love. If you only…

If you only… will mentally harm you. I promise you, it is the road to the deep abyss, and people have died from survivor’s guilt. I have watched it. I have lived it. So please, as you type these reminders to “reach out” – think cautiously about the survivors reading your words. The ones that may have gone above and beyond to make sure there was healthcare to receive medically vital treatments. That spent ages looking for loved ones that go missing in fragile mental states. Who have kept vigils, and worked out schedules for watches and…friends and family may do it all, and still, the person dies. It isn’t because their friends and family didn’t love them enough. It is because that person was in too much pain. It is the most helpless and despairing feeling to watch mental illness kill your loved one – do not add to the blame that the survivors are already going through.

We want to fix things. We want fixable problems. But we are not a Lego set, where all you need to do is find that right brick and click it in place. It isn’t that simple.

Love one another. Be empathetic. Meet that person for lunch. Give hugs. Return messages. Offer to attend therapy sessions if they think it will help. Absolutely. Your kindness does and will matter. To more than you will ever know. You will save lives without ever knowing you did.

But no, I am sorry, and do not do this to yourself, not everyone can be saved. We are not gods.


Suicide hotline for South Africa: 0800 567 567

Suicide hotline for United States: 1-800-273-8255

Click here for all numbers for the United Kingdom



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