Those who are puzzled are those who have never suffered from depression. For the rest of us, the answer is easy.
Depression is like waking up on a dim, cold train. You don’t remember how you got there. Your train car is empty: no companions, no music, no laughter. Over the PA system, a sinister conductor makes announcements. You are not good enough. You aren’t trying hard enough. You’re tired. Just rest awhile longer. The world around you is a mess, so why bother getting up?
In your heart, you know his words aren’t true, yet after endless repetition they become your own thoughts.
Out the windows, you see life passing. Happy people, sunny places, laughter. You pound on the windows, but the train will not stop to let you off.
Sometimes medicine, therapy, or other treatments will slow the train enough for you to jump off. But even those of us lucky to get off at the next station hear the distant whistle from time to time and shudder at the thought of waking up in the cold, dim coach again.
For others, the train won’t stop.
If someone suffers from an excruciating terminal disease, most people champion that person’s right to die. But victims writhing in the agony of depression are experiencing the same degree of emotional pain as patients suffering physical pain. Like the terminally ill, they just want the misery to stop.
So some, like Robin Williams and 38,000 other Americans each year, commit suicide, leaving family and friends haunted by questions: How could my loved one’s life be so horrible if I was in it? Wasn’t my love enough to keep him alive? How could he abandon me?
The truth is that the love of family and friends probably kept the person from killing himself sooner. But even love can’t overcome the agony of depression.
Robin Williams had an additional struggle. He was an addict. So the energy he needed to slow the train down was sucked into the endless void of addiction.
Unfortunately, many people suffer from depression and addiction, and suicide is the tenth most common cause of death in America, ahead of homicide. Maybe the death of Robin Williams will bring attention and acceptance to those who struggle. Maybe researchers will find new solutions. Maybe more sufferers will seek help.
And maybe a few of them will be able to jump off the train before it crashes.
If a friend or family member talks about suicide, urge him or her to seek help or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
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