Another gorgeous young celebrity killed himself yesterday, and friends and fans of actor Lee Thompson Young are understandably in shock. Young, the 29-year-old star of "Rizzoli & Isles," reportedly shot himself in his Los Angeles home on Monday morning, leaving no suicide note. This comes exactly one week after Gia Allemand, 29, a Maxim model and former "Bachelor" contestant known for her sweet disposition and relative non-lameness compared with so many of her reality-TV brethren, hanged herself in her New Orleans home. She didn’t leave a note, either (not that I’ve heard about, anyway).
Which leaves both stars’ families, friends, partners and us, their voyeuristic, viewing public -- bewildered about what would compel people "like them" to commit such heinous acts of self-harm. "I was as shocked as anybody. I didn’t see this coming," Allemand's dad told the New York Daily News. Young and Allemand were both so ... pretty. They were so young. And they both seemed -- at least from what I’ve gleaned via TV and blogs -- sweet, and talented, and decent. Neither star seemed to exhibit strong suicidal warning signs, at least none that are being reported in the media yet.
But nearly one in two people in the U.S. will endure depression, anxiety disorders or another mental health issue at some point in life, and about one in 17 Americans has a serious mental illness right now. Young people are especially prone to these troubles, and they can hit low-income people, who have limited access to affordable treatment, especially hard.
Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter how happy, "normal," successful or together you SEEM. (And it certainly doesn’t matter how hot you look in a business suit OR a bikini.) Like most people who've tried to take their own lives (excluding those who choose it as an alternative to a long, grim terminal illness), Young and Allemand must have been in extreme emotional pain. We don't know the full picture yet on what illness either or both may have been suffering from. But generally speaking: healthy, happy people do not kill themselves; people with mental illnesses like depression do. As psychiatrist Charles Raison wrote on CNN last year, "The vast majority of people who choose methods of suicide that are almost guaranteed to succeed -- like a gun to the head or a plunge from a high bridge -- do so because they are losing a battle against major depression."
Depression is an illness, and just like cancer, Alzheimer’s or any other illness, it’s blind. It doesn’t care how you look, or how much money you make, or how many followers you have on Twitter. So everyone asking "Why?" can just ... stop. We know why; we know enough. What we need to know NOW is how to better treat and prevent the types of disorders that lead to these tragic ends. We need to know how to effectively treat depression. Existing meds are only working for half of patients with the condition. As huge as the drug industry's gotten, whatever we're doing now clearly isn't working well enough.
As a long-time sufferer of depression myself, I’m not one of those people who sees suicide as the Most Vile Terrible Evil Ultimately Selfish Act Ever. I understand why people feel that way, though, and I used to think that way, too, before my mind got possessed by what felt like a demonic being I couldn't control. As a kid, I couldn’t conceive of being in that kind of pain, a pain so blindingly all-consuming that there feels like absolutely NO WAY OUT. No way out except ... one.
I don't think anyone who commits suicide intends to hurt their families or friends; they delude themselves into thinking their friends and families will be happier, in the long run, without them. Their illness takes over; rational thought is gone. Suicide generally isn’t the pro-active, well-informed choice of a healthy mind. It’s the choice of a mind that’s already dying, in a way -- a mind already hijacked and gone.
My depression has been with me for 20+ years now. And it would only be a tiny bit hyperbolic to describe the long-term clinical depression I have as often "torturous." It can be downright excruciating to be trapped, 24 hours a day, within the confines of your own limited mind -- an enemy that wants you dead, or at least drunk and curled up on the floor in the fetal position. People who have never been through it don’t always understand the severity of an illness like depression -- how it can be invisible to the naked eye and possessed by otherwise awesome, strong, successful people who can learn to feign normalcy, stuff all the anguish down and "fake it til they make it"... Until they wind up dead from an intentional overdose or stepping in front of a subway train.
Some days, I feel beyond hope or repair, and I can understand people who casually think about dying the way they'd think about stopping at the grocery store on the way home, or taking the dog for a walk. (Thankfully, though, I've never really thought about killing myself as a legit option.)
Like Allemand and Young, by outside standards, I have a lot going for me -- no reason to complain. I’m smart, gainfully employed, reasonably attractive, living in a nice city; I have good friends and family members who care. But none of those external things truly register or resonate when you have depression. You can logically identify them as Good Things, and you know they are supposed to make you feel Good, but you can’t feel them, they can’t get in. It’s like your brain is wearing a full-body armor designed to keep only the good things out. Bad things -- negative comments from your boss, getting rejected by an OKCupid date, petty complaints from your mother -- get ushered in instantly, like VIPs, and get automatically added to the Depression Arsenal of tools to assassinate yourself with. But your brain always holds the good stuff hostage, at bay.
So yeah. I have good days and bad days. I hope someone, somewhere, comes up with some new alternatives to help treat people like me, and -- if they had similar issues -- Allemand and Young. In the meantime, though, there are organizations like the Icarus Project and To Write Love on Her Arms doing amazing work around mental health resources and support. Oh, and Depressed Cake Shop to serve us pretty grey cookies and cupcakes, of course (because depressed people need love-by-way-of-sugar too).
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