This past year, I’ve known two teens who have died by suicide. I didn’t know them personally- they were people I passed in the hallway or I saw on one of my friend’s Instagram photos- but I felt deeply affected by the aftermath of the losses.
You see, people kept using the word “selfish” to describe what the teens had done. “She was just so selfish,” one of my friends said about one of the teens, a girl our age. “She was only thinking about herself.”
At the time, I was struggling with severe depression and suicidal thinking, so my friends’ words hit me like a bullet. You don’t even know her story, I wanted to tell her. I don’t know if the teenagers struggled with mental illness, but if they had, I understood them completely.
Depression is one of those things that can never be properly described, like a first kiss or a thunderstorm. You have to experience it in order to fully understand it, and even then, you will eventually forget the feeling it gave you until you are put in that situation again.
While I was struggling, I constantly thought about how to relieve the emotional pain I was in. My whole world seemed to be collapsing before me, and I needed a solution. My brain kept coming back to the same answers: sleep…and then, when I would awake with the same hollow feeling in my stomach, the same glassy look in my eyes, I started thinking about death.
I was so afraid my depression would get dark enough for me to forget the loving family, friends, and teachers I would hurt if I were to take my life. And so when I’d heard teenagers in my area had gone through with taking their lives, I was terrified. But I understood.
It’s so easy to call people who commit suicide “selfish." To imagine them as bad people. To form some version of their backstory in your head. To forget the larger issue at stake.
The truth is depression could take any one of us. And by depression, I mean depression, not sadness. There is such a big difference. No one is immune from cancer. The same applies with mental illness. People with depression don’t want to hurt their loved ones. Sometimes, when they resort to suicide, they think they are freeing them from all the emotional pain they’ve put them through.
Instead of judging the people who have fallen to mental illness, we need to start making a change. There needs to be more education in schools on mental illness, starting as early as kindergarten. Young people need to be taught that suicidal thinking is the brains’ natural response to depression. They need to grow in an environment where they can talk about suicidal thinking and find the right treatment, instead of suffering in silent shame.
We all want to find a solution. We need to be taught that death is not the answer. We need to be taught that taking medicine for mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, as well as therapy. We need to be taught that living is hard, but it’s worth it.
About the Author: Sidney Wollmuth is sixteen years old and recently moved to Minnesota from Northern Virginia. She spends most of her free time writing, reading, studying, running, or watching "The Office" on Netflix (JAM forever). She is not exactly sure what the meaning of life is but she plans to find out. To win her affection, simply buy her a carton of cookie dough ice cream, a lifetime supply of Celestial Seasoning Sleepytime tea, and a pink pair of cabin socks. Sidney performed her award-winning poetry at our 2016 DC-area This Is My Brave show which will be available on our YouTube Channel in July!