Myths About Suicide: Depression is a Sign of Weakness

This is part one of a three-part series on myths surrounding suicide.

“If you were stronger you would get over this.”

“No one wants to hear you crying all the time and talking about how awful your life is. You think you have problems? You haven’t dealt with nearly as much as me. Suck it up.”

How many times do we hear statements like these? In our families and communities it is common to believe that depression is a weakness or a character flaw that should be hidden away from the public eye. We view depression as a problem to be solved rather than an illness to be treated. Instead of supplying the resources young people need to express their emotional pain, we ask for them to be silent and to stop causing us stress.

One of the biggest barriers to seeking help for ourselves and our children is thinking we will be judged, excluded, or viewed differently. The only way to change how we respond to those with depression is to challenge our assumptions about what depression really is and actually talk about it openly. Parents are role models for their children and when parents change the message about what it means to be depressed, they change the message for generations to come. Because it’s so important to look at depression differently, here’s how you can start:

Ways to challenge the idea that depression = weakness.

  • No one chooses to be depressed, just like no one chooses to have any other health condition. People with depression cannot just “snap out of” their depression any more than someone with diabetes can. It is not a sign of weakness or laziness to be depressed.
  • Depression is a real and serious condition. It is not much different than a chronic health condition in its ability to impact someone’s life. It can have both emotional and physical symptoms and make life very difficult for those who have it. The medical community has acknowledged the seriousness of depression and recognizes it as a disease. Although we are not completely certain what causes depression, we know that genetic and biological factors play a significant role. We also know it can be lethal. Depression-related suicide is a leading cause of death among children and teens.
  • Depression can affect anyone including professional athletes, musicians, actors, lawyers, businessmen, writers, teachers, people in the military and even children. Being depressed has nothing to do with personal weakness. Some of the strongest people are people who’ve coped with depression in their lives.
  • Having a mental disorder doesn’t mean you’re “crazy.” What it does mean is that there is an illness that is affecting your brain and you are likely less in control of how you want to live your life. Left unaddressed, any mental disorder including depression can cause a person significant distress and problems in their relationships and life.
  • It takes strength to fight depression!

If someone is depressed, it takes tremendous strength to talk about it and get help. Increasing our acceptance and showing encouragement to those who take this step can go a long way. Support is crucial if you or a loved one is depressed or contemplating suicide. Please know that there is help. Depression is treatable and there are many effective treatment options that will meet needs. If you or your child need immediate help due to having suicidal thoughts, go to your local emergency room immediately, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or you can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

For more information on Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Behavioral Health services, click here or listen to our PediaCast.

Melanie Fluellen, LPCC
Melanie Fluellen is a LPCC with Nationwide Children’s Hospital Center for Suicide Prevention and Research. She has been with Nationwide Children's Hospital Behavioral Health for 9 years and has years of experience working with youth who have experienced or been exposed to trauma.
John Ackerman, PhD
John Ackerman, PhD, is a clinical psychologist in Behavioral Health and Suicide Prevention Coordinator for the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research (CSPR) at Nationwide Children's Hospital. He directs community, school, and hospital efforts to educate others about the risks and warning signs of pediatric suicide. Dr. Ackerman has contributed to ongoing investigations at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's regarding risk factors for adolescent suicide. He is also interested in how social media can contribute to suicide prevention.

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