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0819-lee-thompson-young-article-getty-7The idea of depression is often overlooked or treated nonchalantly.  When one exhibits or expresses feelings of being sad, blue, miserable, unhappy, or down in the dumps, people often shrug it off as something irrelevant, something that is temporary, and will just go away.

Many people are able to take their own everyday problems with “a grain of salt” and deal with them accordingly.

My personal mantra has always been to “be thankful, because it could always be worse.”

So for many of us who are able to deal with our problems in this manner, the idea of one being severely depressed doesn’t cross our mind. We can’t fathom it.  We listen to our friends/family “vent” about their problems or issues, and often give encouraging words like:

“Everything will be ok”,

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, or

“This too shall pass”

We then go on about our merry way and wait for our loved ones to “get through it”, “get over it”, or “move on.”  It never even crosses our mind that the issues that our loved ones face will take them over the edge, because to us:

  1. “Everyone has problems”
  2. “It’s never that serious”
  3. We know that person well & “they would never do anything extreme.”

Unfortunately, these notions are not the feelings of everyone; for some, it is that serious…so serious that they are willing to do the most extreme to escape the problems of their life or the world that we often snub as we continue to live on.

Last week we received the news that actor, Lee Thompson Young, committed suicide. I was personally checked by this reality in 2007.

When I was about 12 years old, I met my best friend. We went to middle school together, and some of high school until her family moved away.  The distance between us never affected our friendship; we remained best friends, talked all the time, and visited each other frequently.  At the end of high school, she had my God-daughter. Less than a year later, it was time to go off to college.

My best friend and I intentionally chose to go to the same college together, picked our first apartment, and moved in.  We were roommates throughout most of our college lives and we supported each other in everything we did.   I helped her with my God-daughter as if she was my own daughter. We considered each other as family- she was the sister I always wanted.

After college, we went our separate ways; I moved to California to attend law school and she remained in Florida where she continued school for a while and then later moved to Georgia to pursue modeling. It was kind of weird venturing out on our own, without each other for the first time as adults.  We’d talk about once or twice a month, she’d send me pictures of my God- daughter, and made sure I was in the loop as she grew up.  Despite the distance, just like when she moved away in High School, our friendship didn’t change…just the frequency of our communication.  When we did talk, we laughed like we always did; you’d never know that we didn’t talk daily.

On August 23, 2007, I made my usual call to check in.  Nothing seemed odd when we spoke, just another day of catching up as usual.  She told me about a mutual friend who had recently committed suicide; we were both equally shocked about his death.  I clearly remember us talking about how we didn’t understand what could be that bad that would cause someone to end their own life. Our total conversation only lasted about 15 minutes and my last words to her were “I have to run back into class, but I’ll talk to you this weekend so that we can talk more.” That weekend, my phone rang.  Although I didn’t recognize the number, the area code was the same as hers so I automatically assumed it was her calling me for our weekend call.

To my surprise, when I answered it wasn’t her, it was one of her sisters.  This wasn’t too odd, as I was very close to all of her family.  However, the dynamic of our conversation was odd:

“Merissa, what are you doing?”

“Nothing really”

“Are you home alone?”

(I remember pausing and thinking “Why does it matter if I’m home alone, they live across the country, it’s not like they’re coming over to visit”, nonetheless, still clueless I answered)

“No”

“Well, sit down”. (At this point I knew something was up…but had no idea what it could be & then she said it…)

“She committed suicide”……………….

What? That’s not possible; I just spoke with her two days ago. “Well, where’s my God-daughter, do you need me to come and get her?”

“She didn’t make it either”

I couldn’t believe it…I still have a hard time believing it: She took her own life, and the life of my God-daughter.

I was angry! I’m still angry! To date, I still struggle; trying to figure out how did this happen? Why did this happen? What could I have done differently as a friend? How did I not notice that something was fatally bothering her when we spoke earlier that week? Why didn’t it cross my mind that the conversation we had about our mutual friend who committed suicide the week prior would trigger her to do the same?  This is definitely something you should know about your best friend right?

Like many, I took my ability to handle problems for granted. Never in a million years did I think someone that was that close to me would take such action. She didn’t exhibit any “suicidal characteristics.” She showed no signs of depression, sadness, anger, or anything else out of the ordinary, so I thought.  I assumed that if she was going through something, I of all people would be the first to know; I thought she would talk about it.  And because I always assumed I could talk to her “tomorrow,” I honestly didn’t think to pay close attention to my friend that I’ve known since I was 12 years old. I knew her too well, she “would never” do something that extreme…so I thought.

I’m sharing this story because there are so many people who suffer from depression, anxiety, stress, trauma, and many other things daily and are right at the edge.  And unfortunately, they hide their pain so well that unless you are conscious of the possibility, you won’t even notice.  My best friend and Lee Thompson Young aren’t the only ones.

Sadly, Suicide takes the lives of almost 30,000 Americans every year.

For people 15-24 years old, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death.

BUT…In contrast, 80% of people that seek treatment for depression are treated successfully and research has shown that medication/therapy is effective suicide prevention.

Six years ago, that phone call changed my life and my outlook on life forever. I no longer take my relationships for granted and assume that I can talk to my loved ones “tomorrow.”  I am more aware of the feelings of those around me.  And if someone talks to me about a problem, I do everything I can to try to help them find a solution or get the help they need.  Because that one solution, no matter how simple to me, may save a life. Be aware of the feelings of those around you.

Do you know someone who may be suffering from depression or mental illness? Do you know the warning signs of suicide? I didn’t! Until it was too late.

Get in the know: For more information on suicide and suicide prevention: visit save.org

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