Flirting with depression: The problem with suicide hotlines

Walk of Fame memorial

Flowers and tributes are placed at the make-shift memorial on the Hollywood Walk of Fame star for Robin Williams. (EPA / August 12, 2014)

The suicide of Robin Williams is one of those permeating cultural events that's more than just the loss of a performer who meant so many things to so many generations. The nostalgic older folks remember his "nanu nanus," the Gen X'ers "O! Captain," Millennials his fire boobs. But Williams' passing isn't just a feelings bomb -- it's another forum to discuss the perils of mental illness.

Every time a celebrity dies, there's a broad spectrum of response. There are the bitter survivors ("My dad died and no one cared, why should I care about this dude?"), the over-compensators ("Blank meant absolutely everything to my life, and I'm DEVASTATED #cryingforever"), the observant genuflectors ("YouTube link or obscure quote from one of their most under-loved performances"), the simple mourners ("RIP + picture of celeb looking wistful"), and so on. And all of these reactions are valid. The way we mourn runs parallel to the other ways we live and react: fluid or broken, bombastic or silent. There's no right way to reflect.

But when the cause of death is suicide, the chasm bursts and the response is something much harder to define and mitigate. Depression is personal, an illness all of us have either experienced personally or witnessed first-hand. And there's an inherent desire to say something relevant in its wake.

With a highly publicized suicide, there comes the ripple effect "suicide hotline" posts. These posts, which usually encourage anyone hurting to seek help, all are well-intentioned. They come from a very humanistic desire to help, even when you don't know how. And no one should ever draw attention away from these hotlines, which do save lives and are incredibly important resources for people teetering on the edge of a terrifying suicidal threshold.

But I can't help it. I hate seeing these posts. I hate seeing encouraging tweets about seeking help. I hate everything that purports to know what it's like to be in the headspace of a suicidal person, even if the person posting it has been suicidal.

To quote a great tweet I saw from @salome: "I get the kind sentiment behind the 'reach out to someone' tweets, but it's pretty hard to say 'my mind conspires against me and it hurts.'"

It does. It hurts. My personal experience with depression is irrelevant to this beyond saying I never found positive persuasion effective or helpful. I found it condescending, privileged and impersonal. Suicidal tendencies are incredibly, incredibly personal, and any time I wavered on the brink, I retreated into a corner of the mind I call the Void. Void of love, happiness, sadness, excitement, passivity. It's a flex of brain that transcends reality and exists in a state of what I imagine death to be like -- an endless reality of unfeeling. When you're in this state of mind, this totally blank and seemingly endless hub of numb, it's hard to process what is and isn't genuine. If a person had recognized my condition and told me to call a hotline, I honestly believe I would have felt more inclined to end it all, to slip deeper into the Void, just to spite their clearer head.

The point I'm trying to make is that encouragement can also be a trigger to a darker place, and it's important to tread lightly. I've seen a flurry of suicide hotline posts on social media in the past 24 hours, and while I'm hopeful that these posts are helping those in pain, I still flinch every time they appear. For me, comfort doesn't come from another person's empty pleas to watch out for yourself (empty or not, that's how I personally process them). My comfort comes from art, music, simple gestures like favoriting something I write or complimenting my shoes. The little things that chisel at the grub.

Instead of filling the world with fraudulent posterity, let's fill it with pieces of ourselves that can mean something to others. If you think your friend is suicidal, instead of texting them a hotline number, send them a clip of Robin Williams doing impressions.
 
This is an excerpt of a piece that originally appeared on Lindsey Romain's personal blog, babeltongues.tumblr.com. Romain is a RedEye special contributor.

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