Breaking the Mental Health Stigma

“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

Kurt Vonnegut,
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater


I’ve been thinking a lot about an interesting song by System of a Down called “Chop Suey!”.

The title — which is the name of a dish — is a wordplay on what would’ve otherwise been simply called “Suicide”.

The song criticizes society for judging people differently based on how they pass. A line in the song goes, “I cry when angels deserve to die.”

As one of the songwriters, Daron Malakian explained, “It occurred to me how we are judgmental towards people, even in death. If someone died in a car accident, you’d say, ‘Oh, poor thing.’ But if they died in a car accident while they were drunk, that would change your whole perception of how they died, and judging his or her death a in a different way.”

In the deeper context of the song, if someone commits suicide, another person might say, “He’s in the worst place there is because he killed himself. He deserved it because it was his own decision.”

And this likely stems from the forbidding of suicide as a major sin in most religions. 

For me as a Muslim, I wholeheartedly agree that suicide is never the right thing to do. But I also believe that our religious faith isn’t a license to think in black and white terms. 

I don’t believe that a person’s value is tied to their mental health. 

If a person is feeling suicidal or depressed, it doesn’t mean that they’re weak-hearted or weak in faith. If they’re seeing a psychiatrist, it doesn’t mean that they’re insane.

Most, if not all religions, advocate empathy and understanding. 

If you find somebody in this position, rather than condemning them by saying “Snap out of it” or “What’s wrong with you?” — instead ask yourself, what are you doing to help them get better? 

What most people don’t understand about others who are depressed or suicidal is that if were easy for them to think rationally and get themselves out of the gloomy state they are in, they would’ve done so quickly. But the reality is that once that black mood hangs over you, it feels nearly impossible to think or do anything else outside of it. 

They don’t wake up lecturing to themselves on why suicide is wrong. They could wake up feeling that they simply need to end their long-lasting pain. And if that pain is great enough, for a period of time suicide can seem like the only way. 

As Joshua Wolf Shenk wrote in one of my favorite books, Lincoln’s Melancholy, “William Styron says his depression was like a storm in his brain, punctuated by a thunder of self-critical, fearful, despairing thoughts — one clap following another in an endless night. Oppressed by these thoughts, people often become hopeless. Hopelessness, in an extreme form, leads people to think that only one thing can break the cycle, and that is suicide.”

He also quoted the renowned suicidologist Edwin Schneidman, “The idea of Hell does not ordinarily enter into suicide…The destination (or concern) is not to go anywhere, except away. The goal is to stop the flow of intolerable consciousness; not to continue in an afterlife or an eternity. ‘Escape’ does not mean to escape from one torture chamber to enter another. In suicide the goal is to achieve a peace of mindlessness.”

Depression, as well as other mental illnesses, aren’t easy to truly understand unless you’ve been through it. 

For a lot of people who suffer from depression, it’s not so much that their mood cycles from light to dark. It’s that they have to live most of their time in the dark, and they put great amounts of effort every day to let the light shine through. 

You could potentially save a life by being a little more understanding, and a little less condemning.

To put it simply, you’ve just got to be kind. 

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