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“I wanted to tell her that if only something were wrong with my body it would be fine, I would rather have anything wrong with my body than something wrong with my head, but the idea seemed so involved and wearisome that I didn’t say anything. I only burrowed down further in the bed.”
― Sylvia Plath


[My dear friend recently approached me requesting that I tell the story of her family’s battle with depression and suicide. All names have been changed.]

“This is a difficult subject,” explained Kristen. “People don’t want to think about someone being in so much pain that they would take their own life. But, it happens all over the world …it’s prevalent. One million people commit suicide worldwide each year. My brother committed suicide and my son has made several serious attempts. Some professionals say that there is a genetic component in depression. My mother suffered, as does my sister.”

“My brother, Danny, was 33 years old when he took his life. We knew that he had some problems but nobody knew how incredibly depressed he was. He was drinking quite a bit and I know now that some people drink or drug to self-medicate their awful feelings. It is possible that is why Danny was drinking. His death was a shock and just flattened our family. We handled it like many families do; we didn’t talk about it much or analyse the ‘why’ of it. We mourned, and then went on with our lives. Danny was such an awesome man. He was gentle, kind, intelligent and outgoing when he felt passionate about an issue.  I’m currently helping to organise a walk that will shed some light on this horrible disease and bring in funds for research. I seem to be more aware of and understanding of this illness as I get older. Danny’s death was 23 years ago and I am 53.”

“There are several different types of depression, and many different causes. I’m not a professional and have no expertise to discuss them. My goal here is to let others know that this disease is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to be swept under the carpet. My son made his first attempt when he was 17. Again, I knew that he was having a difficult time, but honestly, what teen doesn’t? After this attempt, while hospitalised, Mark told us that he is gay. I know that he struggled a lot in his younger years with that- he was ashamed and felt like we would be disappointed with him. He was also using drugs and we were not aware of that either. I thought we had a stable, all American family. It never occurred to me that Mark was so miserable. We got him help right away…therapy and medication. But as it turned out, Mark has Persistent Depressive Disorder. It used to be known as Dysthymia. This is when a person struggles for 2 or more years. Mark would be feeling pretty good and then he would crash into a depressive state. He tried to commit suicide on two other occasions and has been hospitalised a number of times. Mark will be the first person to tell you that he is an addict; sober at this point, dear God. He would also tell you that he drinks and drugs because he feels less depressed then. Of course, substance abuse brings on its own set of major problems. Truth be told, Mark has gone into psychotic states when using.”

“If I had a dime for every time I’ve cried myself to sleep…It is terrible to know that your son is suffering, terrible to not be able to fix it. Now, don’t misunderstand, there are tons of people that have gotten to the other side of this. Tons of people who are well. Mark has his good days and his rough days. He is 24. Currently he is looking for work, seeing a doctor and on medication. Unfortunately, some of the meds don’t seem to agree with him, so it is trial and error. There is still a terrible stigma regarding mental illnesses. People still use words like crazy, nuts or psycho. My closest friends know of our struggle and lately I’ve been open about this to others. I hope to get people to rid themselves of this stigma. You can say, “My son has a broken leg,” and people will sympathise. You get looks if you say, “My son is mentally ill.” No one signs up for this, no one chooses this. I’ve had times when I was wracked with guilt because I felt I had done something wrong as a mother. I’m coming to terms with that as I become more knowledgeable about this disease. I love my son dearly and I will always stand by his side. I don’t have a magic wand though, so we just keep taking this one day at a time.”


  • Vicki Flint says:

    Truly a heart-wrenching story. I applaud this woman for telling it, and emphasizing the need to de-stigmatize mental illness. Also, I congratulate young Mark for his sobriety and efforts to get the proper medication. I sincerely wish this family well.

  • Susan Colman says:

    Aside from echoing all the sentiments of the above comment, I can only add that we must never stop pushing for the normalization of mental illness. one day a diagnosis of a mental/emotional problem will indeed be greeted as something that is part of health care and to be dealt with and treated, as with a physical illness. This will happen in the same way society changed its response to tobacco.

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