When Depression Smiles
This has been a particularly turbulent week for me. Lots going on at home right now (which I will leave for another time), that combined with the uncertain state of Ontario’s future thanks to the circus of an election we just weathered through and to top it all off with my own state of mind when I awoke not once but twice this week to the devastating news that two prominent, influential and highly successful public figures in the media world had taken their own lives.
I have spent the better part of my week consumed with the media reports and all the backlash that seems to follow when a prominent, influential and highly successful public figure like Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain or Robin Williams take their own lives, without any warning, or so it seems to many of us. I have previously mentioned in other blogs what the news of Robin Williams’s suicide did to me, a person who spends a significant amount of time battling similar, incomprehensible demons in my own mind.
Even though most of us don’t actually know any of these media moguls personally, we develop a pseudo-type of relationship with them when we buy their products, follow their brand, listen to their music or welcome them into our homes and our hearts through their big box office hits or television shows. So yes, believe it or not these types of relationships become very personal to many, and for me, an already vulnerable individual, I am left trying to figure out why someone like myself shouldn’t mimic their very tragic, harmful actions. I mean, come on, look at what they had to live for…
There is definitely an all too familiar commonality that many of these prominent, influential and highly successful public figures share. Watching them from the comfort of our homes, the news media or a magazine stand they all seem to have a life most people only dream of while being surrounded by their loved ones and more money than anyone could ever know what to do with in one lifetime. Yet, with all of their fame and good fortune they were still just human beings, many of whom felt compelled to smile through their tears.
Unfortunately the stigma associated with mental illness has led many of these prominent, influential and highly successful public figures the inability to use their platform to raise awareness or give them the ability to remove their mask before it becomes too heavy to wear any longer. Psychologists have actually named this simply as “Smiling Depression”. This defense mechanism is sadly how many of us who battle with mental illness live day in and day out for fear that others will find out that they aren’t actually living a perfect life.
Many people who live this way don’t want to burden or bother others with their problems quite possibly for fear of being rejected or for fear of showing their vulnerability to others, yet on the inside they are feeling empty, insecure and worthless which I know will only lead to an enormous amount of guilt and shame and suicidal ideations. For many individuals who are unable to remove their mask, it is that much more difficult for loved ones or professionals to recognize that an individual is at risk for suicide or in distress.
There really is an endless list of signs and symptoms of suicide but the reality is that many individuals, not just those in the public eye, can and will hide behind their smile so they don’t come across to others as weak. As I finish writing this blog I will leave you with this anonymous quote which can help educate others to the detrimental effects of mental illness which is that no matter how much a person may be smiling always try to “check on your strong friends, check on your quiet friends, check on your happy friends, check on your creative friends, always check on each other!