By Laura Trujillo
If she had cancer, we would have casseroles, Diane wrote to me.
She was referring to her daughter-in-law who suffered from depression and mental health issues and had tried to kill herself once before she actually did almost two years ago.
She didn’t really want a lasagna, though on this cold night it sounds sort of good, but something else. What Diane meant was this: Mental illness is still difficult to talk about. It feels OK to call off work for a cold, but not with a general feeling of I’m-not-sure-I-can-get-out-of-bed today.
While we can say repeatedly that we need to talk about mental illness and depression and suicide, it sometimes still feels difficult when you are at urgent care for what probably is a sinus infection, and they ask if you are on any medicine and you think before you decide you really want to say Wellbutrin, an anti-depressant.
And when you tell people that your daughter-in-law is sick, as Diane did, when you say that her depression has led to an addiction to opioids that is life-threatening, rarely does someone bring you a casserole or seem to understand. Instead, you are often greeted with silence or an awkward stare. You can feel more alone than you did before reaching out. And that is one of the things that keeps us from sharing and recognizing that depression and mental illness is a real health issue.
Diane is actually a relative of mine. To be specific, she is my father’s cousin, which would be my first cousin, once removed. And while I was sort of close with her children growing up, I never knew any of this. I did know that she was a teacher with a graduate degree, and a loving mother of two beautiful boys, but I didn’t know about this. Not in the same way I knew about a cousin’s wife who had a brain tumor, or another cousin whose diabetes necessitated a call for a kidney.
Instead, mental illness is often lived, endured and suffered in quiet, which somehow makes it worse.
And just when you think you are ready to say, “We just need to say it out loud,” you read a story like this one out of Detroit, where a priest condemned a teenager’s suicide at the boy’s funeral, which breaks your heart and reminds you why you keep it close.
But I hope that you remind yourself there are far more stories of people who share their struggles and their lives, and a community opens. I am grateful to all of you, who have shared my story and other parts of USA TODAY’s Surviving Suicide special section, as well as your own, in an effort to connect and maybe to survive. And I would urge you to read Alia Dastagir’s story on what happens to the people left behind.
And if you don’t know what to say, when someone shares something intimate, whether it is a diagnosis of depression or something else, I urge you to say something. It can be as simple as, “I care and I am here. And I will listen.”
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