Imagine walking up to the front door of someone’s house. You know that the person who lives there is waiting for you, so you knock. But no one answers. You also know that the door is unlocked, and that you won’t be committing an offense by opening it and entering the person’s house.
However, you just don’t feel comfortable enough doing that. You might feel like it’s a little intrusive, and maybe you would feel a little uneasy entering the person’s home and life in that manner. So you wait for the person to open the door and properly invite you in, hoping that at some point that moment comes.
That awkward waiting is what talking about depression can feel like, especially when it comes to opening up about this mental illness with friends or family members who might otherwise not know if or how someone is suffering. So often since the tragic deaths of fashion designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, people have made comments on social media and elsewhere inviting friends and family members who might be struggling with depression or anxiety to talk to them if needed.
After a suicide or major news event involving depression, a common sentiment is often shared — that those struggling with mental illness should feel comfortable opening up. This is part of society’s attempt to remove the stigma surrounding depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders.
However, it’s not that simple. Depression can be crippling for people, especially in regards to their social life.
People who suffer from depression can feel like a burden to others: How will they respond to me opening up about all of these heavy issues I’m dealing with? Will they feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable talking about this? Will it not be the right time for them? Are they dealing with their own personal struggles? I know they said to come talk to them, but did they really mean it? Will all of this push them away?
These kind of questions can deter someone from reaching out to others to discuss their personal struggles. That hesitation puts the entire conversation back at square one, even if no one is at fault.
Cassie St. Onge, an Emmy-nominated comedy writer who has produced content for “The Late Show with David Letterman,” “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” and VH1’s “Best Week Ever,” summarized that feeling on Twitter in the aftermath of Spade and Bourdain’s suicides.
“So many messages telling those who are struggling to reach out,” she wrote on June 8, 2018, hours following Bourdain’s suicide and days after Spade died. “Fair enough, but part of what depression does is mutes your ability to reach. If you are NOT depressed and you see someone struggling, YOU reach out. If you don’t see someone who used to be around, YOU reach out.”
In a follow-up tweet she added, “It can be kind of scary to a regular person who thinks they don’t know what to do. It is certainly awkward as hell. Who cares, though? Ask, ‘Are you OK?’ … Even here on Twitter. Don’t mind your business.”
There is positive power in taking a more proactive stance and asking someone, “Are you OK?” A suicide prevention charity in Australia called RUOK? works to inspire people to begin meaningful conversations that could end the stigma associated with mental health disorders and decrease the number of suicides.
“Encourage more people to ask ‘R U OK?’ in your school, workplace or community,” the charity’s website urges.
While the sentiment of saying, “Come talk to me,” is well-intentioned, people who say this might be waiting a long time for someone who is struggling with depression to finally open up. The best course of action is to take the first step and approach someone. Simply asking, “Are you OK?” or something similar, could be what inspires that person to be upfront about their burdens. If nothing else, it lets people know for sure that they have friends and family members who love them, who are there for them, and who want to talk about complex issues such as depression, anxiety or any other mental health issue.
The door to that house is a little easier to walk through when someone on the other side opens it and invites you in.