JANELLE DE SOUZA shares her conversations with female university students and their struggles with thoughts to end their lives in the conclusion of a two-part series.
Society does not understand that depression is a real issue. It is not just about being sad, or being too weak to deal with their own issues. It also does not mean the person is crazy. It just means they need more help than others to deal with things.
So said some female university students whose names have been changed for privacy, when Sunday Newsday spoke to them about depression and suicide.
In their psychology class of 14 students aged 20 to 28, 11 had thought of committing suicide at one time or another. Out of those 11, seven thought of ways to kill themselves, and one actually started to put her plan into action but stopped before it could be completed.
They said society needed to let go of the stigma of depression and the idea that depression was something that could be fought if a person had a strong mind. They said some sort of intervention or therapy was necessary, but many people thought therapy was only for “crazy” people and a waste of money. In addition, they said some parents truly believed if nothing was physically wrong then nothing was wrong.
• CHRISTINE believes we, as a nation, have to think about the reasons why our youths feel suicide is the only option. “Is it that our institutions on the whole are failing us? We say we are a modern society, but how modern are we if we still live in a time that we can’t speak to our parents and our parents can’t understand us or if we tell a friend they might judge us? How far have we really evolved if this is still our thinking?”
She says suicide goes against the human’s instinct to survive as well as our social institutions. Speaking from experience, she said, at times, feelings could be so overwhelming one did not think of family, religion, what the media would say, or what people would think if they committed suicide.
“People think they are weak and stupid but it’s not that. They have a different type of psyche, a different kind of strength in them that the ‘normal’ person would not understand. At the end of the day you can get away from people, you can get away from physical things but you can’t get away from your thoughts and emotions. It’s not a switch you can turn on and off. It’s always there.”
She stressed that everyone reacted to or dealt with situations in different ways, so it was important not to make assumptions or expect others to think or react as you would. “It deals more with understanding. If you can’t understand me then you could never know what I’m going through. Sometimes you try to speak to someone and they misinterpret or push you away, or they force their opinions on you.”
This, she said, could lead to detachment – feeling detached from the world around you, from your own emotions and experiences, or from the people and things you once enjoyed.
• According to SAMANTHA, one of the main reasons youths became detached was because they felt they were alone in their feelings.
Using herself as an example, she said she only ever met two people who understood her completely – her personality, and how she thinks – and she had never come across someone like herself. She said she felt she was so different she was convinced no one could ever connect with her. She said she tried to speak with her parents many times but they could or would not relate to or try to understand her so she retreated into a shell.
Samantha said she tried to tell her parents that times had changed from when they were younger, and that they did not face the same things she was facing now.
However, especially when it came to school, they did not understand that she might not have the same abilities, energy levels or personality to deal with situations as easily as others. Instead, they insisted that all she had to do was apply herself.
Therefore, she stopped trying to talk to them or others because she believed they would judge her. “I remember I met an individual and in the process of talking to this person, I found they kept asking questions that were a bit judgemental. So I stopped them and asked if they understood where I was coming from. I told them. ‘Be honest. You understanding anything I say at all?’ because all the comments they were making was judgemental and they were condemning me for who I am.”
• LESLIE agreed, saying suicide was not always someone’s first option, that they could have tried other things but those other things did not work out. She said, sometimes, when one spoke, it could feel as though no one else was listening so they would think suicide was the only way out.
“You think: I have to study how everyone else feels but not myself. Why is everyone else’s sanity more important than mine? And when you do something for your own sanity, oh you selfish, oh you’re not thinking about anybody else... That short amount of pain I might feel with a rope around my neck can not beat the pain I was feeling when every single person was on me and they didn’t want to hear my point of view.”
CAUSES AND TRIGGERS
Other than feeling alone, they said loss and pressure were two major reasons for depression in youths.
Leslie said loss was a huge trigger to suicide but it did not have to be loss in the form of death. “It could be something you cared for or wanted your whole life and had to give it up.
I do not judge when a person commits suicide because it could be so many things besides a boyfriend or girlfriend. I hate that stereotyping with suicide and relationships.”
Loss, they said, could include a divorce, loss of faith, financial loss, loss of health, job loss and more.
Then there was the pressure parents sometimes placed on their children.
• HANNAH noted parents were pushing children to be competitive from an early age, as early as ages three and four, in various categories including academics, career paths, sports, and the arts. She said children were not allowed to just have fun anymore. Instead, they were being pushed to be whatever the parent wanted or to perform at a certain standard.
“You need to look a certain way for your parents and if they don’t feel proud of you they say the child is ungrateful or ask how the child could do that to them. By the time they reach 13 or 14, they are under pressure. They feel trapped. Depression could build from a young age and it’s something that consumes you. It can also creep up on you – one minute you’re fine and the next minute it’s there. It’s like a shadow.”
Stressing that point, Samantha recalled the time she failed her CXC mathematics exam. She said, in her family, failure was not an option so her parents “came down really hard” on her. They told her failure was not an option in the family and compared her with her academically successful cousins. Her parents made her feel worthless and her thoughts turned to suicide.
The students said social media, too, could play a part in driving a person to suicide because it influenced the way people think, the way they dressed, and the things they aspired to be or have. One student said it could make a person feel worse if they already felt they did not belong, or that their life was worse than they thought because they saw how great other people’s lives were. Then, one could be pushed over the edge if they were being bullied, or something very personal or embarrassing was exposed.
The students stressed that some people could not accept the reality of someone they know thinking about committing suicide so, instead of taking it seriously, they preferred to think the person was joking or being dramatic. They asked people not to do that. Instead, talk to the person without judgements or making recommendations, and encourage them to call Lifeline at 645-2800.