Depression is not a choice, it’s a disease. It’s a disease that affects more than 300 million people around the world.
I know this because I’ve dealt with depression. However, it has come to my attention aggressively this week that some people know almost nothing about depression or other mental health disorders. So, I’m here to try to change this.
In two different classes this week, my professors have made extremely inappropriate and ignorant comments about depression and suicide. One made a joking comment about suicide, then went on to say things like, “I don’t understand how anyone could hate their life so much that he would want to kill himself, that doesn’t make sense…” Then in another class, my other professor went on about how suicide is “so selfish” and then when a student pointed out that “Depression is a disease,” my professor responded, “Really? Is it? I don’t know.”
Yes, professor, it really is.
It’s not that these professors are bad guys, I don’t think they are. They just don’t know.
But that still doesn’t make it ok. It’s not ok to speak about a topic as sensitive and as triggering as mental illness, if you haven’t done your research, especially if you’re speaking about it in front of an entire class, as an authority figure.
Now I realize that since I have personal, first-hand experience with mental illness, I’m probably a little more sensitive about this than the average person. I also realize that I might be more knowledgeable than the average person, especially because of my time at the Yale Intensive Outpatient Program in 2017.
One day during this program, I was in a group session with people of all different ages. It was a session focused on mindfulness or something like that, but somehow, the topic of suicide came up. In the group, two women shared that they had attempted suicide but failed. They told us about what was going through their minds as they were attempting. One said that all she could think about in the moment was her pain, her depression, and how badly she wanted it to end. She didn’t have the mental capacity at the time to see beyond her pain and think about how her family would feel or anything like that. The other said that she was thinking about her family, but the mental pain and the bad thoughts were so overwhelming that she couldn’t bring herself to care about anything other than shutting them off the only way she thought she could.
Selfish isn’t the right word to describe suicide. One of the common thoughts of those suffering from depression is that they are not needed in the world, that everyone would be better off without them. People who turn to suicide truly think that it’s the best option for them and everyone around them. They feel they have no choice. I can’t think of the right word to describe it, but selfish isn’t it.
When I was in intensive therapy in 2017, I struggled with blaming myself for my mental illness. One day during a one-on-one therapy session, my therapist said something that changed my outlook. After I finished talking to her about everything being my fault, she asked me one simple question. “Zoe, did you ask for this?” No, of course I didn’t.
Mental illness is not a choice. It’s a disease just like cancer is a disease. If it were a choice, why would anyone choose it? Believe me, no one would.
So please, be careful what you say about mental health, especially if you are in a position of authority. Please educate yourself before you speak. You never know what could trigger someone, or even push someone over the edge.
Here are some resources where you can learn more about mental health:
National Institute of Mental Health:
Mental Health America:
For teens and kids:
Anxiety and Depression Association:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
Please reach out to me through the contact page if you would like to talk or learn more about mental illness.
Thanks for reading!