“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.”
– Fred Rogers
Cheslie Kryst, a former Miss USA, lawyer, and entertainment correspondent, died by suicide. She was smart, beautiful, accomplished, and young.
A police officer was quoted saying, “Not only beautiful but she was smart — she was a lawyer … she has a life that anyone would be jealous of. It’s so sad.”
The message about suicide continues to be she had all of the things people want. And then whether said or unsaid, the blanks get filled in with the biases that have haunted our culture and our beliefs about suicide: What was wrong with her?
That is the wrong question. The right question is: What is wrong with us? Why do we predominantly talk about suicide after hearing of a completed suicide? Why do we look to the individual and not the system or the society? It is human nature we look at a situation and look for information that will reassure us that there was something different about her than our mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, and other families. Maybe a nugget is found in the coverage that gives a false reassurance that your family is safe. Your family isn’t safe; my family isn’t safe; none of our families are safe. Despite my training and experience, I cannot look anyone in the eye and tell them that their loved ones will not die by suicide. Despite all of our prognostication – we can point out what factors predispose a person to suicide. Many are not modifiable.
What I do know Is that depression is treatable. However, there are cases where despite aggressive treatments at the end of multitudes of modalities, a person’s life still may end by suicide. It is important to mention this because if, despite treatment or if left untreated, someone’s life ends by suicide, it is the progression of a deadly illness. Illnesses have an end-stage, and suicide is the end stage of intractable severe and treatment-resistant depression. We cannot blame the individual.
We need to fix the stigma. Like Fred Rogers says, if it is human, it is mentionable. We have to mention it and normalize that everyone knows someone who has suffered from depression or another mental illness. The shame and stigma are killing my colleagues; it is killing other professionals; it is killing people of color; it is killing people in poverty; it is killing the very rich. The bottom line is it does not discriminate: You don’t handle depression better because you are thin or beautiful. We have to start asking what is wrong with us; how can we make things better. I cannot speak to what Miss Kryst was suffering from, but I believe she was suffering, and suffering and depression are human. As the wise Mr. Rogers reminds us, we must mention her, and mention all the wonderful things she was and not allow her life to be defined by its final moments.
Courtney Markham-Abedi is a psychiatrist.
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