“Genie, you’re free”
Genie, you’re free. pic.twitter.com/WjA9QuuldD
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) August 12, 2014
These small words were tweeted by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in the wake of the death of famed comedian and actor Robin Williams. A lot of controversy has arisen over the inherent or implied meaning behind the tweet. Most of the internet’s hearts melted and many people, including my wife and I, heard the words with sadness, but teary-eyed hope. Matt Walsh commented a bit tactlessly regarding death, depression, and suicide— I’d rather not post his remarks here— and one of my friends wrote the following, which is quite tactful and at the same time expresses her feeling that we should not popularize suicide as an escape.
Some have made claims on the “Suicide is a choice” side of the conversation—claims that it’s not really that hard to overcome depression; that good scripture reading, faithfully attending your church or some kind of spiritual support group, daily prayer or meditation, and a positive outlook on a life filled with joy can beat depression. Some have expressed their hope that God will have mercy on Robin Williams because of his condition, because if God isn’t merciful, then Robin Williams has sent himself to Hell.
I do recognize, as do many others, that suicide is a choice with a permanent consequence. I think it would do us all some good to recognize that depression and sadness are two different things. Not having a purpose in life and not having any place where you feel like you are a part of something bigger than the daily grind can give you the blues, it can bring you down, and it can sure make it hard to get through the day. I’m sure we’ve all been there. After a bad breakup, losing a job, losing a loved one, failing an exam, etc. Bad/sad things happen to us in varying degrees of severity and we all have different ways of handling these events.
One key difference between having a lot of sadness in your life and having depression is that clinical depression, or Major Depressive Disorder, is a permanent condition, not a bad case of the blues. It is also often associated with brain chemistry and factors outside of the control of the person who has the disorder. (It is important to note that research shows a connection between traumatic events in early life and significant changes in brain chemistry that later impede ‘normal’ functioning in adult brains. Yes, depression can be caused by social factors, because social factors can in fact change the makeup of the brain.) People don’t choose to have depression, and people can’t just choose not to have depression anymore. It’s a disease. You can’t just wake up one day and choose not to have a broken leg. And this may be a news flash to some, but reading the Bible will not make your leg better by 5:00 this evening when you wanted to go out with your friends. It won’t “fix” depression either.
Do people choose to get angry? All the time. Do people choose to be sad? I did it for most of my teen/young adult life, so yes. Do people choose to be offended? If you are on the internet at all, you know that people choose to get offended where there is no offense even remotely possible.
Do people choose to be happy? Every day.
Do people choose to alter their brain chemistry and suffer years of literally disabling mental oppression? Do they choose to make it impossible for themselves to have a normal day, and do they make themselves feel the pain because they are selfish and less righteous than the rest of us?
Do people choose to commit suicide? Yes.
Do they choose to suffer from clinical depression? No.
Is there a way to help?
A while ago, I mentioned that the simplest way to end racism and discrimination was for people to just get to know each other on a personal level. When you know someone’s story, from their perspective, it gets harder and harder to say that they are the way they are because they’re black. You start to realize that there is a lifetime of experiences behind every person you meet that has shaped them up until that very point, and will continue to shape them forever.
Again; I agree that suicide is a choice. However, clinical depression is not, and we will never know anything about how people with depression feel unless we are willing to open up and talk with them.
Will a conversation cure depression? It would be wonderful, but it’s about as probable as a friendly “Hello!” curing lung cancer.
Might a friendly conversation stop a suicide?
“You can’t just sit there and watch them.”