Curious Compassion: Trying to Understand Depression and Suicide

Monday night the world was shocked to learn beloved actor Robin Williams had killed himself within his family home. He was a comedic genius who was a part of so many classic movies. You would be hard pressed to find someone from my generation who didn’t grow up wishing Mrs. Doubtfire was their nanny too. Again, this loss ignites conversation about mental health and more specifically suicide.
How do you begin to make sense of something as complex as suicide? It breaks my heart when I hear people say “only weak people commit suicide” or “suicide is for cowards.” I don’t know how we can make such blanket statements about someone when we have no idea what it has been like to walk in their shoes. I have worked with several people who have attempted to kill themselves and all of them share in the common theme of hopelessness. They come to a point in their life where there is no longer hope that anything can ever change or get better. I have heard many people explain their attempt to end their life as just wanting to stop the pain. While this concept of pain may be hard for many of us to understand, we must try.
Depression and mental health illness are exactly that – illness. It would be hard for anyone to imagine how difficult it would be experience cancer, yet when we hear of someone fighting that battle we are quick to offer up sympathy and support. Why are mental health issues any different? If we could only offer the same support and encouragement to individuals experiencing mental health issues, we might find our nation experiencing fewer tragic events. We would definitely be a more compassionate world.
Not everything in this world will make sense to us, no matter how hard we try to figure it out. We might not be able to understand someone else’s struggles, but we can be empathetic. One of the best ways to try to piece something together is to be curiously compassionate. Ask questions, genuinely listen to what the other person has to say. It is okay if it doesn’t make sense to you. You never know, just asking someone about their experience might provide them with the hope they need to keep pushing forward.



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