A few weeks ago, while washing my hands in a public restroom, I overheard a conversation that went something like this:
Elderly Lady 1: I just can’t believe the number of suicides that have happened at [high school]!
Elderly Lady 2: It’s a spirit, for sure. It has to be cast out.
Elderly Lady 1: My friend’s nephew killed himself just a little while ago. I just don’t understand why he would do such a thing! He was such a smart, handsome young man.
I felt a sort of simmering energy inside–the kind I get before going into my radical lecture mode. I wanted to. I desired so much to march right up and metaphorically vomit on them. How would they have reacted if I had intruded upon their conversation and debated them? How would they have responded if I’d told them my story? God only knows. The only thing I can do at this point is discuss the fallacy in their little bathroom chat.
First off, I wouldn’t describe the issue of teen suicide as a “spirit”, and certainly not a thing to be “cast out.” Such a statement brings to mind a scene of misinformed radicals performing an exorcism in front of a high school. We don’t need exorcisms, here. We need awareness, information, and compassion. The statement I had more of a problem with, though, was the second one. What was being implied by “I don’t understand…he was such a smart, handsome young man”? Was it that only people considered by peers and society to be dull and ugly would think of committing suicide? It’s almost as if the two women would believe people deemed dull and homely would have a reason to commit suicide because they were considered as such, which I find horrifying. “Oh, she was stupid and ugly, she had a reason to die.” What a shameful thing to say.
It’s important to mention that most problems remain unseen. Of course to those two women, the young man had no reason to commit suicide. They only see the image he portrayed and the work he produced. Could anyone’s inner pain be displayed outwardly to two strangers? Doubtfully. It would be worth it to mention that among high school students in the county which I live, 33 percent have been depressed based upon survey results. Depression is a silent killer, and it’s not necessarily readily apparent. A destructive misconception is that depressed teens will be dressed in all-black attire, crying all the time, and failing every class. And while a student who fits that description could very well be depressed, it’s rare that a depressed teen will appear as such.
Take me, for instance. I was a rich school, straight-A student who wore Tommy Hilfiger oxfords shirts. My entire English class looked up to me as a writing prodigy, based on excerpts of prompt responses I read aloud each day. Nobody would have suspected that I was clinically depressed. I never fit the stereotype. Teachers never thought to ask if I was alright, because everybody assumed I was. Who would complain? I did my work, and I did it well. On the outside, I appeared alright. Nobody asked questions until after I’d been gone for a straight month in the hospital. And even then, a few people hadn’t even noticed I had been gone.
We need to realize how destructive stereotypes and generalizations are. Depression can strike anyone. Any student could die by suicide. How many more “smart, handsome young men” will it take until we realize how serious of a problem this is? Inner pain and unseen illnesses can kill. The failing student. The star student. The jock. The wallflower. It could be any student, and you could never tell just by looking.
We don’t need more stereotypes. We don’t need more misunderstandings–and certainly not an exorcism. How long will it take until our eyes are opened? One can only hope that it won’t be long.