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I just found out that a former co-worker of mine committed suicide earlier this year. At the time of his death, there were few details released. Many people assumed heart trouble because he "died suddenly" according to the paper. He was not someone I was close to socially, but he stayed at the company where we both worked (I left a number of years ago) and had a prominent position, which he held until the day he killed himself.

I heard about him from time to time through channels. Last year he wrote a business article for a local magazine that I get a few times a year. I remember he looked a little weary in the photo that accompanied the article. By all accounts he was doing fine, although a mutual acquaintance had mentioned a while ago that he had lost a little weight. He was probably in his 60's when he died, but I'm not sure.

He knew enough people in his community and served on enough boards and committees to be granted the "favor" of having the details of his death hushed up. I only found out because the same mutual friend who had mentioned his weight loss a while ago considered him a mentor of sorts and was aware that he was being treated for depression and of the circumstances of his death.

So, another fatal case of a serious mental illness will be officially deemed an accident, or simply described as "died unexpectedly at his home." Now, I don't have any right to know a former co-worker's medical history. Perhaps he had another underlying disease and made a rational decision to end the suffering. It didn't sound like it, though, so it was very frustrating to be in a conversation with a group of very smart adults, as I was earlier today after we were told of the suicide, and listen to them repeat all the misconceptions I know to be untrue about depression. Having been through a number of episodes of severe depression myself, I tried to gently correct someone who wondered what he might have been sad about. "He was probably sad about having depression!" I wanted to say, but instead I tried to explain that depression is an illness in and of itself. It's a uniquely cruel and challenging disease because it affects the same organ one would use to make rational decisions about how to get better.

My comment was ignored and someone chimed in "He had so much to live for. He had no reason to be depressed." Sigh. People have no reason to get cancer, either.

This same group of people know that I am on (probably permanent) medication for the same condition as the man who killed himself, depression, yet it's as if they haven't heard a word I've said about it over the past many years. I'm not one to bring it up in casual conversation, but I also have no reason to hide it. Another co-worker of ours has diabetes. Another, high blood pressure. Another, hypothyroidism. Nobody turns away embarrassed when they talk about their struggles, but if I mention something in passing about depression...silence.

Depression-induced suicide is an epidemic. Many times it happens after the depressed person is starting to come out of a major episode - just after they start to recover. The work of planning and executing a scheme to kill oneself while in the depths of a true, severe case of depression is beyond the abilities of most depression sufferers. I remember days when getting dressed and eating some soup was a full schedule, and I remember days when I didn't even accomplish that much.

I like to think that we've made some progress in the way we regard mental illness, but I don't think we have. Even those of us who have managed to find a treatment regimen that works are seen as somehow flawed. Those who can't quite get a handle on their disease despite their best efforts are thought of as a drain on our health care system and as malingerers or fakers on the job or in school. Those of us for whom depression is fatal are usually not even given the dignity of having our cause of death verbalized.

I'm pretty sure I won't be a suicide victim of depression. I've had suicidal thoughts but never any suicidal urges, and I've had enough experience with the disease to know that the symptoms, while severe, are rarely permanent. (I've joked about having the word "impermanence" permanently tattooed on the inside of my arm, so I can be reminded of it easily.) But if I do off myself while battling depression, I want it known. I want my family and friends to know that I died "by suicide, after a courageous battle with depression." And if I live to a ripe old age and die peacefully in my sleep, I want it known that I "had a full life, often joyous, despite years of battling depression."

Rest in peace, boss.

UPDATE: I'm going to break my own rule about acknowledging a "recommended" status to say that it's very gratifying and helpful to read the comments, and a tribute to this community that they would recommend a diary about depression. I'm humbled and so thankful. The title of my diary was meant rhetorically, but apparently we CAN talk about fatal depression. Very inspiring.

Originally posted to Giles Goat Boy on Thu Sep 23, 2010 at 01:29 PM PDT.

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