Trigger Warning: The following blog post contains a discussion of suicide and depression.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Although mental health has been at the forefront of challenges in our society, May is the month to support and advocate for mental health awareness collectively. This month, Stella's Girls digs inside suicide among women, focusing on those who suffer from high-functioning depression.
So, what is high-functioning depression?
Many are familiar with "depression" as someone who is "really sad." It can be easily recognized because the person "appears unhappy and secluded." And yes, these can certainly be indicators, but depression is a mental illness that is far more complex than a person just feeling sad. For example, there's high-functioning depression which is much harder to recognize because the person may appear bubbly, full of life, and "happy." But deep down, that person is suffering, although functioning at a level just as upbeat as someone without depression. Still, even a person with the most high-functioning form of depression can fall victim to taking their own life.
In a recent interview on Jada Pinkett Smith's hit web series on Facebook, "Red Table Talk," the parents of Cheslie Kryst, winner of 2019 the Miss USA pageant, shared their experience of losing their daughter to suicide. Cheslie's mother describes her as intelligent, an advocate for others, and bubbly—traits that were all chronicled on her social media. From the outside looking in, many could assume Cheslie had the "perfect life." But behind closed doors, Cheslie had been battling depression for years and previously attempted suicide years ago. Unfortunately, like many suicides of those with high-functioning depression, Cheslie's loved ones were unaware of the severity of her depression because of her cheerful spirit and successful career.
Another heartbreaking story comes from Southern University in Louisiana as the school and family mourn the loss of freshman cheerleader Arlana Miller, 19. Arlana found herself unable to overcome her depression at such a young age. She penned her suicide note in a post on social media, which sparked immediate concern and panic from her followers. She attributed her unbearable battle with depression to school, COVID, and an ACL injury. She further stated that "I have been surrounded by people who may have honestly thought that I was okay, but I havn't been okay for a while." She encouraged her friends and followers "to check on their "strong" friends, be present always."
Cheslie and Arlana are just two of many young women struggling when the lights are off, when the crowd is no longer cheering, or when the door shuts behind them. Their smiles hide insufferable pain, personal blame, and unexplainable loneliness. Today's digital world and constantly needing to be "on" has birthed a mindset that you're failing if you're not performing, producing, or perfecting, creating a generation of forced smiles and unsustainable work ethic until it all comes crashing down. In knowing this, generalizing and stigmatizing depression can lead to more silenced sufferers. Depression has many faces, and while it may not be possible to identify every friend or family member battling depression, checking in and listening are small steps to show support.
Remembering that even the biggest, brightest smiles can hide the darkest pain and success doesn't always equate to happiness can change the narrative of what depression looks like and hopefully encourage compassion for everyone—you never know what someone is going through.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, dial the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.
For additional resources, please visit the following websites:
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality
Families for Depression Awareness
American Psychiatric Foundation
National Alliance on Mental Illness