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Holiday cheer can be tough on sufferers of suicidal depression

SATURDAY, NOV. 27, 2010

‘Is it snowing?”

I looked out and it was, the first of the season, with big flakes blanketing the early morning air. I’ll say that winter officially arrived this year on Nov. 18. Appropriate, I guess, as that’s my brother’s birthday.

As usual, I spent some time wondering what he’d be like. Still older by two years, geez, double nickels. Mike, 55? That’s hard to even imagine.

But it’s been 34 years since he died, reaching that final day way too young, a victim of suicidal depression.

His last was no doubt one of many bad days (such an understatement), and I wonder how long he’d been hurting before he said, “No more. I’m done.”

He’d run away from home a couple of years previously and hadn’t been in contact. So when I got the call, it hit me like a sledgehammer to the head. But then, how else would it feel?

Suicide’s a tough topic to talk about, shrouded in all its societal guilt and shame, and perhaps not the greatest idea for a Thanksgiving weekend column. But not everyone is full of good cheer, and others’ high spirits can make a depressed person feel even lower.

Or perhaps you have a loved one suffering through their dark time. Or someone who’s gone, the 800-pound gorilla at your Thanksgiving table, not to be mentioned because of the manner of death.

People mark other anniversaries, recalling the dead with love and veneration, and isn’t it sad that suicide’s stigma is so great that a suicide is the person as well as the manner of death? Or that there are folks whose belief makes them conclude that these souls are in some way damned?

I have no idea how or why one can come to such a conclusion, and I can only say how sorry I am if that’s your belief.

So, my brother Mike, a suicide. Would we say of someone else’s passing, “She was a cancer”? Or, “Good old Bob, he was a drowning. But he did it while fishing, doing what he loved, so there’s at least that.”

There’s no “at least that” for a death by suicide, as it always seems premature, something unnatural.

Suicidal depression isn’t something that one wants, though, any more than a splitting migraine. Mental illness is just that; we shouldn’t place any more blame on it than getting a cold.

And when the depression really descends, with enough force to make the worst headache a joke, the world becomes a bleak place, muted, almost silent “out there,” with the pressure one feels building inside.

Now, what to say to someone with deep depression, the killing kind? Get counseling?

Right. As if. A suicidal person is in shutdown mode, barely able to function, let alone consider some other alternative.

So, if you know someone who fits the bill, it’s up to you to try to get help.

By way of advice, all I can say is that recovery comes slowly, and there will be plenty of moments that won’t seem worth living. But, hey, the one thing that living people have that suicides don’t is time.

Time does change things, and mental health can follow illness. It needn’t be the last thing with which a person is afflicted.

Still around a year later? Still hurting. Two? You can joke a little – still hurting, though. Three? I’d say you’re out of the woods.

By five or so, you might just think that you can help by speaking out, maybe even write about it. Heck, I just did.

Been there, still here.

Donald Clegg, a longtime Spokane resident, is an author and professional watercolor artist. Contact him via e-mail at


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