A Serotonin-Colored Ribbon


A version of a Serotonin necklace from Amazon. Maybe it needs to come with a tag that says “ask me about this”

Something about the coverage of Robin Williams’ death struck a chord with me. Maybe it was my horror in hearing that details of how he killed himself were published in the LA Times. (I didn’t read the article, but I’ll say here what I said to the person who mentioned this to me: why is that news? And, in England there are actually restrictions on publishing the hows of suicides in attempt to prevent copy cat suicides. I do not support restrictions of the press but I do support reasonable and rational self-restraint and the asking of “is this news”). Maybe because he was a childhood icon. But probably it was because of the shock from people who couldn’t imagine how a man so beloved, so successful, so funny could kill himself.

Slate has done an excellent job addressing this head on with a few writers successfully mentioning their own struggles with depression without making the stories about them, explaining for what must feel like the millionth time that depression is a disease, and that people who suffer from it can’t just be told they are loved or should be happy. Some of the articles also point out that some of what the public loved about Williams could also have been Williams trying so hard to fight for his health.

I remember that. The fighting with myself. Something I have never said on the Internet for fear of the stigma: I had depression the fall after college graduation.
Thankfully, I was never suicidal. Thankfully, I got help that worked for me and my serotonin has been balanced for years now. Thankfully, I had friends and family who noticed and helped me get help. I remember thinking I was doing such a good job hiding it, only to have a friend respond to my admission–because that’s what it felt like–of depression with “I know. I guessed.” The fight with myself was exhausting and ineffective, and it was prolonged by the stigma and by the idea that somehow I could just will myself better. Which was bullshit. I know  that, with treatment and support, I survived a disease that hits some people a lot harder than it hit me and that can be deadly.  And I’ve been thinking about that when listening to people talk about Robin Williams.
 One bit  from Slate’s coverage has stuck with me over the last few days:

Mental illness isn’t a marketable disease. I’m sure there are many celebrities who suffer from it, but we don’t have a celebrity spokesperson. There are no ice bucket challenges for depression. Cancer survivors can proudly show off their scars, but no one wants to see ours. We don’t have a ribbon or color. Anyone want to buy a gray KitchenAid mixer for mental health research? And depression is one of the more acceptable mental illnesses to have. Imagine a 5k run for bipolar and borderline personality disorders.

This paragraph actually sent me searching not for a mental health ribbon, but for a serotonin necklace or key chain. Because, in this case, maybe ribbons aren’t enough.
Maybe the “ribbon” for depression can also be a teaching tool:
“What’s that?”
“Oh, it’s serotonin, the chemical widely understood by scientists and doctors  to be linked to depression; when people are depressed, it often is reflective of a chemical imbalance in the brain. That’s one of the reasons why depression should be considered an illness, and not something that a person can just will away if they smile enough, get enough perspective, are strong enough, or just pull themselves up. I’m a survivor. Others aren’t so lucky.”
A ribbon that is actually a molecular structure could start a conversation with the curious and push past a lot of the stigma by diving straight into the very issues that undercut the stigma. It appeals to my inner geek and my inner advocate. It certainly doesn’t launch the type of campaign Molly Pohlig  is referring to in that piece, but it could be something, a code for those in the know that there are other people out there and a way to start conversations with others.