Please consider the following…
I never knew Ravenne Browman. I never talked to her. I never saw her in person, although allegedly I’ve been in the same room as her. She was one of those Facebook friends you have because everyone you know is Facebook friends with them. That’s not the most poetical of truths, but it’s the truth.
When I first logged onto Facebook yesterday and saw a bunch of RIP posts, I thought it was a joke. Maybe it was a “fake-a-death-online” prank, or she was leaving her school or somesuch and her friends were exaggerating. The truth absolutely stunned me, meaning not so much that it surprised me but that it froze my insides and left me physically gasping.
Why grieve for someone I didn’t know? I think it’s bigger than that. At nine I lost my uncle Mike to suicide. At this point in my life I hear far more often than I should of friends, friends of friends like Ravenne, people I’m vaguely connected to and people I’ve never heard of attempting, planning, considering or committing suicide. Every time I hear about a friend’s cousin or an aunt’s old friend, the injustice of it all grows on me. Who deserves to feel so awful about the world that they have to give up on it? No one. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy if I had the worst worst enemy possible.
Tragically, this is growing less and less uncommon. Suicide has now risen to the 10th leading cause of death in this country, and the rate is significantly higher in Vermont than the national average. What’s worse, it’s the third leading cause of death among people aged 15-24. Third. Let that sink in. That’s how many young people succeed, not how many try or want to, and it’s still the third most common reason young people die in this country. If that isn’t heartbreaking, I don’t know what is.
People clam up about suicide. They do. No one wants to talk about it. Some people are suspicious or skeptical of psychology. Some people are afraid to be judged. Some people don’t want extra attention and some are afraid that it will look like they’re trying to get attention. Some people just can’t think of anyone to talk to. If suicide were a disease, they could ask for medicine. If it were an injury they could ask for treatment. If it were a malicious third party they could ask for protection. But it’s none of those things. While many wish for help, they have no idea what kind of help to ask for. Something as ambiguous and isolating as depression is difficult to talk about.
On the flipside, knowing someone with depression or suicidal thoughts doesn’t always prompt people to reach out. It might be too awkward, it might be a complete misunderstanding, it might be offensive, it might give them ideas, it might only make things worse— the list of excuses goes on and on. And often these people end up fine. They get over their hill or find a lifeline. But just take a minute, as hard as this minute might be, to imagine if they didn’t, and you could have maybe done something to help. Imagine that guilt. You see, it’s not everyone’s job to take action, but in a way it’s still everyone’s responsibility.
(I in no way am trying to blame Ravenne’s community for a lack of support. Support isn’t always enough. I also won’t presume to know more than I do, and I know next to nothing about what happened. I do know that the only way in which I knew her was on my news feed, and what I saw in my news feed was love. The posts I saw from her were always about her friends— how much she enjoyed spending time with them, how much she loved them. I think that says a great deal about the people in her life.)
I’m going to ask a favor from you all now. I want you to contact someone. Maybe it’s someone estranged, or someone you know to be depressed. Maybe it’s just someone you think you ought to know. But I want you to call them, message them, post on their wall, Skype them, text them, bump into them or visit them— whatever you do. Ask about their life. Relive some old times or admit you’d like to be better friends. You don’t need a cheesy flatter-fest or a theatrical speech. Just make sure to tell them before you hang up, log off or walk away that they mean something to you. Possibly that they mean quite a lot.
After that, you won’t feel like you just saved a life. Chances are, they weren’t holding a gun to their head waiting for someone to text them. Chances are they wouldn’t have hurt themselves without you. And it’s not because of the chance that they might that you should do this. But part of changing the direction of the graphs on the news is the small and everyday effort we make to take a risk and reach out. Just as a symptom of depression is a feeling of isolation and aloneness, part of the cure lies in connection and support. That’s why we should smile at or greet each other in the hallway. That’s why we should ask a downtrodden stranger if there’s anything wrong. That’s why we should never drive away the people who want to be there for us, because you never know when they might need someone to be there for them.
It’s a challenging time for us young people. The idiom goes “treated like children and expected to act like adults” and it’s not far wrong. Adolescence and young adulthood is confusing and often lonely. While there is usually a deeper issue, no one should want to die because of loneliness and that is where we all can lend a hand.
When I was in seventh grade, I wanted to kill myself. Even my parents don’t know this, but it seems like the right time to share it. Obviously I didn’t, and I really and genuinely got past it. You might see me at school being goofy with my friends, laughing too loudly, play fighting and teasing. It’s not that I’m obnoxious— it’s that I think so long as I’m young enough to giggle about the word “penis”, I’m too young to die. Hopefully I will giggle about the word “penis” for my entire life. It’s that I’m not afraid to enjoy every moment of my day that I can, and it is my deepest wish that everyone could do the same. It’s that I carry Ravenne Browman in my heart along with so many others in varying states of life and death, and I hope they can all find joy, wherever they may be.