Shae O'Brien is an English teacher, writer, wife, and mother to three beautiful girls. She takes life with a grain of salt and two spoonfuls of sugar! Please be sure to follow her on www.facebook.com/catholicmamablog.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

So You Think You Can Judge? Understanding Mental Illness

During the show So You Think You Can Dance, Nigel Lythgoe (@dizzyfeet) discussed the death of two loved ones by suicide as an act of "stupidity". While I am a huge fan of both Nigel and the show, I am once again finding myself face to face with the ignorance of our society toward mental illness. Apparently, I am not the only one who was offended by his remarks.

First, I will be keeping Nigel in my prayers for his recently loss. I have no doubt that to him, someone who loved two people deeply and still lost them to a suffering he couldn't possibly understand, it did feel like stupidity that they didn't just come to him or appreciate the love surrounding them or choose life. I'm sure to the loved ones left mourning, the anger and confusion that comes with such tragedy connects to words like "stupidity". I do not blame him for his grief or words spoken out of that grief. 

I do, however, wish he hadn't expressed such ignorance (even out of grief) to a nationwide audience. Mental illness is a serious issue. People do not become depressed because they are not smart enough to be happy. They do not contemplate suicide because they are ignorant of their blessings or the support around them. Mental illness is a disease that attacks the rationale of the mind. As cancer slowly breaks down your body, so depression does with one's mental state. Without proper diagnosis, therapy, medication, and educated support (and sadly, sometimes even despite these forms of treatment), mental illness can continue to debilitate one's sanity until they can no longer rationalize their existence. 

I would like to let that sink in for a moment. What if you literally could not think of a single reason why it would be important for you to exist? How easy would it be to live, believing those you love only suffer by the burden of your existence? If you have never suffered from mental illness then this may sound like an exaggeration. I wish I could say it was. Suicide does not occur because someone is too stupid to choose life or too selfish to stick around for their loved ones or not strong enough in their faith to recognize God's blessings. It happens because disease has taken one's rationality and left them completely alone. 

Nigel chose to respond to the backlash on twitter with the following statement:

I am so disheartened by his choice to further endorse such ignorant stigmas about mental illness, and I hope others will speak up about what mental illness really is and combat attitudes like this far and wide. We have ice bucket challenges for those suffering from ALS, an entire month of NFL wearing pink for those dying from breast cancer, yet mental illness is still receiving no more than an eye roll and a "stop being stupid and selfish". This needs to end, or suicide will continue to seem like the only option--after all, who wants someone so stupid and selfish to stick around anyway?

Please be careful how you choose your words. Those who suffer from mental illness need you--they need you educated, willing to help, and ready to empathize. Your support works best when the judgment is left behind. 

If you are suffering from depression or contemplating suicide, please know that you are not alone, you are loved, and there is support for you. Call the national suicide prevention hotline and talk to someone now: 1-800-273-8255

God bless. 


  1. I feel his pain. He is angry. The same anger that anyone can feel when losing a loved one to a disease that many times has no cure.

    The difference here is that he can actually put blame on someone rather than something. Wouldn't it be so much easier if we could all simply blame the victim? We'd have a place to aim our loss and grief. We'd feel so much better about the suffering of someone close to us. Anything so that we don't have to feel at all.

    Selfish and stupid? You bet.

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  3. When I was in the eighth grade I felt depressed and offhandedly said something about suicide to my friends. My friends quickly told my school counselor and I was called in and my father was notified.
    The next day my friend and her dad gave me a ride home. Her father turned to me, looked me in the eyes and told me that I was being immature and ridiculous and I need to stop.
    What he said did not make things any better. I did not go home and change my thinking because of what he said, in fact, it made things worse.


    1. I am glad you did not choose suicide, but I am also sorry that you were assumed to simply be "immature and ridiculous" because of your age. I hope you have educated and understanding support now. We all need more of that in our lives.