Editor’s Note: Mel Robbins is the host of The Mel Robbins Podcast, a New York Times bestselling author and a contributing commentator for CNN. Follow her @melrobbins. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinions on CNN. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call or text 988, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
Like millions of people around the world, I am processing the heartbreaking news that Stephen ‘tWitch’ Boss died from suicide this week.
Having lost too many people I love to mental health challenges like depression, addiction, trauma and hopelessness – all of whom died from suicide – I’m feeling so heavy with emotion right now. You might be, too.
tWitch was beloved for being Ellen DeGeneres’ co-executive producer, dance partner and DJ on her talk show. He was a part of people’s lives five days a week, for years. He had one of those megawatt smiles that just lit up every room he walked into.
Seeing such a bright light like tWitch go out so suddenly at the age of 40, with three beautiful kids, a huge life, so much talent and adoring fans around the world stirred up so much sadness inside of me – and it might be stirring up a lot inside of you, too.
And it sure is stirring up a lot of thoughts on the internet.
How do you make sense of the news that somebody so positive and energetic died from suicide? I keep seeing comments online as people around the world process the “heartbreaking” and “sad” death, and then they write things like:
“But… he had so many resources.”
“How could he do this to his family?”
“But it’s almost the holidays.”
“What a selfish thing to do.”
And my reaction to that: Stop.
When someone dies from brain cancer, you don’t say, “That’s so selfish.”
When someone’s liver fails, you don’t say, “But they had so many resources…”
I think of death from suicide the same way I think about death from brain cancer. If you have a friend or a loved one – as most of us do – who has died from a struggle with addiction, depression, trauma or toxic stress, that mental health challenge fundamentally changed their mind, the way they think and they way they process the world. Similar to the way that brain cancer deteriorates the brain, mental illness impairs the mind and, for some, mental health challenges can even alter the physical structure of the brain.
With cancer, you see people you love deteriorating on the outside. When someone struggles with mental health issues, you often don’t see it. Unfortunately, people – men in particular – feel a lot of shame when they are struggling mentally.
There are a lot of people battling demons in their heads who put on a smile, share fun videos on social media, play on sports teams and are successful at work – all as they struggle to battle their inner demons. Just because you can’t see it inside someone, doesn’t mean the pain they are experiencing isn’t real or overwhelming.
That’s why tWitch’s death doesn’t make sense to so many people.
In public, his struggle was invisible. In the privacy of his mind, it may have been a living hell. That’s why the language we choose when discussing suicide is so important.
It really upsets me when I see people that write arrogant things like, “Well, I struggled. I was in a dark place and I asked for help. Why didn’t he?” Or, “How could he do this to his wife and kids?”
To that I say: You didn’t need to know the man to see that he dearly loved his wife and his kids. He may have suffered from a pain that you or I cannot relate to or understand.
There’s a big difference between wanting to end your pain and wanting to end your life. But some of those who struggle with mental illness may not be able to see the difference. That’s why suicide isn’t selfish. It’s what happens when someone loses their battle with mental illness.
This is why I feel so adamant that we change the way we think and talk about suicide. Saying this is selfish or the fault of the victim is simply ignorant and tremendously hurtful to family members who loved someone who lost their battle.
So, stop assuming you know what someone else’s life is like, or what it’s like to live in their head.
The fact is, you have no idea what somebody else’s life is like. And neither do I. You have no idea what pain or trauma a huge smile may be hiding.
When someone who seems to have it all dies by suicide, it’s easy to focus on the beautiful life, or the bank account, or the awesome spouse, or the wonderful kids or the big house.
But people don’t live in their houses. They live in their heads.
So today, I want to emphasize something that was said at the end of each episode of the Ellen DeGeneres Show:
Today, just be kind. Choose kind words and kind actions. You never know what another person is going through.
Start assuming that everybody is silently battling something. Because everyone is. So, it’s on all of us to be kind to one another.
And, if you notice that tWitch’s death is making you think about people that you’ve lost, which is happening to me, that’s completely normal.
Don’t fight the grief. It’s just all the love you didn’t get to express while they were here. Allow yourself to feel it. Remember the person and the things that you miss and love about them. And remember to be kind to yourself, too. You deserve it.
Finally, if you are in pain right now, please remember this: There’s a difference between wanting to end the pain you feel and wanting to end your life. You can end the pain with support and by taking small steps forward every single day. It can and it will get better. Pick up the phone. Trained volunteers are standing by to help you. Make that call for help if you need it.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call or text 988, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.