When I nearly died by suicide six years ago, I can imagine what people would have said about me. They would’ve talked about my deep depressions, my unpredictable rage, how lost I was.
Maybe, like you, they would’ve said that I was better off dead. Maybe, like you, they would have callously remarked that some people with mental illness can’t be helped.
Here’s a letter for you, Amanda, from someone “beyond help.”
You were right to judge yourself for exploiting Leah’s story, because it’s exactly what you did. You took the life of a mentally ill person and diminished it, deciding to use her struggles for your own personal gain.
Mentally ill people do not exist as entertainment for you. They do not exist as a sensational story to tell. They are not a product for your consumption. We are not property, we are not objects, we are not paychecks for you.
But ethics were never a consideration for you, Amanda.
Let’s look at the facts: You celebrated the death of a mentally ill person. In doing so, you told people everywhere, “Some people with mental illness are better off dead.”
And you believed it, too, it was the crux of your entire essay. You, a self-declared expert on mental health recovery, have decided that some people with mental illness would be doing themselves and the world a favor if they died.
I want to ask you something. What did you think you were offering the world in writing this? What good do you think you were doing? I can’t see the good, but I can see the immense damage and pain that you’ve caused my community and myself.
I can think of a mentally ill teenager that would read your essay and say, “Maybe I can’t make it after all. Maybe I’m not supposed to.”
I can think of a society that already stigmatizes mental illness saying, “See? Sometimes they’re just crazy and there’s nothing to be done.”
I can see relatives of mentally ill people saying, “Just give up already. There’s nothing we can do.”
I can see a police officer pulling the trigger, deciding in a split second, “He’s crazy, that makes him too dangerous.”
Mentally ill people die because of attitudes like yours.
They die because they stop believing in their ability to recover in a society that tells them they can’t. They die because the stigma around their illness – stigma that was rampant in your essay – prevents them from seeking out help or accessing treatment. They die because their support systems abandon them. They die because law enforcement ends their lives.
We are the victims of violence and trauma because we encounter people every day who see us as less than human – people like you, who believe that being crazy is an invitation for tragic mistreatment and even death.
Six years ago, they might have said that I was beyond help. They sure liked to emphasize how severe my disorders were, how dysfunctional I was. Like your “friend” Leah, they might have said that death spared me from a life of institutions and burdening my loved ones.
(Maybe an asshole ex-friend would’ve made a buck at xoJane talking about my life with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. A kid can dream, right?)
But let me explain something to you, Amanda.
I wasn’t beyond help.
And it took six medications, and it took a psychiatric hospitalization, and it took a hell of a lot of support from the people around me (who, no doubt, felt the burden of my illness at times), but I am slowly but surely climbing out of the depths of severe psychosis and depression.
People counted me out for years, thinking that I could never reassemble my life after mental illness had torn it apart. But those people were wrong.
And you were wrong.
You don’t get to decide, Amanda, which of us are “beyond help.” You also don’t get to decide which of us deserve to live. You don’t get to decide who has a chance and who doesn’t.
Leah could’ve had a chance – and while you toss confetti on her grave, I can’t help but think about all the people that would’ve done the same to me prior to my recovery.
It’s easy to take a glance at someone’s suffering and count them out. It is difficult – and it’s called empathy, you should try it sometime – to see that person as a whole human being that is irrevocably worthy of care, validation, and support.
Leah was deserving of that and more, not death – whether or not you believe it, regardless of what your essay says.
There are so many people like Leah in this world, grappling with severe mental illness, who are told that they will not or should not survive. They’re counted out before they’re ever given a chance to live. They’re reduced to their illness and denied their humanity by people like you.
But every mentally ill person, including Leah, deserves the chance to live their life and pursue recovery on their own terms.
And every mentally ill person has the right – the goddamn right – to be treated with dignity.
I know that there’d be a lot of confetti on my grave if I had died six years ago. But I’m glad that I made it through. And I’ll tell you why, Amanda.
I’m glad because I am still here to fight for mentally ill people. People who are considered too much, too sick, too crazy. People who are written off before they’re ever given a chance. People like Leah, and people like me.
Because we don’t deserve to die. We deserve to live, and not only that, but live to tell our stories the way they should be told.
Not by people who want to exploit our struggles, but by us, celebrating the people we’ve become because of them.
Leah doesn’t get that chance. But there are people out there who still can.
And I hope they take your essay with a grain of fucking salt.