COMMENTARY | According to ABC News, Vice President Joe Biden empathized with those who suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts in a gathering organized by the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors in Washington. Almost 40 years ago, Biden lost his first wife and his baby daughter in a car accident while his wife was taking their children Christmas shopping. Biden spoke about understanding the terrible grief that could make someone consider taking their own life.
The vice president's public empathy for those who suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts is important because it draws attention to the continuing stigma against people who acknowledge such suffering, particularly men. Many people would question the wisdom of having a national leader who had struggled with depression, erroneously assuming that such a person could be less competent or somehow mentally unbalanced. Having a vice president imply that he himself had struggled with, and ultimately conquered, depression and possible thoughts of suicide sends a powerful message that those who are depressed are not broken individuals and should not be treated as liabilities.
Helping ease the stigma of depression and suicidal thoughts is an important task for society to undertake, particularly as suicide remains one of the leading causes of death among teenagers and adults. The issue is further highlighted by recent news about the alarming increase in military suicides. According to CNN, Fort Bliss commander Major General Dana Pittard has apologized for remarks about suicide on his blog that many deemed insensitive. Critics claimed that Pittard's remarks, which labeled suicide as selfish and cowardly, enhanced the stigma against depression and suicidal thoughts and could make many soldiers suffering from mental anguish avoid coming forward out of fear of being deemed cowardly or unfit.
Having leaders like vice president Biden and military brass come forward and say that depression is not unnatural or a sign of cowardice is an important step in convincing many men to deal with their mental anguish. Many military service members, law enforcement officers, firefighters, pilots, and others in high-risk, dangerous jobs are reported to routinely hide signs of depression out of fear of being branded unfit. As a result, they never seek the help they need, potentially leading to suicide.