When Milly Smith was 14, it didn’t matter if she was smiling or frowning — she was still having suicidal thoughts.
This is exactly the message the 24-year-old student and blogger of the Self Love Clubb wants to spread: people with suicidal tendencies don’t appear one way.
In a viral post on Instagram, Smith wrote about speaking to a doctor when she was 14, and how this professional told her she “didn’t look suicidal.”
“I remember these words coming from the Dr’s mouth right after I’d just told him that I was having thoughts of suicide. I remember in that moment my 14 year old self felt invalidation, dumb and embarrassed; something no one in that mindset should have to feel,” she wrote.
“What was I supposed to look like? A bottle of pills in one hand and a suicide note in the other? Those words nearly cost me my life, that judgment, those stupid stupid words.”
Last year, Smith overdosed in her home because she was afraid of this judgment again if she reached out for help.
“This is the danger of thinking mental health has a ‘face’ [or] ‘look.’ This is how stigma, ignorance and judgement towards mental health/suicide affects [us],” she wrote on the social media site.
The side-by-side shows Smith without any makeup sitting without clothes in one photo, and dressed up and smiling in the other.
“In both these photos I’m suicidal, perhaps not in the same way, but on both of these days I had suicidal thoughts racing around.”
The ‘face’ of suicide
With over 22,000 likes and 500 comments, Smith says she didn’t expect this many people to relate.
“It made me happy to know how many people it’s reaching, but also sad at how many people are out there hurting,” she tells Global News. “I want to break down the stigma and ignorance surrounding mental health problems. One in four of us are affected, and yet there’s still so many misconceptions about mental health problems/suicidal tendencies.”
She adds this continues to be a problem because most people have one perception of what someone with suicidal thoughts tends to look like.
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“Many are from what we see in the media, we use the word depression in place of sad or upset and people begin to create this image of a depressed person crying, staying indoors etc.,” she continues. “This is backed up by films and TV [series] showing depression very one-dimensional too.”
Social media users react
Online, hundreds of Instagram users thanked Smith for sharing this important message.
“[I] just wanted to say your comment hit me like nothing I’ve experienced, it took everything i had to keep a tidal wave of tears from coming, took me totally by surprise and touched me more than I care to admit,” user fosbrooksteven wrote.
“This is so absurdly relevant and necessary. If people wore their mental health for all the world to see all the time they’d feel even worse,” user yungsleepyhead wrote.
Others shared their own stories.
“When I told my mom I was having suicidal thoughts, she didn’t really believe me. I thought I had to slit my wrist to prove I really was serious. Thank you for sharing and still being alive to help me and others,” user sueski wrote.
“My boss told me that I didn’t look depressed. I have never felt so silly in my life,” user aimazingly_fit wrote.
Living with suicidal thoughts
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911 or tell someone immediately — crisis centres for the most part are avaialble 24-hours a day, the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention notes.
“Suicidal thinking is usually associated with problems that can be treated,” the association notes. “Clinical depression, anxiety disorders, chemical dependency, and other disorders produce profound emotional distress. They also interfere with effective problem-solving. Even if you have received treatment before, you should know that different treatments work better for different people in different situations. Several tries are sometimes necessary before the right combination is found.”
Smith says for her, speaking about her mental health openly, either on social media or to people, helps her heal.
“If things get too much for me social media-wise, I simply take a break and refresh myself,” she says. “Self-love and care is so vitally important and I need to look after myself first.”
Where to get help
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.