The Invisible Wound of Depression and Suicide

By CareerSmart Learning Contributor, May 17, 2017, as published by Healthcare Hot Spot


The rate of suicide is increasing, with approximately one suicide occurring every 13 minutes (CDC, 2015). But rather than discuss the current statistics of suicide and depression and its affects on families and communities, there is an enlightening quote that details depression and suicide from the other side. 

The author, David Foster Wallace, once compared depression and suicide to being trapped in a burning building. He said that for people experiencing depression, their “invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level [and they] will kill [them]self the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise.”  Wallace continued to explain that people jumping from a burning high-rise still fear the fall but that falling to death is “slightly less terrible” than the fear of the flames. Sadly, Wallace later committed suicide in 2008 after suffering from depression for decades.

One word in Wallace’s description of depression captures its essence: “invisible.”  Depression, like so many other mental health issues, is invisible to the outside world; therefore, the outside world cannot see it or truly understand the depths of another person’s depression. If someone has a cut on their hand, the severity can typically be seen– whether the hand has been superficially injured or a finger severed. But depression is more akin to a suspected deep tissue pressure injury, where the skin remains intact, but a pressure injury has formed under the surface, invisible from the outside.

Wallace ended his description of depression and suicide by saying that “you’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.” While empathy is a tremendous asset in healthcare workers, it is also equally important to realize the shortcomings of it. Having empathy for a person experiencing depression has its limits because empathy will never really feel like that burning building.

Even though empathy has its limits, recognizing the signs and symptoms of depression are vital to helping patients.  When discussing depression with a patient, avoid trivializing their experience or insisting they simply “snap out of it.”  Depression is a serious issue and should be discussed with patients in an equally serious manner.  Healthcare providers are in a unique position to help people and that help should be given with respect and understanding.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  (2015).  Suicide: Facts at a Glance. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/suicide-datasheet-a.pdf

David Foster Wallace.  David Foster Wallace Quotes.  Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/4339.David_Foster_Wallace

May 19, 2017

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