On Learning Through Fiction


There have been a good amount of conversations around depression and suicide circling the internet in the past few weeks, and for good reason …

Two people who appeared to “have it all” recently lost their battles with depression. The fact that they were both rich and famous and successful doesn’t make a difference, and I’m not going around expressing surprise that people like that can be depressed.

That’s because I understand a lot more about what goes on in the minds of people inflicted with this awful disease than I used to.


Well, let’s first considered where I started: Catholic school. In which young children are taught, in no uncertain terms, the following:

“Suicide is a sin. Suicide is selfish. Do not do this or you will go to Hell.”

(I could write novels, and kind of do, on all the things I’ve had to unlearn since Catholic school, but for now I’ll just focus on this one thing.)

I’ll admit this attitude towards suicide took me longer to unlearn than others (such as “homosexuality is wrong,” “divorce is wrong,” “premarital sex is wrong,” etc.) Because I didn’t get it, I thought suicide always seemed like a bit of a cop-out. I’ve experienced depression before. I’ve experienced shitty things. So have scores of other people. And I’ve held on until things got better. Others have, too. So why can’t everyone?

What I didn’t get is the levels of depression and mental illness that exist out there and the extent to which some people suffer from it.

What is the thing that made me truly, finally, get it?

A book, of course.

I wrote about this book before. It was mind-blowing. Eye-opening. Life-changing, in terms of my understanding and attitude about suicidal people.

On top of that, it’s also a fantastic, well-written story. I don’t think novels should exist to preach to people; they should exist to tell stories. And this one tells a story–but it does so in such a way that it also imparts a life lesson I desperately needed.

So if you’re still struggling to understand that depression is a disease and suicide is akin to losing someone to any illness — not a “selfish” act in which we should stigmatize and look down on the person lost — I really urge you to pick up All the Bright Places

Or any book, really, that can help you understand. (I don’t have any other recommendations, but please let me know if you do.)

Photo by Alex on Unsplash

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