Photo: Gisele Bundchen/Instagram

OPINION

When it comes to suicide, looks can be deceiving

Mental ill health can affect any of us and the signs aren’t always obvious, says Radhika Sanghani. She reflects on Gisele Bündchen's admission that she's felt suicidal, too

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By Radhika Sanghani on

What does someone suicidal look like? Well, if you’re looking at movies and TV shows, then they’re probably displaying every textbook sign of depression. They stop making an effort with their appearance, they don’t want to leave the house, they cry a lot, they’re argumentative and they talk about wanting to end it all.

But, as anyone who has direct experience with mental ill health will know, that’s not the full picture. While many signs of depression and suicidal thoughts can be external, a lot of them aren’t. A suicidal person can be the most glamorous person in the office. They can be the life and soul of the party, the CEO winning at life – or the supermodel who seems to have it all.

Like Gisele Bündchen, who has opened up about her mental-health struggles in her forthcoming memoir Lessons: My Path To A Meaningful Life. In it, she writes about having intense panic attacks and claustrophobia, and feeling suicidal. “I couldn’t see a way out, and I couldn’t stand another day of feeling this way,” she writes, in an extract published by Page Six. “The idea swept over me then: Maybe it will be easier if I just jump. It will be all over. I can get out of this.

“When I think back on that moment, and that 23-year-old girl, I want to cry. I want to tell her that everything will be all right, that she hasn’t even begun to live her life. But in that moment, the only answer seemed to be to jump.”

Ill mental health can affect every single one of us, and we’re not always going to know who has fallen prey to its grasp

It’s a powerful, searingly honest admission, and it’s made even more powerful by the fact that it comes directly from Bündchen – the millionaire labelled one of the world’s most beautiful women. On the outside, it looks like she has always had the most perfect, charmed life. But her revelation proves what so many of us tend to forget: that ill mental health can affect every single one of us, and we’re not always going to know who has fallen prey to its grasp.

In some cases, it might be clear that someone is suicidal. They might disclose certain comments that make it clear, and they may display recognisable symptoms. But in other cases, it isn’t obvious at all. That person may be battling suicidal thoughts internally, but, because they’re so used to putting on a mask and hiding it all, no one around them will ever know. Which was exactly the case with Hannah Daibell, a 21-year-old student vet who took her own life in July.

At an inquest this week, her family said they hadn’t noticed any signs of her feeling suicidal, and that she had done nothing in the weeks or months prior to her death to suggest she wanted to take her own life. There is a suggestion here that it should be obvious to family and friends if their loved one is suicidal. That they are to blame for “missing” the signs. But mental health isn’t that simple.

Daibell’s tragic story shows just how invisible suicidal thoughts can be on the outside – as does that of Anam Tanoli. The 26-year-old Pakistani model was found dead in her home in Lahore earlier this month. Her family said she had suffered with “depression” and severe mental stress for a while. But to her followers on social media, it was a different story. She posted photos looking glamorous and happy, and even filmed a strong video about hitting back at online bullies, telling her viewers: “Don’t let it affect you, don’t let it bring you down.” Many of her followers have since taken to social media to say how painful it was to realise that she had suffered from mental illness and hidden it behind her “perfect” life on social media.

The sad truth, here, is that no one’s life is ever perfect and, often, it’s too hard for people who feel suicidal to reach out and admit exactly how they feel. In the words of Bündchen: “Things can be looking perfect on the outside, but you have no idea what’s really going on.”

@RadhikaSanghani

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Photo: Gisele Bundchen/Instagram
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