I used to love reading Dear Abby when I was a kid as I’m sure many of you did too (but it’s certainly okay if you were more of a closet reader). I had no idea until this week that Dear Abby was still such a thing, I mean never mind the fact that she died about 6 years ago at the age of 94, but who actually takes the time to sit down and write a letter with a pen and paper these days? (But kudos to you if you do!) Well the good news is that upon further research I discovered that you can still write to Dear Abby with a pen, a piece of paper and a stamped envelope or you can also visit her Facebook page (or website) and send your letter via email too! Phew!! Oh and I should also probably point out as well that her daughter Jeanne took over her very publicized advice column many, many, many moons ago.
So now back to why I started writing this in the first place (I tend to lose my train of thought quite easily these days). As I mentioned above, I happened upon one of Dear Abby’s millions of letters she receives as it pertained to mental health (but of course) and it popped up in my newsfeed from a site I follow and trust immensely. What I read was truly heartbreaking on so many levels, but from a mental health perspective her “advice” was both disheartening and alarming.
The letter was signed “Done With It”. In the letter the reader explained to Dear Abby that he had been suffering with severe depression and suicidal thoughts for many years now and that he was recently diagnosed with Cancer too. He wrote to her to ask her for advice as to whether or not he should share his Cancer diagnosis with his family as he felt that he just wanted to leave his Cancer untreated and let it end his life so he didn’t have to suffer any more.
How I believed Dear Abby would respond to her reader next and how she actually did were both shocking and frightening. I believed she would encourage him to reach out for help, lean on his loved ones and then give him some inspiring words of hope. But instead she did the unimaginable and erased every single bit of faith I had in someone with such an incredible opportunity to help millions of their trusted readers looking to her for aspiration. She told him that “if you have truly made up your mind to refuse treatment, I vote for not telling them, which could be construed as trying to put them on a guilt trip.”
A guilt trip? Are you kidding me? Opening up to others about your ideations of suicide whether they are passive or active ones should never be construed as a guilt trip. Take it from someone who lives with guilt every single day for feeling like a burden to those who love me and blaming myself for all that is wrong in the world while feeling like everyone would just be better off without me. It’s not guilt, it’s my reality, it’s my family’s reality and it’s the reality for millions of other vulnerable individuals reading Dear Abby’s “advice” and feeling shame for being alive.
Instead of using her platform to discourage a person from wanting to take their own life she all but encouraged him to just give up trying to beat both his depression and cancer. In my opinion she made him and many other hopeless individuals feel like it was the most practical option, like hey, what other choice do you have at this point, there’s no help for you and your life doesn’t matter to anyone.
So Dear Abby I have some advice for you this time; be careful how you choose your words next time. We have come so far in our fight to end the stigma against mental illness and you just took us back a generation or two with your isolating vocabulary. Maybe it’s time for you to pass the torch on like your mom did all those years ago, but hey if Dr. Ruth is still giving advice about sex at age 90 then maybe you aren’t ready for retirement at age 77! But the difference is Dr. Ruth’s advice isn’t a matter of life or death to someone you love.