Stephen ‘tWitch’ Boss’ Death Sparks Conversation About High-Functioning Depression

This story is about suicide. If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call the network, formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 988, text HOME to 741741 or visit for additional resources.

Gregarious, cheerful and full of light are just some of the sentiments those close to Stephen “tWitch” Boss have shared about him following his death by suicide at age 40. For people who met him through TV screens and phones, his bright smile and ever-dancing legs may come to mind.

The multi-hyphenated media personality first made a name for herself as a finalist on the reality competition “So You Think You Can Dance” and went on to DJ and executive produce “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” He and his wife, fellow dancer Allison Hoker Boss, shared three children and celebrated her anniversary days before her death. He recently told TODAY co-host Hoda Kotb about your desire to start your own talk show.

In the days since December 13, many have struggled to reconcile Boss’s outer persona and resume with someone who took their own life, sparking a conversation in some social media circles about high-functioning depression.

“High-functioning depression is real and can have serious consequences if it’s not addressed and treated.” wrote a Twitter user whose bio indicates that he is a doctor.

Another influencer, ShiShi Rose, shared on instagram a carousel of photos of tweets with a caption criticizing the oft-repeated notion that “signing up” is enough to combat suicidal thoughts.

“High-functioning depression is very scary because no one knows you’re not okay, and even if you say something, no one realizes how serious it is because you don’t seem like someone who’s falling to rock bottom.” said one of the tweets.

Another Twitter user wrote: “Prayers for Twitch wife and kids, always check on your strong friends. High functioning depression is real. Rest in paradise.”

What is high functioning depression?

High-functioning depression is a colloquial term and not a technical clinical diagnosis, explains Rheeda Walker, Ph.D., a psychologist and leading suicide researcher in the black community. The official diagnosis of depression is major depressive disorder.

“There are a number of different things that fall under the umbrella of depression. Major depressive disorder, you have to have at least five of them, and they have to persist for a couple of weeks or longer,” Walker tells “If it goes below that, everybody has a bad day…you’re not going to meet the criteria for…major depressive disorder.”

Some symptoms of major depressive disorder, by Mayo ClinicThey are: feeling sad or hopeless, angry or irritable outbursts, sleeping too much or too little, lack of energy, weight loss or gain, anxiety, feeling worthless or guilty, difficulty concentrating, suicidal thoughts, and unexplained body pain.

Persistent depressive disorder is another official diagnosis that, for some patients, can include high-functioning depression, Walker says. But he also stresses that because high-functioning depression isn’t a technical diagnosis, he’s hesitant to say they’re the same thing. The Mayo Clinic defines persistent depressive disorder as “ongoing long-term” depression that “is not as severe as major depression.”

Walker adds that for high-functioning depression, bad feelings can fluctuate: “Stressful things happen at work…but then, on the weekend or after work, you’re going to spend time with people who love and support you. …and it’s like, OK, I get it. I can go back and I can take on the world.”

It’s common for people with depression to overcompensate for feelings of emptiness by becoming the life of the party, she says.

“I was a fan of (tWitch) and ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ and I can’t help but wonder if the people who are sometimes presumably happiest on the outside are the ones who are trying to create something… that they want for themselves. themselves,” says Walker.

Suicide and the black community

Many prominent black people have committed suicide this year, several of them in one week in January: Ian Alexander Jr., only son of actress Regina King, He died on January 21 at the age of 26. Kevin Ward, 44, mayor of Hyattsville, Maryland died on January 25. “The Walking Dead” actor moses moseley He died on January 26 at the age of 31. Y former Miss USA and attorney Cheslie Kryst he died on January 30 at age 30.

The young age of these figures highlights what Walker, who teaches psychology at the University of Houston and directs the Culture, Risk and Resiliency Lab on campus, knows all too well from his own work: Black people who die by suicide tend to be younger than white. people who do it.

The suicide rate among the black population in the US peaks between the ages of 25 and 34, while for whites, it is between the ages of 45 and 54. according to a 2021 report from the National Vital Statistics System.

The same report found that the suicide rate is lower in the black population than in the white population: for black and white men respectively, 12.9 deaths per 100,000 versus 27.1, and for black and white women, 2 .8 versus 6.9. But a 2021 study indicates that The Black Suicide Rate Is Probably Higher documented because the manner of death is often misclassified.

Walker says there is no data to confirm why suicide affects the black population at a younger age, but calls for more research because clearly “there is something happening differently for black Americans.” His theory is that the transition to adulthood and experiencing racism, possibly for the first time, play a role.

“My (research) team found that race-related stress is linked to suicidal thoughts in the black community,” he explains. “Those people… they may have been protected by family, protected in other ways, but then they went out into the world and saw institutional discrimination and racism… and it’s like, ‘OK, I’m on my own now. I am ready to prosper, ready to participate in society.’ But all those goals are… frustrated. Then at some point you start to lose hope. So it doesn’t happen right away, but it may take some time.”

Reggie Howard, 31, who lives with major depressive disorder and has attempted suicide several times in the past, says he was struggling with “the pressure of being a parent and the pressure of getting out of poverty.”

“It’s not that I wanted to not be here alive anymore,” he says. “It was the pain and the infighting…what I was going through. I felt like that was the best option.”

Hearing about tWitch brought up some difficult emotions for Howard.

“It just showed me that people are still suffering,” he says. “I haven’t fully gotten over some of the trials and tribulations I have in my life, and it triggers memories of when I had those feelings inside me (and I wonder) if I still feel that way.” ?”

After his last suicide attempt several years ago, Howard saw an ad on Instagram announcing “Free Therapy for Black Men” and it changed his life. He is now part of the leadership team of Black Men Heal, the organization that provided him with free therapy. He is in his third year as an undergraduate at Drexel University in Philadelphia and hosts the “African American Mental Health Podcast,” which has been downloaded 150,000 times.

Reflecting on his mental health journey, Howard says, “First I try to come from a place of gratitude and… appreciating the things I have and the things I’ve accomplished as a parent, pulling me out of (depressive states).”

Depression in the public eye

April Simpkins lost her daughter, Extra TV correspondent and Miss USA 2019 Cheslie Kryst, in January to suicide. Simpkins says that Kryst had a persistent depressive disorder and that she had attempted suicide before. Simpkins stresses that public figures are not immune to suicidal thoughts, no matter how bubbly they may seem.

“When you have someone who is an achiever and who is enjoying life, it’s very easy for the general public to assume that they must be okay, that they can’t possibly be hiding something,” says Simpkins. “How can you hide something behind such a genuine smile? But I think it’s also important to realize that the general public is not with those people 24/7, and what you’re seeing is what they’re presenting at that moment in that moment.”

Before Kryst died by suicide, Simpkins says she started paying more attention to her daughter because she talked about things over and over again and wouldn’t stop. Simpkins saw it as a sign that something was wrong. In response, Simpkins simply listened, which she said helped prolong her daughter’s life.

“When I hear people say, ‘Check on your strong friends,’ which has become a very common mantra (along with), ‘It’s okay to not be okay,’ I think what gets thrown out is if you have friends that they tell you they’re not okay, we don’t know how to listen,” says Simpkins. “We’re expecting a five-alarm fire, and we’re told it’s smoldering. Then we lose it (because) we write it off.”

dealing with depression

Treatment for depression usually involves medication, therapy, or both. Howard, who aspires to be a psychiatrist, runs some mental health support groups and says they can also be a powerful tool for people to feel comfortable sharing their experiences and learn coping strategies. For black people, Howard recommends seeing a black therapist, even if it’s hard to find one, because it’s worth it.

“You want to go on a date, you want to hang out,” he says. “One of the things my black (therapist) said to me was, ‘Hey, I get you.’ She made me feel seen because she was just like me…she was almost like a father figure to me, and I never had that. I saw myself represented.”

“He made references to hip-hop, he made references to TV shows, he made certain culturally competent references that made me resonate with the therapeutic information he was sharing with me,” Howard explains.

If you’re worried that a loved one is attempting suicide, Walker notes that anxiety is “as strong a predictor” as depression. He also cautions against calling the police for help with a possible suicide and recommends the suicide prevention hotline, 988, instead.

And it encourages you to stay in close contact with anyone you care about.

“If someone seems to be in a low place or is acting out of the ordinary, get physically closer if possible,” says Walker. “If not, check them out because… (they) can’t solve problems from a bad place, so they have to rely on other people to stand in the gap when they can’t solve problems. That’s why we desperately need a partnership more educated.”

Howard says that more education will help break down the stigma that the black community commonly associates with mental health. Practicing self-care is something she teaches her children, ages 10 and 4, to better prepare the next generation.

“Not too long ago, mental health was a taboo subject,” he says. “I want to impart to my children that it is okay to express themselves. … The goal for me is to make sure that I’m leading with vulnerability so they feel comfortable to be able to share. My mental health goal is to make sure that I create that safe space for myself and my children so that we can have these kinds of conversations.”

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