Go ahead, admit it. You’ve thought about it. Maybe it was a fleeting moment. Perhaps it was something you pondered for a while and changed your mind. It may have come out of the blue or perhaps been the result of a life long battle with the blues. Unfortunately, for too many, they follow through with their thoughts, thinking suicide is a solution to what ails them. Sadly, they leave behind a trail of family, friends, and colleagues left to feel confused, angry, guilty, and in need of their own help as a result of someone’s suicide.
Every 12 minutes, someone in this country takes their life. One and a half times more people die from suicide than by homicide and yet we are more concerned with the murder rate in this nation. Three-fourths of suicides are by men. This is no surprise since we are raised to bury our emotions, suck it up, and just soldier on. It just results in men failing to seek the help they need because of the stigma that comes with mental illness.
Twenty percent of suicides are by veterans, almost one an hour. We provide our soldiers with the best weaponry and support to survive the bloodiest of battles only to fail them when they return home and are unable to cope with life in the real world while trying to process the scars of war.
We have family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues who suffer from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and a host of other mental illnesses and yet our society is not comfortable reaching out to them. We have no problem embracing people who are fighting cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and most other illnesses, but when it comes to something that is defined as a mental illness, we fail to talk about it. This has to stop.
People who have lost a loved one to suicide often feel too ashamed to share with others how their son, daughter, brother, sister, or spouse died. They feel partly responsible for failing to see what was hidden from them. Often, they are angry at the person for ending their life and fall into their own depression which never leaves.
We feel bad for the person whose heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, or physical features are flawed due to no fault of their own. Unfortunately, for too many, we fail to show the same compassion for those whose brains might be wired incorrectly. We sit in judgment of them and get mad because of their behaviors, the funk they fall into, the trouble it causes, and the embarrassment we are made to feel. Consequently, they are left to try and mask how they really feel by displaying other emotions like anger or humor to hide what they are really feeling inside.
Walking on egg shells around someone in the throws of depression doesn’t do that person any good. Giving him unsolicited advice about how they should really feel or act is just another way of telling that person they are wrong to feel what they are feeling. We end up caring more about the effect they are having on our day to day lives than we do on how their lives are spinning downward to stop and just listen or give them a hug and to let them know you are there for them.
No amount of not talking about someone’s mental illness will make it go away. You cannot will it away, pray it away, or threaten it away. You can, however, treat it away, but that takes time, money, and compassion. We live in a quick fix society, but with any mental illness, large or minor, it takes time to undo what has been done. There is no quick fix or one size fits all approach that works, so often it means trying different medications, different therapists, and different techniques before success begins to show. This requires the support of people who love the sufferer far more than they loath what it has done to their own life.
I think back on my life and my struggle with depression. It was never recognized early in life. I was the baby happy to be left alone for hours in his pen only to be happy to be left alone much of my life because I was wired to not want to be around others. I struggled early with my schooling, masked my anxiety by being the class clown, and removed myself from a social life whenever my depression acted up. I exercised and played until exhaustion not knowing it was my natural way to release the endorphins needed to fight a war from within.
This cycle of feeling up and down would repeat itself for over 50 years before I finally came out of living within a fog that grew thicker and thicker with each passing downward episode. I was 40 before I first sought help and it would be 15 years before I found the right combination that finally allowed me to see life from a different, clearer, and healthier perspective. For the first time in as far as I can remember, my good days now outnumber my bad. I look forward to what lies ahead more than I worry about the carnage I left behind. I have someone who understands and loves me in a way that I never felt before and most of all, I have stopped beating myself up. I consider myself very lucky.
Did I ever try to end it all? No. Did I ever think the world would be a better place without me in it? Yes. Fortunately, for me, I am also a stubborn person who hates to admit defeat so even in the worst of my periods, I was able to convince myself what I was feeling was temporary, even if it had gone on for weeks or for months. I was able to take ownership of my problem when I was feeling better and researched the hell out of depression, my symptoms, my way of life, and all the countless drugs available to combat it. I was also lucky to have a primary physician who listened to me, got to know me, and did her own research and together, we found out we came up with the same drug, Cymbalta, that we felt would work on me.
Talk therapy was also very helpful. It allowed me to realize I was not alone in my struggle, to better understand the causes behind it, and to learn ways to deal with it. It’s a shame it was not available to me when I was 16 or it might have saved me, and others, a lot of grief.
There is no shame in having a brain that processes life differently than others. There is no shame in telling others you do not feel right and think you could use a professional to talk to. There is no shame in having a child, sibling, spouse, or friend who struggles from time to time with their mental health. It’s okay to have a partner to help us reach our physical goals; there is no reason it should be any different when it comes to our mental goals.
It is time to end the stigma behind the term mental illness. It simply means an illness that involves the brain and nothing more. Thankfully, we know much more about the brain and how it functions than we did when I was coming of age in the 1970s. Let’s all pull together and get over what might make us feel uncomfortable and tell anyone we know who suffers from a mental illness we are here for them, ready to listen, comfort, and help in any way possible. Everyone has a life worth living. Some just need a little reminder now and then.
Jim is a life long resident of California and retired school teacher with 30 years in public education. Jim earned his BA in History from CSU Chico in 1981 and his MA in Education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He is also the author of Teaching The Teacher: Lessons Learned From Teaching. Jim considers himself an equal opportunity pain in the ass to any political party, group, or individual who looks to profit off of hypocrisy. When he is not pointing out the conflicting words and actions of our leaders, the NFL commissioner, or humans in general, he can be found riding his bike for hours on end while pondering his next article. Jim recently moved to Camarillo, CA after being convinced to join the witness protection program.