Saturday 4 June 2016

"The Black Dog and The Elephant"

The Stigma Behind Mental Illness:

As an advocate for mental health awareness I find myself walking a fine line; how do I make my message strong and effective yet palatable? How can I get people to understand the reality of mental illness without scaring them away from the topic? 

Today I feel compelled to write with a frankness and out of a sense of urgency. You see, another young person tried to take her life just a few days ago. And when I say young, I mean young - as in thirteen years old. How horrific is an illness that robs a child of any sense of hope? To feel such despair is a horrible, dark place in which to find yourself. I know because I have felt that despair, I have been in that place - a tiny, single, solitary step away from a complete loss of hope and an irrevocable decision. 

I was lucky because, for some reason, I was able to recognize the imminent danger that I was in and I called my brother. I stepped back from the brink that afternoon. I am so glad that I did.

I have been to two mental health conferences since February and I have been struck by the two distinct types of speakers and presentations. First of all, the vast majority of experts will share statistics, talk about legal accountabilities of employers and generally speak about mental disorders in a somewhat clinical manner. Kind of interesting but a tad boring at times. Where is the call to action? What does the average person take away from this?

The second category is much more compelling - the speakers who emphasize that when we talk about mental illness, we are actually talking about life and death. People die from severe mental illness. And that is the elephant in the room that so many of us shy away from. Can't go there - it's much too real.

Here's the most important thing that I can tell you: if you know someone that you think may be suicidal, ask them. Don't dance around the topic or be afraid that by asking, you will plant that idea (you won't). What could happen is that you could save a human being's life. It's absolutely that simple. Employer, family member, friend - it doesn't matter who you are. If someone is in crisis, reach out to them. If you were to see someone have a heart attack in front of you, would you just watch or walk away? No, you would not.

A person who attempts suicide does not actually want to die. No, they don't. Nor are they selfish. What they really desire is a respite from the pain, the unrelenting despair and darkness: for the black dog of depression to retreat back into the shadows. Telling someone in a mental health crisis that you are worried for them and that you care is like tossing a drowning person a life jacket and life line.

I know too many people who have attempted suicide; some have tried multiple times. I thank the powers that be that each of these people are still here and making the world a better place. I am thankful that I am still here.

Don't give up on yourself, ever. And let's never give up on each other. We are all in this together. I stepped back from the brink that day. If you are in despair, please know that you can step back as well. There is still hope. There is always hope. Your story isn't over yet...

KB xo

Are you or someone you know in a mental health crisis? Here are some resources:


  1. Interesting that so often your posts are so timely for me. I too have been to the brink. Thankfully, the thought that it would kill my mother, and father, and sister, went through my head and I too backed away. The thoughts have been pushing their way forward again lately, only this time I know more and I sought help before it gets that bad.

    I have known too many people that have either died this way, or tried to end their suffering this way. And so I am also passionate about talking. The clinical/legal discussion is important, but the "real" discussion matters so much also. How can people really understand how to help if they don't understand what it is like to be in that horrible, terrifying, dark place of despair?

    I've said this before , but I will say it again anyhow... thanks for writing this blog. Thanks for tackling some of those difficult and often unspoken topics.

    1. Thank you, Danielle. I so appreciate your comments and that you share your lived experience. The 'stories' are so important. Keep talking and sharing!! xo

  2. So moving, daughter posted this on her FB wall the other day and it made me think about how brave it is to ask for help...

    [Taken From A Therapist's Wall]

    I don’t like the phrase “A cry for help.” I just don’t like how it sounds. When somebody says to me, “I’m thinking about suicide, I have a plan; I just need a reason not to do it,” the last thing I see is helplessness.

    I think: Your depression has been beating you up for years. It’s called you ugly, and stupid, and pathetic, and a failure, for so long that you’ve forgotten that it’s wrong. You don’t see good in yourself, and you don’t have any hope.

    But still, here you are; you’ve come over to me, banged on my door, and said, “HEY! Staying alive is REALLY HARD right now! Just give me something to fight with! I don’t care if it’s a stick! Give me a stick and I can stay alive!”

    How is that helpless? I think that’s incredible. You’re like a marine: Trapped for years behind enemy lines, your gun has been taken away, you’re out of ammo, you’re malnourished, and you’ve probably caught some kind of jungle virus that’s making you hallucinate giant spiders.

    And you’re still just going “Give me a stick! I’m not dying out here!”

    “A cry for help” Makes it sound like I’m supposed to take pity on you. But you don’t need my pity. This isn’t pathetic. This is the will to survive. This is how humans lived long enough to become the dominant species.

    With NO hope, running on NOTHING, you’re ready to cut through a hundred miles of hostile jungle with nothing but a stick, if that’s what it takes to get to safety.

    All I’m doing is handing out sticks.

    You’re the one staying alive.

    1. I love a good analogy, and this one is great. What a great way to frame the space people are in when they get to thatplace, instead of how we usually talk about it.

  3. Wow - that is simply amazing, Patty. Thank you for sharing this. It really resonates with me. xo


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