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