This post is an expansion on an editorial I wrote for my college newspaper about the same subject, so I suggest you give that puppy a read here.
Up to this point, I have covered many facets in regards to mental illness. It’s a study that interests me immensely as I continue to learn more about myself and others. When we take the time to go beneath the surface of the daily facade, the mindless activities and conversations, we’re bound to discover that life is ridiculously vast and complicated.
September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. A time where we make the point to acknowledge suicide’s effects on small and large scales, but beyond a few extra minutes or hours of our time, we just move on to the usual routine.
In one of my classes, my professor brought up the significance of September during the first five minutes. While her words were admirable and encouraging, as an often too-observant person, I felt the air in the room become much less comfortable. Almost as if the topic was taboo. Which in most cases, it is. We hear of a suicide and dare not mention it in a person’s obituary, even if the community already knows. Any discussion is hush-hush.
Growing up in a small conservative town, I learned early on that committing suicide was as sinful as murder. That it was a selfish decision. So I never knew how to react when kid after kid ended their own life throughout my education. Another suicide, another hour-long assembly addressing bullying and handing out random trinkets with a hotline number, and that was it.
Have I ever thought about suicide? Sure I have. Not necessarily planning things out; I was too timid for that. But I at least lacked a will to live. So many of us have gotten to that point where life seems too difficult and painful to bear. As Coldplay once sang, “Nobody said it was easy.”
Suicide, like mental illness, is very misunderstood. From the outside perspective, we see the tragic loss and the loved ones in pain. Even those with little personal connection feel guilt for not doing enough, for not knowing. We wonder how someone could ever think of resorting to death. But let’s take it from another perspective. The people who have hit rock bottom, and all they see is darkness. They either disregard any problems or want to avoid feeling weak or helpless from seeking help. And often times, help can be hard to find. Sure there are hotlines, but they are no replacement for therapy and medication. School counselors rarely go beyond the surface, and we overall lack enough psychologists and certified counselors, along with making these services affordable, to help everybody who needs it. So what choice is left? In that dilemma, what would you do? If you’ve been fighting your mind for so long, eventually you just give in. Virtually all survivors will say the instant they jumped or pulled the trigger, they regretted it. They wanted to live. But for too many, that thought came too late.
Obviously we can’t track the number of people who have had suicidal thoughts. All we can see are those who tried and/or succeeded in bringing those thoughts to life. Oh, the irony in that phrase. And even worse, we often cannot track the “telltale signs” of suicidal thoughts. So often we see people who seem like they have it all together with amazing lives who then shock us with an attempt to end it all. We see suicide as so shameful, we hide it at any cost. We too easily bottle up those feelings until they become unbearable.
While yes, bullying is an important issue, rarely do I see it as the actual cause of suicide. Bullying is usually the trigger for a much deeper problem. With societal ignorance and shame surrounding mental illness, we leave people either undiagnosed or not receiving enough of the right treatment. Mental illness takes on many forms. It sneaks into different places and feeds on different emotions and insecurities. That’s what makes mental illness so hard to distinguish correctly. But wouldn’t you think that would spark an initiative to learn more about it and spread awareness? We have certainly made progress, but work is left to be done.
Let’s go beyond a bullying assembly. We need mental health education. Knowledge is powerful. Empathy is powerful. We need to openly provide access for anybody who wants help. We need to dig deeper than an occasional “hi, how are you” conversation with loved ones. When you ask others how they are, be genuine with it. We’ve taken the phrase out of context to the point that we all just reply “good” and walk away. I want to see people actually curious about the well-being of others on a regular basis. Now that we have built up the barriers between each other, it’s time to tear them down.
And to end on important reminders to start off this week: you are worthy. You are loved. You are valuable. You’re here for a reason. If you ever need someone to confide in, I am genuinely here for you. Mental illness is isolating and crippling enough as it is; we shouldn’t create a society already doing half the work in that regard.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie