When families are left with devastation and grief after a suicide, many ask why they didn’t see it coming or how they could’ve helped a loved one.
I just read an article about one woman’s suicide, and her brother was quoted as saying, “She seemed to be doing good.” Her brother, like millions of others, didn’t see the crippling effects of mental illness.
Signs and symptoms can be very subtle, but they’re as deadly as cancer or heart disease. Every 12 minutes there is one death by suicide for every 25 estimated attempts. Suicide rates have been rising in nearly every state, according to the latest Vital Signs report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death and is one of just three leading causes that are on the rise.
I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety since I was 13 years old. So I’ve lived with the pain and hopelessness of the disease. I’ve had suicidal ideations, and yes, twice I attempted to end my life. The realization of knowing I’d reached a point of hopelessness is frightening, but I’ve worked to make it empowering. I’ve realized that through my illness I can be a vocal advocate for education and ending stigma.
The stigma surrounding mental health affects a large population that isn’t educated about the disorders and how they impact patients. Many can’t or won’t discuss their disease. They fear discrimination and possible rejection by family, friends and coworkers. We are socialized to hide distress, so it gets buried deep inside.
I know the impact of self-stigma. For all the therapy and self-education I’ve pursued, I still have a scar burnt into my psyche. I know that only through active communication and honesty can this insidious disease lurking inside the brain be understood.
Right after the report that Kate Spade died from suicide, people asked how she could do that to her child? How can someone be so selfish? These are questions from individuals who just don’t understand mental health.
When someone’s in a moment of heightened despair and can’t see a way through the pain, it seems harder to go on living than to just shut off their brain. People who take their lives feel it’s a solution. They think everyone will be better off without them and they won’t be a burden; they feel suicide is a selfless act.
Depression causes irrational thoughts and dangerous behaviors. If you can’t comprehend what drives someone to take their life, imagine being in an accident and you’re in excruciating pain. You can only focus on the misery. It must stop! You’ll take the pill, the injection—anything to relieve the suffering. You know there will be comfort as you gently slip into unconsciousness where there’s no pain. Now can you begin to understand?
There are ways we can stop this health crisis of increasing suicide rates. It’s through education and support of those in our lives with a mental illness. People can learn the warning signs of these conditions from websites, from the National Alliance on Mental Illness or MedlinePlus.
Advocate for a loved one by supporting them in seeking a diagnosis and therapy. According to NAMI statistics, only half of all Americans who experience an episode of major depression receive treatment.
If you feel something is off and the behavior of a loved one suddenly takes a downturn, don’t be afraid to ask ‘Is everything okay?’ Be intrusive and go with your instincts. Depression causes people to isolate themselves. Everyone has down days and experiences the blues, but extended periods can be a sign of depression.
If you’re helping someone find treatment, know the importance of locating the right therapist. Counseling is a very personalized process. Not all forms of therapy work for every individual. Ask your primary care physician for recommendations and refer to websites like the American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association.
I’ve seen many therapists since I began treatment. Initially, I never questioned the type of therapy. Even when I didn’t feel a rapport with my counselor, my internalized stigma made me feel weak, dumb and always afraid to challenge the therapist. Who was I to question the effectiveness of the sessions or whether I even felt comfortable confiding in this person?
It’s vital to find a professional who creates a level of trust for the treatment to be therapeutic. I spent time with psychologists where I just talked for the entire session and they nodded their head and I was left wondering if they were listening.
I found I needed interactive therapy with ongoing conversation and feedback. Determine what is best for the individual. Again, NAMI is a great resource for education and help.
There are many drugs prescribed for mental health conditions. The type of medication effective in reducing symptoms for one patient might not work for another. Finding the right drug can be a daunting task. I called it drug roulette. The doctor would spin the wheel of depression medications and hope the right one would fall into place. I’ve watched the wheel spin too many times.
Advances are being made in treatments. Genetic research and testing now make it possible to target which medications will be most effective for an individual’s treatment. This is eliminating my dreaded drug roulette.
NAMI statistics show that one in five adults in the U.S. experiences a mental illness. Someone you know is dealing with an issue right now. We shouldn’t talk about it only when a celebrity dies by suicide. The evidence shows that mental illness impacts our lives every day.
Join me and become a mental health advocate. We all have the power. Fight stigma, increase awareness, speak out, but most of all reach out a hand and offer support. A simple gesture can save a life!
Also published on Medium.