In loving memory of Chester C. Bennington.
A good friend. A kind soul. A tireless goofball.
Your laughter lives on in our hearts.
A WORD ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH AND SUICIDE PREVENTION
In the US, more than 1,400,000 people attempt suicide each year. 48,000 of them die. 90% of those people will have a treatable mental health condition. 49% of people in the US know someone who died by suicide.
What does all this data mean? That suicide is a much bigger problem than we think, but preventing it isn’t hopeless. The key is erasing stigma.
What is stigma?
It’s shame assigned to someone for doing something society considers unacceptable. Stigma is rooted in ignorance and supported by a litany of myths. In this case, the shame of admitting they have a mental health condition because stigma says "normal" people aren't supposed to have those. Or worse, the shame of admitting they're so desperate to escape the pain that they're considering taking their own lives.
Why does stigma matter?
Because the lies that support stigma encourage people to hide their struggles instead of getting help. The mental health issues that often lead to suicide (severe depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, cPTSD, bipolar disorder, etc.) don’t go away on their own*. They require intervention by trained mental health professionals. Hiding their pain traps people in a place where hopelessness can thrive, convincing them there is no solution to their problem. That’s how suicide happens.
*Some people will tell you they changed their diet, started an exercise routine, began meditating, prayed/read the bible and their mental health condition disappeared. Those things do occasionally happen, but it’s rare. For a majority of the millions who suffer from mental health issues, those stories only add to their depression when the "miracle cure" doesn’t work for them.
What can I do?
1. Watch what you say. People don't "commit suicide" they "die by suicide." The word "commit" is something we assign to crimes like murder and terrorism. Suicide isn't a crime. It's an act of desperation by someone who doesn't think there's any other way to end their suffering. In most cases, they believe dying will relieve their loved ones of having to deal with their ongoing emotional issues. They think they're doing everyone a favor.
2. When you talk about someone who died by suicide, exercise compassion. Unless you personally knew them and have first-hand knowledge of how long they struggled and suffered before they died, you can't make any accurate pronouncements about their situation or character. All those words do is hurt the people who loved them. People who are already devastated.
Not only do those statements reinforce deadly stigma, it's also an empathy thing. If you lost the person you love most, would you really want people telling you that your loved one was a horrible, selfish person and is going to hell? I doubt it. Think what you want. Just keep it to yourself.
3. Learn the truth about mental health issues like depression. For example, did you know PTSD, severe depression, bipolar disorder, etc. can be detected with a blood test?
The research to produce better testing is ongoing, but this little nugget effectively kills the myth that it’s “all in your head” and you can “gratitude” your way out of depression. One day, lab work to diagnose and guide the treatment of those conditions will be mainstream.
Did you know there are FIVE different kinds of depression? Did you also know that you can have more than one kind at the same time?
It's important to realize that your personal experience with depression can be quite different from someone else's. This is why what works for one person doesn't necessarily work for someone else.
What do I do if I think someone I know has a mental health condition?
The best thing you can do is listen. Let them talk without judgement, without interrupting, and most importantly, without trying to fix the problem. Unless you’re a licensed therapist, fixing it is out of your hands.
What you can do is encourage them to talk to a professional and get help because their situation, whatever it is, isn’t hopeless. Things can be better.
How do I find help for someone who needs it?
If they have insurance, their provider often has a list of mental health professionals on their website who accept that particular plan. If they don’t have insurance, most mental health professionals offer therapy on a sliding scale based on income. If they can’t afford the sliding scale and live near a university with a Psychology program, check out the university website. The schools often provide therapy for free as part of the Masters’ program (Yes, the therapy sessions are supervised by a licensed therapist.). If they don’t live near a university, reach out to your local (or state) NAMI office and ask for resources. They have an exhaustive list!
What about non-professional support?
If you live with someone who has a mental health condition, or have one yourself and would like support from people who know what you’re going through, check out your local NAMI chapter. They have support groups for those living with mental health issues and those supporting someone who has one. Most of those groups are now available through Zoom.
If you don't live near an office, keep in touch with your state NAMI office to find out about ongoing post-pandammit virtual meetings.
If you've lost someone to suicide and want to join a grief support group for people like you, check out AFSP's list.
Mourning the loss of a loved one to suicide can be a lonely business. Regardless of how long ago you lost them, it can be therapeutic to talk to people who understand the brand of grief that's more devastating and damaging than most.