I read somewhere (probably on the Facebook) that Monday, October 1st was a significant date relative to suicide prevention. That turns out mostly to be a figment of my imagination, although October 7th to 13th is National Mental Illness Aware week(1). Anyway, since none of us should need a special day or week to talk about mental health and related issues, I will now.
Throughout my life, mental health issues have been something of an almost constant backdrop. I'll get into my own confessions, if you want to call them that, in a bit. Probably the most visceral feelings I have on the subject though relate to suicide, something that I've had to face with individuals close to me several times over the years. I can't accurately put all of those feelings into words, something that's odd for me, but that's because there is simply too much to parse. The one feeling I can share is "helpless"; you simply feel helpless when someone you care about attempts to end their own life. That feeling gets magnified significantly when someone you care about is actually successful at the act.
The above isn't intended to minimize the feelings that drive someone to attempt self-harm. If anything, those kinds of comparisons ("...yeah, but I feel worse...") have no place in any frank discussion about mental health. This isn't an arms-race or sports game that needs to be won; if anything, it's a race that we should all want to lose.
Acknowledging that helplessness is a product of having to face significant mental health issues, the bigger question is this: What can be done about it? That's far tougher to answer than it is to ask, but as I was thinking about writing this posting, it occurred to me that maybe I haven't done enough in that department. Maybe I need to do more. Maybe we all need to do more.
Speaking of me, I've been pretty transparent in this blog about the times in my life when I've had to struggle with my own feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, anxiety and similar symptoms. In fact, sometimes I've probably been too transparent, but so be it: I'm convinced that secrecy is basically one of the things which literally fertilizes mental health issues in this country. That makes something like Mental Health Awareness Week all the more important.
So, what's next? Well, I'll share three thoughts, all culled from my own life experiences. I claim no special knowledge or education here, just a few lumps earned from a life well lived.
First and foremost, one thing I am absolutely sure of is the fact that all of us struggle with mental health issues from time to time. Don't buy into the notion that "he (or she) really has their stuff together" because it's a lie. It's a bold-faced lie. In fact, it's probably the biggest lie some of us tell ourselves. We all have our own moments of doubt and pain (to quote Mick Jagger). That person who seems to always be composed, calm and rational may sometimes be a raging storm of conflicting emotions underneath. I know this because sometimes that person is me; I'm simply a better actor than you.
Second, I'm convinced that mental health is far more like a muscle than it is a clump of grey matter. Like a muscle, we need to stretch and push ourselves emotionally in order to get stronger, to become more resilient. That's the best argument I can think of against the notion of emotionally running away from our troubles or sitting on the figurative couch while the world passes us by.
Finally, we can't fall into the trap of believing that we need to go it all alone. That's another lie of epic proportions. There is always help if you need it. Always. Sometimes that help can come from places we don't expect. Many times there are people in our lives who are just waiting for us to ask them for help. We just need to have the courage (and/or humility) to ask.
I'll close this posting with a few resources that might be helpful.
NAMI - The National Alliance on Mental Illness (1)
Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 800.273.8255
VA - Mental Health Assistance for Veterans
Mental Health Resources.org
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Mental Health Resources