We need to talk, ya’ll.
I personally know 3 people who have taken their lives in as many months. All under the age of 40. In my 35 years of life I can recall maybe 1 suicide among my peers and now I’m averaging 1 a month.
This is not normal.
Not to mention the uptick in suicides by the rich and famous. There has been a 25% increase in suicides since Robin Williams took his life – and in some states it’s as high as 30%.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in this country – and 1st in gun related deaths. More people kill themselves than each other – which says a lot for a nation that averages a mass shooting every 60hrs.
This is not normal.
When it’s all said and done obesity and addiction will be our biggest public health crises and we’ll wish we’d done more. In a sense, addiction is a function of mental illness – so in reality obesity and mental illness are our biggest health challenges.
And while there’s a pill, a diet, and an overnight IG fitness expert to help you battle the bulge, we’ve done virtually nothing to address mental illness. Nothing.
It’s not much different from our inaction on guns, and I’m not sure how many more people have to kill themselves before we are compelled to offer more than just thoughts and prayers.
Is what happens in the individual mind our collective responsibility? I’m not sure. But what I am sure about is that we were not created to exist in isolation from one another. We were created to coexist in community and with that comes a certain responsibility to live, love, worship, and vote with community in mind. It’s our human mandate, so to behave otherwise is inhuman (not to be confused with inhumane).
Over these last several months of self-inflicted death all around me I’ve been working on being a better human in this regard. Even though I’ve never struggled with thoughts of suicide it’s my human mandate to work to better accompany those who do. I’ve committed to the following:
1. Openly advocating for therapy and sharing how beneficial it’s been for me as a prevention mechanism for mental illness.
We go to the doctor for annual physicals even when nothing’s wrong yet we don’t do the same for our minds. Why not have annual ‘mentals’ as well? It’s time we connect our heads to the rest of our bodies.
2. Believing people when they say they are having mental health challenges and be as present as humanly possible for them.
All of my friends reached out to someone in some form or fashion in a ‘cry for help’ just days before their deaths. And people were just, busy. It’s not anyone’s fault – we just get so caught up in our own stuff that we miss potential opportunities of salvation for another.
3. Unplugging from the matrix and getting more connected to Zion.
We are more connected than we’ve ever been in human history, but it’s an illusion. We’re actually more disconnected than we’ve ever been. Social media gives us access to the world’s every curated move without any conversation, or touch, or smell and it has created a false sense of community. Some of my fondest memories of human interaction are triggered by a smell or a warm embrace. Those human interactions have been replaced by emojis, likes, shares, and followers and people have become so socially inept that the only way we can tolerate each other is on our phones or under the influence of opioids, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.
4. Keeping the details of a suicide private when someone does take their life.
There’s no coincidence that we saw an uptick in suicides after Robin Williams’ death. Likewise I don’t believe Anthony Bourdain’s suicide was in such close proximity to Kate Spade’s just by happenstance. While we often stigmatize mental illness as a disease of the ‘weak’ minded, I imagine it takes a tremendous amount of courage to take your own life. When we parse out every detail of someone’s suicide – as the media did with Robin Williams – I believe it gives courage and maybe even permission to those who have been battling the feeling. “If (s)he could do it, I can too.”
5. Practicing self care before public health care.
The way we treat others is a direct reflection of how we treat ourselves. We can’t expect to be life support for someone else if we’re barely breathing. Make sure you put on your own oxygen mask before helping the person next to you.
If you’re reading this and realize that you’re the person who needs help putting your mask on, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for free and confidential 24 hour assistance.