Let’s talk about it.
I have written, deleted, and re-written this message about a dozen times now. I know what I want to say, I really do. The biggest problem is exactly the point I want to get across, this stuff is heavy. It is hard to talk about.
I’ll be the first to admit that it is hard to put one’s self out there. I struggle with friends and family when it comes to talking about exactly what is on my mind. It isn’t easy to look the world in the eye and say who you are and your faults; what’s holding you back and what’s holding you up. It is hard to be open about the battles you are fighting yourself, and even harder to let people help with something that you think that you need to tackle by yourself.
There are so many easy discussions to have. The mundane conversations about what is happening at work and the classes someone is enrolled in tend to dominate conversations, mixed with our hobbies and interests, whether those interests are the same or different. These are conversations that we are comfortable about and allow us to relate to the people close to us. Who wants to put themselves out of their comfort zone when we can just talk about these easily relatable ideas?
And who wants to talk about something that others can’t relate to? Like I said before, even writing this now is hard for me to put into words exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it, so I will jump right in.
Mental illness. Depression. Suicide. Stress. Anxiety. Isolation.
Let’s talk about it.
I have known many individuals struggling with different problems related to mental illness through different parts of their lives. From founding Lost and Found, I have met even more people struggling with suicidal thoughts, mostly stemming from depression. The most common problem is that people who are going through the hard times are determined that they will solve the problem themselves. “It isn’t someone else’s problem.” “I don’t want to worry anyone.” “I don’t want someone to misunderstand.”
People are isolating themselves and it sucks because they truly think it is them fighting their depression alone.
That brings us to the importance of this week being national suicide prevention week. When Lost and Found was created four years ago, we had the goal of bringing awareness to the problems associated with suicide and depression. To steal the message created by the organization:
“The mission of Lost & Found is to reduce levels of depression and suicide among young adults by delivering supportive education and resources, empowering family and friends to engage in healthy conversation, and encouraging a lifetime pursuit of physical, emotional, and psychological wellness.”
One thing we learned pretty darn quickly is how people would rather… not discuss this. It was so much easier for people to ignore the problem, in themselves and in their friends, than it was to actually bring this issue out into the light.
And to be honest, that is a huge part of the problem that people fighting depression have to struggle with. If nobody wants to talk about depression and the isolation that comes with it, then why the hell would someone dealing with this sort of illness want to talk about these very personal internal struggles? From there it turns into a vicious cycle of people not wanting to hear about it and not wanting to bring it up.
With this week being national suicide prevention week, there is one major point that needs to be brought up in regards to this.
Depression isn’t a joke. It isn’t an emotion. It doesn’t just go away. It is a problem that needs to be discussed.
It is pretty obvious that there is a negative stigma against depression and suicide. I have heard people I am close to say trivial things such as, “oh, his life was so great, why would he do something so selfish?”
And if that is how you honestly feel about suicide, then you have been pretty lucky. It means you haven’t truly known an individual who has struggled with mental illness. People do not commit suicide because they are selfish, but because they truly believe the world will be better without them. And it sucks for everyone involved. I have had many stories shared with me. From families, from friends, from people suffering with depression. There is nothing cowardly or selfish about them or their battles. People need to quit treating depression as an emotion and more for what it is: a mental health concern.
Knowing this, and knowing everything above, we can come up with a two conclusions.
1. People struggling with suicidal thoughts feel like they are alone. They believe people will judge them. They believe they have to solve this alone. They believe nobody else will understand this struggle.
2. People who know or suspect someone struggling with depression are afraid to talk about the issue. Maybe it is foreign to them. Maybe it is scary. Maybe they just don’t know how to react. Either way, the stigma against mental illness makes it hard to talk about.
So then, what is the solution to this? How can we make life better for everyone involved with suicide and depression?
We need to talk about it.
Instead of ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away, let’s reach out to the people closest to us. I want the people I care about to trust me enough that these sorts of conversations can happen. Likewise, I want them to facilitate conversation with me if there is a concern. Because that is what friends do.
It doesn’t make you vulnerable or weak to talk to someone about problems you are having, whether that relates to suicide and depression, or something else like an argument or a breakup. It makes you strong. It means you trust the people around you. It means you care enough, not only about yourself, but those who may worry about you to let them know what is happening in your life.
It may seem difficult and frustrating to have a friend “open up” to you. I’ve been there. I have called someone a hundred times in a row until they picked up their phone. I drove two hours to where someone was just to make sure they were alright. I have called the police on a friend who I was extremely worried about, and I wasn’t close enough to help her in time. Yeah. They may be annoyed at first. But at the same time it really gives a sense of not only how much you care, but how much they matter. And to avoid reaching a severe situation, we need to open up to one another.
World suicide prevention week exists not only to remember those we have lost, but to remember those who are still around us. That we are alive. That we are in this together, no matter how difficult the times may become. I hope you consider these words, and I hope that if the time ever comes, you will not fear the conversation that desperately needs to be happening.
DJ Smith is the founder of Lost and Found. Learn more at www.andfound.org