In the wake of Anthony Bourdain I sit here and wonder what it is that is causing such a mental health crisis. I don’t just mean depression, but I also include addiction.
It takes me back to the first suicide I experienced with someone I felt was as close to me as an uncle. A man who I felt cared for me and understood me when many others didn’t. We shared interests, smiles, and laughs at a most difficult time, and was considered in close friendship (if not the closest) to my family.
I remember approaching him at a ski trip in Tahoe that I realized he was not himself. He didn’t smile back. I thought I might have upset him. After all, I was only 12 and my under-developed mind didn’t know how to interpret this small sign. He always had a smile on his face that I didn’t know how to interpret that frown other than I must have caused it. A few weeks later he took his life. I unfortunately was not told a lot of details until I was much older and “mature enough” to handle the truth. That my friend, my close family friend who was over at our house all the time, had battled not just one but a few addictions. It was freeing to know this because for many years I thought I was the only one to know about the frown I had witnessed. I thought that maybe I should have warned others. I later found out that there were many signs. I was not the only one who witnessed a change in mood.
I also had no understanding of why someone who appeared always happy, had taken his life. At the age of 12 I remember thinking “Did he not know how important he was to me?”. I look back and realize how selfish that sounds being that he had a wife and two children, but I had no help to process the information, and the word “suicide” and “depression” were still taboo. Many people had focused on helping his family, and had not checked on others that may have been affected.
I remember holding a lot of feelings in about this until a student at my school took his life my senior year in high school (5 years later). The student that took his life was the son of a much loved school secretary. His mother was the one you always went to if you needed any sort of compassion about any difficulty in life. She was the most approachable staff member at our school. It was hard to process how her son didn’t ask her for help. I also remember the bravery of her speech at our graduation. What was freeing about my senior year (the same year and around the same time as the Columbine shooting), was that we had speakers come to our school and discuss how suicide and depression COULD NOT and SHOULD NOT be taboo. Our teachers then had discussions within our homerooms and I remember just feeling this relief inside of me that I could say the words “suicide” and “depression” out loud and that it took away a lot of bottled up pain from years past to talk about it freely.
It’s not that we don’t go through pain and sadness, and yes, even depression. I think a lot of times this may be natural. It becomes a sickness when we aren’t heard and we feel shame in speaking about it. There are so many people out there that are willing to help, even strangers, if we could feel like we can freely talk about it. When we take away the stigma about these things, there may be more people willing to ask for help. I am the first person to admit that when I have had bouts of depression that I can only talk about it afterwards because when I am going through it I feel like the shame envelopes me. I wish that somehow we can cut through that shame.
We need to get to a point of honesty in our society. Honesty without feeling like we will be punished for being open about what it is we are feeling. This must be our number one goal. YET, our world (with the add of social media – and social justice) has become a more hostile world for honesty. We need to reverse this, if we wish to be a healthier society. Please, if you are struggling please call the number (that applies) below.
Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14
National Suicide Hotline (USA) 1800 273 8255