It seems like everywhere we turn these days we see someone who, when faced with dire mental anguish, decides to hurt themselves or hurt those around them. During the past 7 days alone we have seen the self inflicted demise of two world renowned people. The sobering fact is that depression and suicide does not discriminate but will devour anyone it can get its hands on. We as a society have started the conversation to bring mental illness out from under the rock it had laid under for too long. But at what point will we move from talking about it to taking meaningful actions to remedy it? Ever since the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain I have seen plastered all over social media phrases such as “if you are struggling please reach out to 1-800…” or “help is only a phone call away, 1-800…” and while I applaud what the suicide hotline does, it’s really only a band aid when we really need a tourniquet. I see dozens if not hundreds of people I associate with wanting to do the right thing and wanting to make lasting positive changes in the realm of mental health, but they simply do not have the tools to make those changes. So, today I pose the question, how do we move from words to actions to stop the harmful actions of the Anthony Bourdain’s or the Dimitrios Pagourtzis’ of our world who have not acted yet? Lets explore some of what, I think, are good places to start.
Don’t rely on someone else to take action for you. People need you. Yes you, who are reading this right now. They need not some doctor or psychologist, they need you, a non-threatening safe place to express their hurt. Far too often we hear those who were close to a tragic situation say “I never saw it coming” when in reality they were trying to see things from a mile away. Suicide and mass shootings would decrease if we were willing and able to be there before the poo hits the fan. It’s not easy. It’s not fun. But it could save lives. Specifically in the case of Anthony Bourdain there were signs. I’ve never met the tall and grey haired man who is best known for shedding light on different cultures other than our own, but I could tell he was hurting years ago by how often he spoke about his battle with drugs and alcohol. I’d be willing to bet those closest to him waited on someone else to take action for them to save Anthony. Let this be a lesson that we need to move on past that way of thinking.
Another step is to bring the goodness of life to the surface for those who are struggling. If you know someone who has experienced trauma then I would suggest trying to show them that the bad experiences they had do not have to shape the experiences they will have in the future. This takes a willingness to know what a persons love language is. Find out what makes them feel loved and do it. Depression often suppresses our ability to express fully 1) what is hurting us and 2) what would make us feel joy again. That is why it is crucial to be there in the good times and bad to see people in various stages of life. Consistency is key.
Lastly, don’t stop knocking on the door. Keep checking in. Keep reassuring those around you they are loved. Never lose that sense of repetition that is so crucial to help people get out of the dark pit that is depression. But I also caution us against going too far and leaving those we are tying to help feeling smothered. Sometime’s people need space, and that is alright. Giving space becomes an issue when we lose sight of what is happening though so we also should be mindful to never be too far away that we seem out of reach to those we are trying to help.
These tools are just the start of what I feel is real change in the area of mental health, but if we don’t start here where will we start?