When it comes to depression and other mental illnesses and disorders, it seems many people don’t really pay attention until something dramatic happens.
Unless someone’s life is drastically falling apart we don’t generally believe people when they say they need our help or support. Nor do we check to see if something is wrong.
Our conversations about depression and mental health are very reactionary and are usually relegated to vapid chatter following someone’s suicide or attempted suicide or if we happen to be observing World Mental Health Day.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), worldwide, 800,000 people die every year due to suicide – basically one person every 40 seconds. WHO says there are indications that for every adult who died by suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide.
This week alone, four people confessed to me that they had entertained thoughts of suicide.
One of them told me that she was beyond depressed because she had battled her weight for years and could not lose the pounds. As a result, it severely affected her self-esteem and relationships. She said she felt as if no one understood what she was going through, no one seemed to care and she didn’t want to live anymore.
We Are Quick To Dismiss Mental Illnesses
Many of us treat mental illnesses and disorders with disrespect. We act like they are laughing matters or we casually dismiss them as something trivial.
Think about how many times we say someone is crazy or that his or her head is bad when he or she acts strangely. Or we say someone is antisocial because they are withdrawn?
We pull out our cell phones and record individuals suffering from mental illnesses and then we spread that footage around like a virus. And we do this for fun.
If we happen to find out information about someone’s mental state, we use it as ammunition to hurt him or her. We should never make fun of someone who has battled depression. Without knowing someone’s state of mind, that jab may be the very thing to push them over the edge.
You Never Know What Someone Is Going Through
There are many broken people in this country today who are ashamed of speaking out, because they fear being stigmatized. So, they hide behind their smiles.
The late actor, Robin Williams was always cheerful, high-spirited and ready to make someone laugh. He became the human manifestation of The Miracles’ Tears of a Clown – someone who seemed happy on the outside but was incredibly sad on the inside. The world had no clue how bad it was until news broke that he had taken his life.
When someone commits suicide, we question why and some of us ignorantly say that someone like Robin who seemed to have everything going for him had no real reason to take his own life.
I can relate to what many people have been through. I’ve been there.
In the past, during profoundly difficult moments in my life I allowed myself to go to very dark places.
Suffering A Loss And Battling Depression
The first time was when I was a teenager after my brother was murdered over my school’s summer break. I remember standing over him and watching his life slip away as he lay dying on the floor, inches away from a garbage can. As the light left his eyes I felt consumed by darkness.
When I returned to school in September, I was still in shock and bearing the weight of his demise. I refused to speak to our guidance counselor, even though she insisted. I insisted I wasn’t crazy and didn’t need to speak to anyone. There’s that stigma at play.
There was one other moment in my life that I thought of ending it. I distinctly remember driving in a rainstorm and thinking I would crash my car into a lamp pole. It was at that moment that I heard God clearly say to me, “If you do that that will permanently separate me from you.” That admonition was strong enough to stop me. That was the last time ever that I allowed my mind to go to that dark place. But, it was my faith that kept me because there was no one to turn to.
During my difficult moments, I remember reaching out to a former friend and trying to explain what I was going through. She dismissed it. I never got the chance to explain what was happening. I just remember telling her that my calling her could have been a cry for help. After laughing she finally took it seriously, but by then I was in no mood to talk.
A Cry For Help
Last year, Health Minister, Dr. Duane Sands, while addressing the Sandilands Rehabilitation Center’s Suicide Prevention Symposium, urged residents to pay close attention to their loved ones.
He noted that there are those who speak openly about taking their own lives, but we often dismiss it as “drama or attention-seeking behavior.”
Were it not for my faith, I would not be here today. But, I know that people are different. This is why I take all threats of suicide seriously.
There are many people in The Bahamas suffering from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or depression, but they are not getting the attention or help they need. There are people who are cutting themselves and putting themselves in dangerous situations because they do not want to live anymore.
These people come from all walks of life. They go to our churches and our schools. We go to work with them every day and we see them, but we don’t really see them.
They are the individuals caring for a sick parent without any help from other family members. They’re emotionally, financially and mentally exhausted as a result, slowly losing themselves because there is no one to check in on them.
They are the new mothers grappling with postpartum depression and no partner or family member to help them during difficult times or to notice when something is off.
There are men and women struggling to provide for their families but unable to find a job for months or even years.
There are a lot of hurt people in this town.
I’m sharing this story because I want all of you who are reading this to know that you are not alone, even if the world tries to make you feel like you are.