I never say, “He committed suicide.” I always say, “He died of mental illness.” My dad was sick. The sickness was fatal. The sickness killed him. And the sickness is taboo and often time brings awkward feelings when I talk about it in normal every day conversations.
There are so many terrible fatal diseases in our world and mental illness is one of them. It is a sickness as serious as any other fatal illnesses that have touched your life. It is why I know, when I tell others that my dad was sick for a long time, and eventually succumbed to his illness, I know I am not lying. Mental illness is real, it is ugly, and it can be fatal if not properly treated. Your friend, your cousin, Kate Spade, Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, my dad. They didn’t just choose to stop being. Their brains were broken.
This week, I have seen mental illness shake my personal community, and the world as a whole. Mental illness induced suicide has rocked my personal world more than anyone should have to bare. I’ve been on the sidelines as friends and relatives spiraled. I’ve known it was coming and I have been shocked when I received the news. And until mental illness is treated with the same respect, perseverance, and dedication to knowledge as other illnesses, we are still going to be shocked when we lose another precious life.
The conversation has to change.
“Just pray more.”
“He must have not felt loved.”
“I wish you would just decide to be happy.”
“Don’t take those pills! When I feel sad I just hit up the gym.”
“I didn’t even know she was depressed!”
“I don’t understand why he chose to take his life.”
Have you ever said or heard these things when talking to others about depression, bipolar disorder, ptsd, or suicide? It is ok if you have. I was there too at one point in my life. But first hand experiences and education changed my tune. If you have ever been touched by mental illness (you most likely have, by the way), make a choice to be informed. Decide that you want better for this world, for your friends, your family, yourself! Be aware of friends who start to party unusually hard, family members who have pulled away, habitual canceled plans, interest that start to fizzle. Care with a fierce intensity. Use some of the many resources at our fingertips to start changing the conversation about mental illness in your circle. Because as your circle changes so will the world.
To my friends who are in deep dark places of hurting: I have been there. I have spent hours in a hot shower trying to get the sting of panic and depression to lessen. I’ve felt the weight of the world pressing on my chest. I have poured over scripture begging God to change my brain. I have spent days in bed willing the world to care. My dear friend gave me permission to use her words, words that be both deeply believe, and you can too…
“I want to remind everyone to persist. If you feel alone and disconnected from everyone in your life, maybe to the point you feel them losing interest in your struggle–persist. If you have been stuck in a rut for 5 years, even with professional help–persist. If you feel as if you’re just “done”–persist. Nothing lasts forever. Neither happiness nor sadness. Please persist. I’ve been there and I still end up there occasionally. But when it’s good, it’s really good. And life is surprising. Just keep persisting. Remain here and see where you end up. It’ll be worth it. You owe yourself as much time as possible. Persist.”
Jesus cares. And He sees you. He knows what it feels like to be hurt and betrayed. He loves you. He gave us brains to use, hearts to feel, and souls to love. He also allows doctors to use their knowledge to learn how to heal and treat this terrible sickness. Let us use our God-given brains, hearts, and souls to focus on changing the conversation surrounding mental illness.
Here are some fantastic resources to start and continue a healthy conversation about mental illness: