With all the craze around the new Netflix original series 13 Reasons Why, there’s been a heightened awareness about suicide rates among young people. But I haven’t watched the show yet for two reasons.
One, it’s finals month (yes, I like to consider the entire month of April one giant never-ending strain of madness and sleep-deprived hell). The other reason is that I’m trying to wait until I have at least two days free to be a Cheeto-dust and mascara covered emotional wreck.
While the open atmosphere of social media has moved us a long way in recognizing just how broad the effects of mental illness span, there is room to grow. And as any great movement does, this fight is going to need some strong voices.
We’ve created a society where we urge people to speak out about their mention illness but bash them when they do. The problem is that people who need to seek help are indirectly seeking attention. Seeking attention has such a negative connotation that people are often ashamed to come forward. Seeking attention means that someone will have to share attention with you, share the spotlight. In a world where everyone is always pushing to be noticed, we don’t always want to share that spotlight – failing to realize that it could save a life.
I’ve struggled with depression for as long as I can remember. As many of my friends already know, my birth parents died when I was six years old. I sat on our stairs and watched my mother for the last time as she rode away unconscious in an ambulance. My father died in the months to follow.
Traumatic childhoods have a strange way of repressing your memories, but one of the handful of memories I recall is a line from my father as I was sitting on his lap. He asked me, “Would you rather live with your aunt or your uncle?” Confused, I said “I’d rather live with you.”
Now, I drive by my childhood home every day on my way back from school. Not a drive goes by that I don’t glance over and picture what happened in that basement. I was six when my father showed me all the reasons why, but I wasn’t old enough to know how to put them together.
Some days I am not old enough. Others I am not popular enough or good enough. In its most crippling state, however, my depression leads to feelings of absolute emptiness. Every few weeks I become something that’s barely human, like I’m just an orb of a soul floating above the heavy sack of a physical body – disassociation. It makes it difficult for me to connect with other people, to feel happiness, and at its worst, to give and receive love. You see, it’s not just enough to ask people to speak up about their mental illness. The mental illness is simply the label attached to the abundance of feelings, emotions and struggles that reside beneath.
While we should undoubtedly continue to urge others to reach out if they’re contemplating taking their own life, we have to encourage each other to speak up before the thought even occurs. If someone is struggling, they should not feel embarrassed or as if they are simply seeking attention.
I have a confession. I lied in my title. Ironically, I just wanted to get your attention. I don’t need 13 reasons to know why we need to start speaking up and reaching out. I only need one and that is you.
You should reach out because you matter. This life isn’t going to be easy, but we all deserve to glide through it as painlessly as possible. I think a greater openness about the struggles that each and every one of us face will help us feel as if we are in fact more normal than we once thought.