August 2014 Archives

We need to talk

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Given the recent tragic apparent suicide of Robin Williams, I think that it's time that we have a hard conversation in this country that thus far, no one has been willing to have on the topic of suicide, mental illness, and depression. There is a very poignant TED talk on the topic by Kevin Breel, a Canadian teenager who has become a very large mental health advocate.

It's been said that Robin Williams was in a very dark place, suffering from a severe depression and a recent re-admittance to an alcohol treatment program. Whatever it was that caused him to take his life, there was help available for it. That's the message that I want to convey right now. Whatever the problem, there is help. There is someone that will listen.

There are certain populations that are more at risk for suicide than others. As a gay man, for example, I'm 4 times as likely to take my own life as my straight peers (during teenage years at least - that's the statistic that I easily found). Alcoholics are 120 times more likely that the general population to attempt suicide, and alcohol is involved in a full 25 percent of suicides every year.

For each of these populations, there is specialized help available. For example, the Alcohol Hotline is available at 866-925-4030. If you're a LGBT youth, the Trevor Lifeline is available for you at 866-488-7386. The National Suicide Prevention Center is available at 800-273-8255. Regardless of the reasons that you think that life cannot continue, it can.

This isn't something that I've talked about publicly before, but in any given year, 1 in 4 American adults, myself included, suffer from some form of diagnosable mental illness. I'm typically a little dodgy about what I do on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings with those around me - let me tell you what it is now. I'm attending therapy sessions (a gay men's interpersonal group on Tuesday, individual on Wednesday) with two awesome therapists and some of the most awesome group members that I know, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that or worth hiding about it.

There's help for anything that you can imagine, and a shoulder to cry on. It doesn't have to be a therapist (though that has worked for me), or a suicide hotline. Perhaps it's a loved one, a friend, someone in the religious community that you attend - but there is someone.

There's such a stigma attached to asking for help for problems related to your mental health, and there really doesn't need to be. People think that asking for help is a sign of weakness or that they can't deal with their problems on their own. Nothing could be further from the truth, reaching out for help means that you are in touch with yourself, and are realizing that there are some things that you can't deal with by yourself. Would you perform surgery on yourself? Of course not - so why attempt to perform "surgery" on the mind by yourself?

To take one example of the stigma, when I broke my wrist, everyone was very accepting of what the problem was, and very tolerant. We're tolerant and accepting of any body part breaking, except for the brain. It's time to change that, it's time to get mental health on an even keel with physical health. There's nothing wrong with going to the doctor for whatever ails you physically, but when it comes to mental health, no one talks about it. This has to change.

One other important factor that people neglect when talking about suicide is the impact on the people that you leave behind - their lives are forever changed by what you do, and not for the better. They now have the trauma of the loss of their loved one to go through, and that's never an easy thing to deal with.

In conclusion, help is available, and it's available 24/7. Suicide is a permanent "solution" to a temporary problem, and it's not the answer. Be strong, and reach out for help when you need it.