September is national suicide awareness month, and it is also the month which marks six months without our beloved Alan. I’ve never paid much attention to September; it wasn’t a month of reflection, a month of reaching out to check in on those around me, a month of spreading awareness; not until my family became a part of the statistic. Up until the moment when suicide or mental illness touches you personally, it often appears to be a distant concept, one which does not constantly run at the forefront of your mind and thoughts daily.
Over the course of six months, I have recognized how much of our culture patronizes mental health and suicide. While a majority of our society appears to be profoundly progressive and open-minded, mental health is still extremely taboo.
I remember expressing to a friend that it was difficult for me to go back into social situations since Alan passed because of how sensitive I was. I felt triggered by comments that alluded to suicide in a joking manner. This individual responded by saying, “you just need to get over it, people are going to make stupid comments and you just have to ignore it.” I remember walking away from that conversation feeling so incredibly alone and silenced. A huge pit in my stomach. I couldn’t understand how someone who has never been impacted by suicide could say such a heartless comment to me in a time of vulnerability. While a part of me understands that I cannot change the thought process of every individual I encounter, it doesn’t stop me from wanting to educate individuals on the importance of mindfulness and how words and jokes can directly affect someone who might be going through a traumatic event in their life.
Coming from someone who has experienced not one but two suicides in my immediate family, I can confidently say that there is never an appropriate time or place to make light on mental illness. It isn’t funny, and quite frankly, it makes the individual look like a highly ignorant, unempathetic, and unintellectual person. But here’s the thing, changing the tone we use when talking about mental illness and suicide will not solve the problem, but it certainly is a start that will make a grave impact on our society.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there is an average of 130 suicides per day, and men are 3.63x as likely to die by suicide than women. Part of the reason why so many individuals, particularly men, feel uncomfortable or ashamed to reach out for help when battling any form of mental illness comes from the climate we create around mental illness. This is why months that encourage awareness, such as September, are crucial to raise awareness for and partake in. And raising awareness does not have to solely be in the form of posting on social media; there are so many more ways to get involved. Some of them can be uncomfortable at first, like educating someone on the detrimental impact one comment could make on someone when in a social scenario, or checking in on your friends and coworkers, or having a family discussion on the importance of maintaining good mental health.
September is only halfway over, and I encourage you to do at least one action which will help raise awareness for suicide prevention.
One last comment that I want to include is that mental illness can present itself in a wide variety of forms. Just because someone doesn’t appear “depressed” or “sad” does not reflect the struggle they might be battling inside. Check on the people who might still seem to be “okay.” Be kind to yourself and others.
If you have any gentle comments or questions, please leave them in the comment section below.