Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The stigmas on mental illness and suicide

People often say things like "suicide is never the answer," or "suicide is such a selfish act." Most people have the luxury of not really knowing what they're talking about. And I hope they never have to know what I know. But one thing I would really like to change about suicide is the way we talk--or don't talk--about it.

As a society, we're in a much better place today than we were 50 years ago or even 20 years ago, as it pertains to suicide and the most often related mental illness. Less and less do I hear the word "shrink" in reference to counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, and psychologists. More research is being performed and published. There is more talk; more credence given to mental illness. More schools have counselors, more businesses and corporations employ counselors and therapists to be available to their employees. We're moving toward a better place, certainly, but there is much more progress to be made.
Mental illness can be as chronic as lymph cancer. It can also be as acute as a cold or the flu, and last only weeks or days. It is an illness, to be sure. But for many, the term "mentally ill" only conjures up images of an insane asylum and people adorned in straight-jackets. But as many times as I've sat in a waiting room, waiting to see a therapist for one thing or another, and wandering my eyes around the place, I've yet to see anyone who fits those archaic stereotypes.
And what about suicide? What images does one see when he or she thinks of that punch-you-in-the-stomach, powerful word? What do you feel inside when you think of the idea of suicide? Death, in and of itself, is an uncomfortable topic for many people. And chances are, due to their discomfort with such an idea, most people haven't ever gotten much past a glancing thought about suicide. And I don't blame them. 
In a way, I'm lucky. I'm only 36 and there have now been maybe 5 chapters of my life during which I've regularly met with a therapist or counselor. So when my mom took her own life last summer, I immediately knew where to find help. And more important, I knew I'd need it. I am very pro therapy. I often find myself talking to a friend, or even a stranger, and advocating therapy. For me there is no stigma; there is no shame in 'checking your head.' In fact, I fully believe that my mental health habits are evidence that I am stronger than those who attempt to ignore mental traumas, great or small. I'm not trying to brag, mind you; it's just how I see it.
For a few people, once parts of my life, I wish they had seen mental health as I see it now. And so, I'll go on, advocating for mental check-ups, as I believe they are just as important, or more so, as the routine physicals we get for all kinds of reasons or no reason at all. 
As for suicide, I would never suggest that it's the answer. I would never let someone I know toy with that idea for any amount of time. Knowing too well the confused messes and the broken hearts suicide leaves in its path, I am going to try and cause change in our society; I'm going to try and remove the stigmas associated with mental illness; I'm going to be an advocate for helping ourselves to the helps that are needed and are increasingly more available today than they were only decades ago. 
Who am I? Well...no one, really. Yet. I'm a senior biology student with aspirations of P.A. school, one day to be a physician assistant. I'm a survivor of my mother's suicide. I'm the founder and director of Breathe: Suicide Survivor's Support Group at Utah Valley University. I want to be the change I want to see in the world. I want to be a fire underneath the ass of the health care system; an advocate to pay much, MUCH closer attention to mental health. I'm the guy who thinks we're not just bodies; we're also minds and souls.
I want to share a list of quotes I found about suicide, just to shine light on some different ways to see it:

Suicide sometimes proceeds from cowardice, but not always; for cowardice sometimes prevents it; since as many live because they are afraid to die, as die because they are afraid to live.
Charles Caleb Colton

That's the thing about suicide. Try as you might to remember how a person lived his life, you always end up thinking about how he ended it.
Anderson Cooper

Suicide is man's way of telling God, "You can't fire me - I quit."
Bill Maher

There is no refuge from confession but suicide; and suicide is confession.
Daniel Webster

We can consciously end our life almost anytime we choose. This ability is an endowment, like laughing and blushing, given to no other animal... in any given moment, by not exercising the option of suicide, we are choosing to live.
Peter McWilliams

For many centuries, suicides were treated like criminals by the society. That is part of the terrible legacy that has come down into society's method of handling suicide recovery. Now we have to fight off the demons that have been hanging around suicide for centuries.
Judy Collins

I don't think Jimi committed suicide in the conventional way. He just decided to exit when he wanted to.
Eric Burdon

A suicide kills two people, Maggie, that's what it's for!
Arthur Miller

As anyone who has been close to someone that has committed suicide knows, there is no other pain like that felt after the incident.
Peter Greene


Julie C. said...

Wow Wade, you've come a long way since school. You are an amazing person. I'm sorry you went through this tragedy, but look at the strength you've gotten from it and the great tasks you have accomplished and will accomplish. You're a great person Wade. I think if these groups would of been around back when my brothers took their lives, it may have prevented me from bottling it up all these years. Suicide was not to be talked about. I honestly dont even think I knew what suicide was until then. I'm proud of you Wade

Allison said...

you are such a great person! You always have been and always will be! I love your open mind! I feel the same way! I agree 100%!

Unknown said...

So beautifully written. I LOVE the fact that when you become a P.A., that your checklist of health issues will include; "have you been depressed lately?" "Have you had a major life change in your life in the past 6 months?", and explore those life events for depression, just as you will ask them if they have asthma, ringing in the ears....it is so important. PLUS, you are advocating now. I so admire your passion and determination. I know I've been able to just "be" when I attend you group! You are doing great things and I for one have benefitted immensely. BTW..I agree 100% with what you've written and beatuifully so!! HUGS!!

Unknown said...

Wade...I am the "Unknown" (#3) on your comments!!

Unknown said...

Charn is #3....I can't even use this blog comment thing right. I wonder if Mercury went retrograde again!! (I know it isn't...but somedays it feels like it!!!)