“He came from such a good family.”
“She was so talented and pretty.”
“His family had money. They had a nice house, traveled all over the world. He could do anything he wanted.”
“She was such a nice girl. She was popular, had friends, so outgoing.”
“It is just sad. He had so much potential.”
“Why? Why would they do something so stupid as to take their life?”
Because they had a mental illness. Depression. Anxiety. Bipolar disorder. Schizophrenia. Schizoaffective disorder. Borderline Personality Disorder.
Because mental illness is a disease. And a disease doesn’t care. Mental illnesses are no different from cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and many more. It can strike anyone. Anywhere. 1 in 5 adults or 43 million people in the United States have or have had a mental illness. Let’s compare. 29 million have diabetes. In 2016, an estimated 1.6 million new cases of cancer were diagnosed. Every year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack. Think about it. It is very common but the stigma of mental illness makes it scarcely talked about.
The other day I told someone I have depression. The reply, “Why?”
Why?! I don’t know. Because my brain has a chemical imbalance of various neurotransmitters, which alters the way my brain thinks. It misfires and I can’t comprehend what my emotions and thoughts are. They become hazy and irrational. Since I am trying to work harder to think clearly, my body goes into overdrive. I become tired. Listless. My arms and legs are heavy. Exhausted. Pretty soon, my inside is numb. Sure, sometimes I wonder why does it have to happen to me. Well because…
Depression doesn’t care.
Mental illness doesn’t care.
If doesn’t care if you are white or black.
Asian or Hispanic.
Rich or poor.
Pretty or handsome.
Outgoing or a homebody.
Anxiety doesn’t care if you have a safe home with family and friends.
It doesn’t care if you can travel the world or never leave the state.
It doesn’t care if you are married or single.
Man or woman.
Heterosexual or homosexual.
Bipolar disorder doesn’t care if you believe in God or Buddha.
The disease doesn’t care if you read the Bible daily or never pick it up.
If you pray daily or swear on God’s name.
Athletic or a bookworm.
An only child or from a gaggle of siblings.
IT DOESN’T CARE.
Because it is a disease. It can strike anyone, anywhere. Just like cancer. Just like diabetes. Just like high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Mental illness can be hereditary. Or not. No different than any other disease out there.
One in five. Think about that. Look at that. Glance around you. That is someone in your family. In your group of friends. In your workplace. In your classroom. That is you. It is me.
My depression with anxiety doesn’t care that I am a 34-year-old woman with two children, a good job, money in the bank, deep faith in God, a supportive and loving family, with a badass tribe. My disease doesn’t care that I am a very outgoing, bold, happy individual.
So when society attempts to understand a person’s suicide, all the elements of one’s life are analyzed. Especially when the life gone was of a successful or beautiful person. Robin Williams, Chester Bennington, Kurt Cobain, or a high school girl from the middle of Nebraska. Society tries to rationalize mental illness. Make someone or something to blame for the disease. But mental illness doesn’t always make sense.
So what do you do? What do you say? How do you act?
Support your 1 in 5. Show them that you see them. You hear them. You love them. Show them that their disease does not make them less of a person. Don’t give up on them. Or yourself. Keep going.
Educate yourself. Find out more about this life ending disease. Try to get a little understanding that mental illness doesn’t care about who you are or where you are from. Learn how this disease effects not just your emotions but all of the body. Discover others who battle alongside you.
Ask questions. The really hard ones. Not just how are you? Not just are you okay? Ask: Do you want to hurt yourself? Ask: Do you feel like you want to kill yourself? Ask: Can I go with you to the doctor and talk about how you feel right now? Ask: Are you taking your meds? Ask again and again. Once is not enough.
Get help. For you or someone you love. One of the symptoms of mental illness is believing there is no hope. But there is. Mental illness is very treatable and manageable through medications, therapy, and lifestyle changes. It takes time. It takes courage. It is worth it if it means saving a life. Your life.
My name is Katie.
I have depression.
I have anxiety.
I am 1 in 5.
I have a mental illness.
If you would like to learn more about mental illness and those affected, please visit www.nami.org (National Alliance on Mental Illness).
If you are having suicidal thoughts, please (PLEASE) call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline