There are many, many, MANY days, weeks and months dedicated to various issues in the world; you have Banned Book Week, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the like. One that seems to elude many people, however, is one that affects so many of us, in different ways. National Suicide Prevention Week is set this year for September 7 through September 13, and is set aside as a time to jump start the national conversation on suicide and depression. This week may be slid under the rug because it doesn’t have a pretty color or a nice event attached to it, but it is so vitally important for us to recognize that suicide is a serious issue that MUST be addressed.
In 2013 suicide was the 10th leading cause of death. Period. Not just for teenagers “following a trend” (though it is the 2nd leading cause of death in people aged 15-24; far more people in their twenties commit suicide), it’s not just for “emotional women” (in fact men commit suicide FOUR TIMES more often than women), nor is it just “white folks stuff” (in 2012 alone, over 2,300 Black people committed suicide and alongside white people, Native Americans and Alaskan natives commit suicide the most often). Suicide is not something that can be simplified like that, and with over 800,000 people committing suicide every year, it’s time to have a real conversation about what leads to it and how it can be prevented. (In case you need some proof of all these facts, you can check here)
People get depressed. It’s hard out here. One of the big things that leads teens to being depressed is the inability to talk to people about their issues. Adults with bills and work to go to tend to downplay the problems of those younger than them, and can’t fathom that somebody still in school could be so distraught. I’ve heard PLENTY of parents tell their kids “You don’t have nothing to be mad/sad/upset/angry about! Be glad you young!” That’s just not true. Adolescence is hard: you have a school that mostly wastes time teaching you stuff you don’t care about, you want to do things but you can’t because you’re a child, your body is changing, and don’t even mention trying to find out who you are. If you’re LGBT, gender non-conforming, or hell just have different interests from the people around you it’s easy to feel ostracized. When you feel like a loner for eight hours out of any given day and go home to people who basically tell you to just get over it; that weighs on a person. Anyone could be depressed after years of that.
But no one wants to talk about that. In fact we actively discourage it. It’s understandable to an extent. Facing the fact that your son, daughter, sibling or whoever is actually a person with real feelings can be hard, because that means accepting that you have to treat them as such. You have to take into consideration that the little child who you could just tell anything to now has his or her own feelings emotions, and mindset.When you've been doing the thinking for your child for about 10 years, it must be hard to suddenly stop. It is much easier to suggest they “man up”, “pray about it”, or just ignore their issues altogether. This doesn’t usually come from trying to be malicious to your children or other people, but from the reality that many families simply cannot afford therapy. With the cost of health insurance and therapy not being covered in some, for many families they simply cannot afford for their children to be depressed, and tend to try to act like they aren't depressed at all.
So what should they do? Even without therapy much work can still be done to help those who may be dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts. Firstly we must admit that anyone can be depressed; even when they may seem “fine”. One of the many things I love the BET show “Being Mary Jane” for tackling is suicide in Black professionals. The combination of racist microagressions in the workplace and the need to exceed everyone's expectations often gives even Black celebrities a skewed sense of identity that makes mental health difficult. The show even hits on Lee Thompson Young's suicide and plays a similar story line out onscreen. Mainstream media picked up on the problems of professionals a year later when Robin Williams committed suicide, but either way, both cases show that very successful and well liked celebrities still battle depression and other mental illnesses. If people with all this money and fame can be depressed, literally ANYONE can. We also must realize that everyone needs support. Humans need companionship; someone to confide in and a kindred spirit to talk to. One of the most powerful things someone can do to battle depression is to be a friend. You never know, your friendship may be the thing that keeps that person going.
I speak of this from experience. When I was in high school I was suicidal; I hated myself for a number of reasons and wanted several times to end it all. I wasn’t until I got into college and surrounded myself with people who I could confide in that I was able to get better. I also have a few friends who have had similar experiences, and together we keep each other encouraged. That would be a third thing I would say about depression; like most illnesses (mental or otherwise) you have to stay on top of it. Surround yourself with positive people or be that positive person for someone else. Take it upon yourself to learn about suicide and depression, and for the love of all things good and righteous don’t go spreading dangerous lies about depression if you haven’t done some research or talked to some people dealing with it. Shaming people who are depressed by calling them weak doesn’t help; it only tells them more that the world is against them. Mental illness doesn’t just go away if you pray about it or ignore it; only by changing the conversation about mental illness, depression, and suicide will we ever be able to lower the numbers, and only then can we make something like National Suicide Prevention Week be unnecessary.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, PLEASE USE THIS NUMBER: 1-800-273-8255. It’s the national suicide prevention hotline. There is also a specialized hotline for LGBT youth (13-24): 1-866-488-7386.
What will YOU do to help those suffering from depression? Leave your questions, comments and concerns below and don't forget to like, share and subscribe!