We need a ‘me too’ movement for mental illness and suicide

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Three high-profile people recently lost their lives to suicide. Fashion designer Kate Spade, chef and food writer Anthony Bourdain, and (perhaps well-known by association) Inés Zorreguieta, sister of queen of the Netherlands. Still fresh in my memory is the suicide of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington and actor Robin Williams. These stories are not easy to read for those of us who have come so close to losing our lives in a similar way.

Every life lost to suicide is tragic because every human being is valuable, means something to someone and has so much to offer the world. However, I can fully understand how someone can make the decision to end their life.

If you find yourself in the depths of depression, suicide seems like the greatest consolation. This is why I don’t judge any of these people for what they believed is the best way out because I also once found myself contemplating a very similar end.

I once read something that said: “No one commits suicide because they want to die. Then why do they do it? Because they want to stop the pain.”

Mental illness needs a ‘me too’ movement 

Suicide is an emotive, uncomfortable and controversial subject. A lot has been written about these suicides in the past few days and I have been both encouraged and angered by what I’ve read.

As these deaths received so much publicity it might make it easier for more people to talk about depression and suicide. What is really needed is a ‘me too’ movement for mental illness to raise the profile of conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar and PTSD.

It might raise the profile of mental illness – how awesome would it be if this category of illnesses were considered as serious as diabetes or heart disease? What if these deaths helped to remove the long-standing stigma associated with mental illness?

However, I am also angered by the lack of insight into what caused these people to take their own lives. The absence of compassion is concerning and devastating. Reading some of the Twitter commentary on these celebrity deaths is enough to make one lose complete faith in humanity. The media should also improve how they report on suicide.

We need to talk about suicide

Very few people want to engage with the fact that people kill themselves. How often are victims accused of being selfish, crazy or psycho? Labels hurt people. They are cruel. They cause people not to seek treatment for fear of judgement.

Depression is a legitimate medical condition

“In my mind, there’s nothing our generation should be more ashamed of than people with severe mental illness being punished for a disease they can’t do anything about. ” Fran Quigley

Depression isn’t just a case of “having the blues”. I spotted this beautiful statement by Kelly Risbey (@MntlHlthWarrior) on my Twitter feed some time ago: “If your friend was battling cancer, you’d send flowers, call, email, stop by. Do all these same things for your friend battling #depression.”

Don’t you sometimes wish that mental illness could be diagnosed with a blood test, or be visible on an X-ray? It would eliminate all those “snap out of it” or “it is all in your head” comments. No wonder so many people suffer in silence. Those who live with chronic conditions such as clinical depression, anxiety, PTSD or bipolar should be treated in the same way as someone living with diabetes, high blood pressure or asthma.

Check on your strong friend

This is such a powerful statement – check on those who you least expect to be struggling. The friend who tells you that they’re fine. That person who is always smiling. It could be a sibling who appears to have a picture perfect life. Is all really well?

 

 

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We have to talk about suicide

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September is Suicide Prevention Month and I’m wondering why this topic isn’t trending on Twitter. It is such an important subject to talk about. But very few people do. Very few people want to engage with the fact that people kill themselves. How often are victims accused of being selfish, crazy or psycho?

This image sums it up perfectly:

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Suicide is a subject close to my heart  because I almost reached that point a few years ago. I blogged about this in a previous post: Celebrating a year of living.

In South Africa, where I live, there is a suicide nearly every hour. This figure could be higher because many incidents aren’t reported. According to the World Health Organisation, South Africa has the eighth highest suicide rate in the world. Suicide is also the third greatest cause of unnatural death in the country.

 

People should talk about suicide. If someone tells you they are suicidal, believe them. They aren’t joking.

 

 

Life lessons from a sad tiger

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This evening I read my son Matthew the most beautiful story. It is about a sad tiger called Augustus and he thinks that he’s lost his smile.

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He sets off to find it and  right at the end he realises this:

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Happiness is everywhere around him. And that’s true! There is beauty in this world and in life even when it is unbearable and overwhelming. We must celebrate simple happiness…the little things.

I read this recently:

Think today is just another day? You woke up. You heart’s beating. You can talk to anyone. You can try anything. Your day has infinite potential. Now that’s something to celebrate. – Lori Deschene

Wow. That’s something to think about.

Thank you, Augustus! ♡

 

 

It only takes one decision

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Don’t be afraid to start over. It’s a brand new opportunity to rebuild what you truly want. – Author unknown

It is good to remember that a different life requires just one decision. Follow your heart. It will never lead you astray. 💛

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Morning view. Blesberg Farm, KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, South Africa. Photo: Wilma den Hartigh

 

Be in the moment

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Sadness gives depth

Happiness gives height.
Sadness gives roots.
Happiness gives branches.
Happiness is like a tree going into the sky,
and sadness is like the roots
going down into the womb of the earth.
Both are needed, and the
higher a tree goes, the
deeper it goes,
simultaneously.
The bigger the tree,
the bigger will be its roots.
In fact, it is always
in proportion.

That is balance

Osho Rajneesh, Indian spiritual teacher
Tree Delta Park

The good effects of Vitamin Sea

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Umdloti 1A few weeks ago our little family spent a couple of days on South Africa’s north coast in a little town called Umdloti.

It was good for my soul to spend time surrounded by nature, the sea and taking long walks on the beach. I went totally offline. For days I woke up not knowing what the time is.

Life is packed with deadlines and meetings and things to do. So instead I decided to abandon all that and listen to my body’s natural rhythm and what nature had to tell me.

A strange thing always happens to me on holiday. Some of the biggest life decisions I’ve ever made happened while I was somewhere at the coast, in the bush or in the mountains.

Removing myself from the daily grind of life gave me time to step back, reflect and spend some time in my head with my thoughts. I’ve learnt to listen to my heart and go with my first instinct – it hasn’t proved me wrong yet.

I’ve always found these words of wisdom helpful when making decisions:Umdloti 2

Ask yourself two questions: Is this choice good for me? Is this choice good for my family? Then listen to what your heart says. – Andrew J. Kelley

Make the small decisions with your head and the big ones with your heart. – Emily Keith

So what was my big decision this time? Well, it wasn’t a big one. It felt more like my heart was gently, but firmly pulling me back towards what I really love. For a while now I’ve been thinking that my job in public relations is not right for me, but now I’ve made a decision to move back to my first love – and that is writing and journalism. I see it as relocating and rearranging my life. The beach is good for the soul.

Yes, depression is a legitimate medical condition

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“Telling someone with depression to pull themselves together is about as useful as telling someone with cancer to stop having cancer.” – Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais might be a controversial guy, but I like this quote. At least someone with some influence is speaking out! Society’s negative attitude towards any form of mental illness means that so many people never feel comfortable talking about it. It is such a lonely road for many people and at times I also count myself in. Actually, just about all of us living with these illnesses are still very selective about who we tell.

Yet, if depression were cancer it would be entirely different story. Sad, isn’t it? In this article which talks about research into mental health, the author says that depression has struggled, while studies of cancer have thrived.

Here’s a few highlights from the article:

If the extent of human suffering were used to decide which diseases deserve the most medical attention, then depression would be near the top of the list. More than 350 million people are affected by depression, making it one of the most common disorders in the world. It is the biggest cause of disability, and as many as two-thirds of those who commit suicide have the condition.

In research…depression has failed to keep up with cancer. Cancer research today is a thriving field…Research into depression, meanwhile, seems to have floundered: once-hopeful therapies have failed in clinical trials, genetic studies have come up empty-handed. The field is still struggling to even define the disease — and overcome the stigma associated with it.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Cancer research funding is very important and I’m glad that so many advances have been made towards treating so many cancers. But, can you imagine if research into mental health got the same kind of funding and attention? What if we had the same kind of advances in treating mental health?

…Another major factor is the long-standing stigma associated with depression. Many people still do not acknowledge that it is a legitimate condition, says Nelson Freimer, a psychiatric geneticist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “A large proportion of people believe depression is just something that we all feel,” he says. “They think you should pull your socks up and get back to work.

The article goes on to tell more about advances into genetic research to understand and treat mental illness, but I agree with article – stigma is still a major problem. Depression isn’t just a case of “having the blues”. These are serious things. Those of us who live with it know.