Since 1998, the suicide rate has increased 25% in this country. Mental illness continues to plague our society and it continues to be gravely misunderstood and judged harshly. This week we lost 2 very successful folks who were in the spotlight, yet how many left us that will not make the headlines???
When my sister took her own life last September, I received a few texts from friends who commented on her mental health issues, insinuating that those were the precursor to her tragic act. My first reaction was to defend her, saying it was NOT mental illness that caused her to take her own life. And I have to ask myself, why did I feel the need to defend her mental health so staunchly? My answer is because for the most part in today’s society, depression and anxiety are shunned, thought of as “bad” or something that we possibly have control over. Resources and funding to help the mentally ill are consistently being cut as the disease spreads like a wildfire through America. And the less resources the mentally ill have, the more end up homeless on the street. When I first arrived in San Francisco in 1992, I was astounded how many folks were wandering the streets. By the time I finally left SF in 2010, there were literal camps of homeless below the freeway on 13th street. My heart simply could not take seeing them all on a daily basis. How in the name of all that is GOoD can we call ourselves the greatest nation in the world when these serious problems plague our society?
For many years, I personally suffered from SEVERE depression and anxiety. My depression was SO crippling at times that my good friends who had compassion and an inclination of what I was enduring would come and stay with me, just so I could find an iota of comfort and/or not harm myself. I can’t pinpoint exactly how, why or when my depressive episodes and anxiety lessened. All I can say is that I AM SO ETERNALLY GRATEFUL THEY DID because those snippets of hell, those dives into the abyss of unimaginable sadness made me understand exactly why people like Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade hung themselves.
My mother suffered from depression. My grandmother was heavily medicated for 45 years of her life for mental health issues. My great grandfather had my great grandmother committed for her mental health and then he took his own life. So, was(is) my tendency towards depression and anxiety genetic OR as my sister Barb had mentioned often, learned bad thinking? Quite honestly, I’m not sure if there is a definitive answer to the cause of my own disease. I have come to attribute my own depression towards being born ultra-sensitive in a society that doesn’t nurture sensitivity. A great book I read to help understand this was “Self Care for the Self Aware” by Dave Markowitz. I also kept deep, dark secrets for many years. And I also used drugs and alcohol to avert my feelings. Since I ceased using drugs (all street and pharms) and alcohol 18 months ago, my depressive episodes have decreased significantly. AND I attribute my “recovery” to having great counseling as well as digging into those places and secrets held inside that haunted me for years. Most importantly, I became willing to open up and not hide anything any longer, and that included my anger and sadness which I believe turned inward was a huge cause of my blues. I decided that I didn’t care what anyone thought of me or how I chose to live my life any longer. I decided that I was going to unconditionally love myself…. AND get a dog!!! So, my “fixes” may not be permanent, nor may they be yours. The most important thing I can suggest for those suffering is to not be afraid to find some help, to find a compassionate ear and last but not least, DO NOT LISTEN TO PEOPLE WHO TELL YOU TO “PULL YOURSELF UP BY YOUR BOOTSTRAPS”! As a society, we owe this disease a lot more attention. And…. we owe those who suffer chronically from it A LOT MORE COMPASSION.