The unfortunate truth is many of us either have a mental illness or know someone who does, and suicide can be part of that reality. No longer is it an isolated case of the one person you knew in high school; today, it touches us within our families, friends, soldiers and kids. It goes beyond saying this is tragic.
And yes, this includes the famous people we look up to. We've come a long way from the days of Marilyn-overdosed starlets -- along with their handlers -- who kept it under wraps.
Today, we give priority to discussing suicide after tragedy strikes, but then we yank it away weeks later. The light fades and progress goes on the back burner until next time. I can't be the only one to recognize this pattern. The mentally-ill community is painfully aware of it. It's a shame -- don't you think -- that it takes a suicide of a famous person to get the conversation going in the first place? At least we can agree it is the only upside to any suicide. If there is one.
I'd like to think the dark ages are in the rear view mirror, but we're not out of the weeds yet. Robin Williams spoke candidly about his mental illness. Although he departed this earth, I understand. I've walked in his moccasins, addictions and all. I get it. Anyone can fake a fleeing smile, entertain, put on a good show. Just because we can doesn't mean there isn't darkness lurking underneath. Our smiles may fool you -- and we clean up nicely -- but when I'm smiling, it isn't a slam dunk I'm happy. I have my everything-is-okay-with-Wendy mask, though you'll never know when it's on. We all have this to a degree; however, with depression, or any mental illness, it's on more than you think.
The truth is ugly. According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, suicide takes one in five bipolars' lives. Over 90 percent of people who die by suicide have been diagnosed with mental illness. For people 15 to 24 years old, suicide is the second leading cause of death Our young ones are in trouble. As most people know our veterans, too, are in crisis. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans represent a whopping 20 percent of all suicides each year.
Even at my strongest and happiest times in life, I occasionally look back at my attempts but not voluntarily; it is triggered. It was a horrific time that year and a half, in and out of hospitals, a constant tumble in the riptide that nearly took me out to sea forever.
Make no mistake, mental illness is a life-threatening battle requiring constant vigilance and preventative measures. Personally, I treat my mental illness like a virtual sword fight every day. I have a long list of wellness tips including: seeing the best psychiatrist and psychologist I can afford, focusing on my sleep, steering clear of drugs and alcohol, minimizing stress when possible and taking my medications. Always.
In the beginning years, my family sought education from the National Alliance on Mental Illness' (NAMI) Family course and information from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA). I also praise Mental Health America (MHA) for their resources for families and consumers alike. There are countless non-profits that specialize in suicide awareness and help, notably, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), American Association of Suicidology, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), The Trevor Project and Alliance of Hope for suicide survivors. You can also find a well-compiled list of organizations that can help you HERE.
During many gray hours -- when I wasn't in the hospital but still extremely depressed -- I volunteered locally and also went to DBSA meetings. They knew exactly how I felt -- even I didn't want to be around me. Staying connected helped and volunteering made me feel like I mattered, like I had a purpose.
I've also learned, especially since I have bipolar type I, the higher I go, the lower I fall. It's a delicate balance I can't fully control, even with the greatest vigilance. Again, I can damn well try, and that makes all the difference. I may not be able to beat mental illness, but I sure as heck fight it.
Whether you are in the throws of depression or mania, or know someone who is, I promise: Calm will come again. It always does. I have hope, great hope for our future, including research, decreased stigma through education, awareness, understanding and finally, through helping each other. Isn't that what life is all about?
The ultimate truth is: There is help and hope if you seek it and stay connected. I am here to say life is definitely worth living, even when it feels cold, it is warm somewhere.
I wish that for you, and me, for many years to come.
Please look for these warning signs by going to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) website by clicking here. There is national suicide prevention hotline 24/7 at (800) 273-8255 and your local ER. If you or your loved one has a plan, do not prolong getting help. Do it immediately. It could mean the difference between life and death.
Have a story about depression that you'd like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or give us a call at (860) 348-3376, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.