Thinking about the high-profile suicides this week, can we take a second to talk about mental health? Why is there such a stigma around mental illness? Your brain is part of your physical body. And we don’t judge people for having heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, but a chemical imbalance in the brain is often deemed your fault and/or something to be embarrassed about. It makes absolutely no sense.
My dad was a mental health professional for over 50 years, and one consistent message he gave me since childhood is that you NEVER know what really goes on behind closed doors in other people’s lives. You don’t know the underpinnings of their relationships, and you certainly don’t know what it’s like to be in someone else’s head.
This week, the media reported the steady increase in suicide among middle aged adults over the last 20 years. When I think back to the late 90’s, I remember the onset of the internet, e-mail, and electronic communication. I can’t help but wonder what role technology has played in this trend. Social media, which can be a wonderful connector, can also put pressure on people to maintain an ideal public image – or to feel “less than” if their lives don’t measure up to what they see online. We tend to post the perfect vacation photo, but not the fight that happened ten minutes before. And I totally get that, and am guilty of that myself.
I think the events of the last few years have shined a light on who we are as a collective – not who we THINK we are, but who we ACTUALLY are. And I think the blessing in that is that it gives us the opportunity to heal our wounds and change. My deepest hope is that we shift into a society that is rooted in compassion and unity.
In the meantime, you can start with yourself and, as corny as it sounds, be the change you want to see in the world. As much as you can, come from a place of kindness and compassion. You don’t know what private pain someone is dealing with in any given moment, and your kindness could be the thing that helps them through one more day.