As usual, I logged in to Twitter during a free moment on Monday. The first tweet I saw was a retweet of The Chive, a popular satire site similar to The Onion. In this tweet, they were expressing their condolences regarding Robin Williams’ death. My stomach dropped. “Please let this be a sick joke,” I thought. As I continued scrolling, my shock grew as I realized we had indeed lost a wonderful person. Sadness set in as I further learned that the man behind so many beloved characters had suffered from severe depression.
When tragedies, such as the death of an American icon like Robin Williams, happen suddenly and unexpectedly, it is human nature to take something senseless and find the opportunity to learn from it. As a result, many people in my timeline began tweeting suicide prevention hotlines and various other links, entreating people with depression and other mental illnesses to seek help.
There only seems to be one problem with that. If you are at the point where suicide is a legitimate next step, these resources may be too late to help.
Asking someone to seek out help when his illness already results in a decreased ability to rationalize and understand his feelings is an additional burden he must shoulder while trying to fight an already difficult illness. That is not say these services are ineffective. They are great resources for those in need, and I truly hope that someone out there was reached because of this tragedy, that through Mr. Williams’ death, other lives were saved. I do understand that the good work of suicide prevention hotlines and websites is successful for some people who still have the presence of mind and a glimmer of hope to seek assistance.
But if the desire to escape the pain of this world would drive a person to end his life, it also seems plausible that putting effort into reaching out may not be an option. Instead, it should be family and friends learning about the signs of depression and other serious mental illness so they can intervene on behalf of their loved one. We can reach out, and we can take that burden from them.
I do not claim to be an expert on mental illness. Far from it, in fact. I am more of an observer learning a little more about mental health every day. For nearly three years, I have run this blog and learned much from our grantees, but my favorite issue that HCF supports is Mental Health First Aid. We just ran a post from Mark Wiebe at Wyandot Inc. who wrote about the recent MHFA training in Kansas City.
What is Mental Health First Aid?
Mark says, “Mental Health First Aid teaches us how to reach out to people with mental illnesses like depression and guide them to get the help they need—sooner rather than later. It teaches us how to bridge the gulf that’s created when people with mental illness isolate themselves, how to make life a bit more tolerable for those experiencing a serious mental health challenge.”
Knowing the signs of mental illness is a critical first step, but MHFA then empowers members of the community to reach out to those in need. It teaches them how to talk about mental illness with someone who has a mental illness. Even, or maybe especially, that it is OK to talk about it.
Sometimes suicidal people have no support. Sometimes suicidal people have support but their support is ill-equipped to help. Sometimes suicidal people are already receiving treatment. Sometimes intervention wins, and sometimes tragically, it does not make any difference.
The most important thing is that we continue to try, and by knowing the signs and effective steps to confront the illness, we are already better prepared to help someone battle the illness living inside. The signs are there, are we ready to help?
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