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In the Mental Health Community, Our Outrage Must Move Us to Action

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As I write this I can feel anger and frustration flowing through my pen and onto the page. Several things happened over the past year that struck a nerve within me, sparking an outrage I am just now beginning to shake.

Many are already aware of the controversy over a Halloween costume that was being sold depicting someone with razor blade slash marks on their wrists as a result from a suicide attempt. The gash marks were horrifyingly graphic and realistic. Just seeing the picture on Facebook brought tears to my eyes and sucker punched me in the gut, knocking the wind out of me. This triggered what became an endless wave of emotions pulling up memories and thoughts that have quite honestly been overwhelming.

My eyes were immediately drawn to the tattoo on my left wrist of a runnerI got to remind me of the strength it took for me to finish my first marathon. But then I was thrust back in time to all the moments I was unable to fight the urge which left me full of shame. Then my thoughts quickly shifted to all the people I’ve met during hospital stays who had on the previous evening tried to take their own lives and were now confined to a psych ward after their wrists had been sewn back together. They struggled with a deep depression due to the fact they were unsuccessful in their attempt, which later turned into horror as the reality of what they had done began to sink in.

I felt my chest threatening to explode as I remembered a friend who last year died by suicide, leaving behind a wife and two children. The guilt for not having recognized how far into the pit he had fallen crushed my spirit.

Visions of former students — some as young as 9 years old — bombarded my mind. Students whose scars I discovered accidentally as well as those who had willingly shared with me because they were already convinced life was hopeless. I became nauseous as I vividly remembered a fourth grader who instead of writing the answer to a math problem on her white board wrote, “I wish I was dead,” and held it up for the class to see.

I thought of another student who spent the morning on my lap sobbing because she had found out as she left for school that her uncle had died by suicide.

I thought of a woman I did not know personally, but who had recently taken her own life. She was a mother and teacher surrounded by friends yet felt there was no way out of her pain.

I had visions of students being taken away in an ambulance to the ER only to be given a sedative and sent home to parents who were overwhelmed and exasperated because there was no help readily available and nowhere else for them to go.

The images, thoughts and emotions attached to every one of those situations swirled out of control in my head threatening to drown me. Anger welled up within me, turning to a desperation to do something. I wanted to run to every school, teacher, nurse and parent and plead with them to help me spark a movement. The problem is most of us are so overwhelmed with life and this world, that every second seems to get more and more messed up. Hopelessness settled in as I became aware of the enormity of the task at hand when it comes to helping people with mental illness, and the reality that most of us lack the time and energy that is necessary, as well as the knowledge and appropriate skills to help.

So many people live on the brink of death every day, battling the demons that try to convince them they’d be better off dead, yet we are often at a loss of how to help. Fortunately, my lack of hope was short lived as I remembered why I started sharing my struggles with the world. So instead of diving back into the pit on whose edge I found myself once again, I resolved to use my intense emotions to give a voice to help those who haven’t yet found theirs or who are ashamed or scared to ask for help. I’ve seen so many faces affected by suicide and have shared their tears as they try to hold on, summoning any ounce of strength they have left.

Thousands of people expressed outrage about this costume. We as a society have to come together and demand better treatment and more respect. Our outrage has to move us to action — be willing to educate yourself, pay close attention to everyone around you, step up and reach out even if it scares you or makes you uncomfortable, support, listen and commit to loving each other. Let others know it is unacceptable to deem people “crazy” when they can’t control what’s wreaking havoc in their brains. Demand more resources for our schools to effectively help the growing number of kids dealing with mental illness by providing training and an environment that allows teachers to spend time fostering relationships instead of being forced to focus on paperwork and data. Appreciate teachers who are pushed to their limits and whose own mental health is at risk as they become more overwhelmed. How can we be effective in helping our kids when there is limited training and resources dedicated to this very complicated issue?

I admit this all overwhelms me and what I’ve written isn’t pretty. But those faces have been imprinted on my mind for a reason, and I can’t stop fighting the battle they are struggling to overcome. My purpose in sharing my outrage is to convince you that more has to be done and that we all have a responsibility to take action because it affects everyone, whether we realize it or not.

This verse from a Seventh Day Slumber song has always resonated with me, because it expresses how I’ve felt so many times, but also begs for the desire, strength and motivation to spread hope and keep going.

“I want to be dead but still alive
I want to breathe hope instead of choking
I want to feel the fire deep inside
burn through me
and carry me away…”

Don’t ignore the fire within you. Use it to make a difference and join me as I continue to share and discover ways we can make things better and share the hope that is available to everyone of us.

1 John 3:17-18 ESV
But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Image via Thinkstock 

Originally published: January 10, 2017
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