Tina Szymczak

@tina-szymczak | contributor
Tina Szymczak is married to an amazingly supportive husband who happens to also do laundry. She has two spirited boys, ages 19 and 14, who keep her on her toes. Writing has always been a way for Tina to communicate her feelings and experience in dealing with her own mental health and her sons’ disabilities. Follow her family’s journey on Spirited Blessings.
Tina Szymczak

What to Say to Someone Who's Suicidal, and What Not to Say

All my life I’ve battled severe depression. On numerous occasions I’ve been suicidal. It’s a horrible thing for all involved. Here are some of the most unhelpful (and helpful!) things I’ve been told during these times. 1. Don’t tell me: “ God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” First off, you don’t know what my belief system is. Perhaps I don’t believe in God. Or maybe I do, but the pain does feel like more than I can handle. I’m the one dealing with it. I’m the one who has to wake up and face each day. If God dealt me this hand intentionally, it feels like he made a mistake — there are days I truly feel like I can’t deal with it. When you say something like that, it makes me feel ashamed. Say instead: “I understand you might be thinking of suicide. I will do everything in my power to get you the help you need.” And then actually do it. Make calls to a doctor or my therapist. Take control of an out-of-control situation. 2. Don’t tell me: “Just think of your family. Aren’t your children and spouse enough?” I love my family with all my heart. When I’m feeling suicidal, I actually think I would be sparing them the pain that is me. Saying something like this makes me feel guilty, but not better. Say instead: “ Your family loves you no matter how you feel inside.” Talk to me about my family in general – What are the kids into? What do my husband and I enjoy doing together? Remove the guilt and focus on the positives. 3. Don’t tell me : “ Things will be different tomorrow.” You don’t know that — don’t tell me things that sound nice, but aren’t necessarily true. The truth is I might feel 100 times worse tomorrow. Say instead: “ Let’s take this a minute at a time.” Instead of making false promises, remind me to live just one minute — or one second — at a time. Tell me while you don’t know what tomorrow will bring, you’ll always be there. Offer to sit with me and help pass the time. Let’s watch a movie or some other mind numbing activity. Every minute I stay is a step toward recovery. 4. Don’t tell me : “You’re being selfish.” Wow. Just, wow. How is that helpful? A person who’s suicidal is in insurmountable pain. If wanting someone to notice me and sit by my side while I fight my inner demons is selfish, then so be it. Say instead: “ I want to help you.” Tell me I’m not a burden to you or my friends and family. Tell me you’ll be with me every step of the way and really mean it. Ask me what they need. 5. Don’t tell me: “ Just snap out of it.” The absolute worst thing to say ever. Depression is a very real medical diagnosis. Would you tell someone with cancer or diabetes to “snap out of it?” Believe me, if “snapping out of it” were a possible solution, I’d do it. Say instead: “ I know what you’re going through is real.” If you’re feeling suicidal, reach out to friends, family or a doctor — someone to walk on the road to recovery with you. Get help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to reach out. If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world. The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

Tina Szymczak

Simple Ways We Can Start Helping Those Who Feel Suicidal

The past few days have been a struggle: first Kate Spade and now Anthony Bourdain. They both fell into despair so deep they saw no way out, and they died by suicide. The struggle for me is such a deeply personal one and their actions bring back my past actions and what could have been. Both of these accomplished individuals had family and friends who loved them deeply, and they each had a preteen daughter who now has to live without one of their parents. I have been struggling because I feel like I should be able to raise awareness as I always try to do, but here is the thing: I don’t know what to say. I don’t have any answers. Both these people reportedly dealt with depression and other mental health conditions for quite some time. We will likely never know why they didn’t reach out for help at the last moment. But I can tell you I know what the feelings are leading right up to the edge of actually taking my life. I have attempted suicide multiple times. I have contemplated jumping in the river and went so far as to drive down there and leave a note in the car. I felt so completely lost. For me that was well beyond feeling sad and depressed. I felt this huge gaping hole right in the center of me and it felt like it would always be there. I couldn’t manage the feelings of emptiness and complete loss. Did I think about my family? Of course I did, particularly at the start and middle points of my depression. As an adult I worried about leaving my husband to care for our two spirited boys. In those moments, I understood (not agree with, just understood) the parents who would try to take one or more of their children with them. It was a scary time. In the critical stage of my depression, I was beyond even thinking about anyone else. You have to understand that I felt less than worthless. It’s one of the many lies depression tells you. So if I was worthless, I didn’t deserve to even be here. Beyond that was the fact I didn’t want to be here. I wanted the pain to stop. I was in therapy, I was taking medication and yet I could still feel so lost and empty. That just pushed me further into despair, what else could I possibly do? I wanted to talk to my husband and to friends but there were several reasons I didn’t. First, if I actually talked about it, spoke the words out loud, I was afraid it would make me feel worse. Second, I didn’t want to see that look of pity and concern on other people’s faces. That’s hard to handle. Third, if trained professionals couldn’t make me feel better then what could friends and family do? Fourth, what if I shared my darkest feelings and I was put back in the hospital? So maybe there was some small piece of hope deep down in me? Maybe the hope in all of this is why I didn’t actually die by suicide? I don’t know. Truth is that I attempted suicide twice and subsequently went to sleep fully expecting not to wake up. But I did. I’m glad I did but at the age of 17, that could have been the end. None of the life I have built since then would even exist. That is hard to face. As an adult, I think there was a bigger piece of me that recognized I was a danger to myself, so I reached out for help, however clumsily. The difficulty was getting the overextended mental health system to keep me safe until I could keep myself safe. If the system had the resources it should, they would admit you and keep you safe. But the way it is, in my experience, they will likely send you home. But that doesn’t mean you don’t go. Now that I wrote that paragraph, I find myself worrying: what if someone reads it and then doesn’t get the help they need? So, this is where friends and family come in — you keep taking the person back in and you keep calling all the resources in town. You take shifts staying with the person until someone listens and starts to help. You don’t believe the person if they say they have suddenly changed their mind and urge you to go home. You stay. You stay and you make noise and refuse to back down until a trained mental health professional does an adequate assessment for risk of self-harm. I had to do that for a close family member; he spent days in the emergency room waiting to be seen but we refused to leave until they took us seriously. I believe we are making headway in the campaign to bring mental health awareness to the forefront of society. More and more people are speaking up and sharing their stories. There is no one straightforward answer to stopping so many suicides. I say it’s not straightforward but they are pretty simple: 1. Make speaking about mental illness and even just basic emotions so routine that there is no shame in sharing your story. I hesitate about what is safe to share at times. What if people judge me? Luckily for me, I actually don’t care (the pre-medicated me would be very anxious about it all) and I believe my calling is to share, share and share in the hopes of helping even one person. 2. Start raising our children to be aware of their emotions, self-regulation and self-care. If we do this, by the time they are adults, they will be used to answering “How are you?” with a truthful answer to their close family and friends. 3. Easier access to mental health services. Provide mental health services to children, teens and their families as they need them without long waiting lists. 4. Train more psychiatrists. I have a family member who has waited three years or more to try to get a psychiatrist. When I asked my psychiatrist to take on my son, he told me his waiting list is at least one and a half years. 5. Government health plans. Government health plans should cover the cost of a mental health professional such as a social worker or psychologist. 6. Expand mobile mental health units. Fund them to be community focused and able to go to wherever the person in need requires them to be. 7. Improve mental health wards in hospitals. Make them feel more comfortable and give everyone their own room. Have programming to keep people busy and to give them a purpose. Let people’s support systems visit them during the day whenever they want; it’s not jail. 8. Affordability of medication. Make medication more affordable for people who do not have health benefits but make too much to qualify for assistance. These are the people who are getting much-needed prescriptions and then having to choose between rent or food for their family or filling that script. 9. Keep an eye on friends. When a friend or family member starts distancing themselves from everyone and everything, don’t let them. Keep calling, visiting or texting. Say things like: “You seemed down, I wanted you to know I’m thinking of you. No pressure to text back.” The last thing a person who is depressed wants to feel is guilty because they are not living up to their end of the friendship. Assure them you are there for them and there is not pressure to perform. Just don’t let them retreat into an abyss. 10. Building on the “no pressure.” One of the main reasons I didn’t talk to people was my experience that people would try to dismiss or minimize my feelings out of love and an attempt to help. But it just made me feel inferior. Like, I should be able to “just think of my family,” or “don’t let things get you down.” What would have helped? Just be with the person, watch movies and eat junk food. Convince them to go for walks. More than feeling like you have to say something, just be there for them. That is what they need. It is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a start. I feel better knowing I have put into words some of these emotions brought up by the past few days. I get why Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain did it, but I so badly wish it hadn’t come to that. 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 , the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “HOME” to 741741. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Photo by KaLisa Veer on Unsplash

Tina Szymczak

Simple Ways We Can Start Helping Those Who Feel Suicidal

The past few days have been a struggle: first Kate Spade and now Anthony Bourdain. They both fell into despair so deep they saw no way out, and they died by suicide. The struggle for me is such a deeply personal one and their actions bring back my past actions and what could have been. Both of these accomplished individuals had family and friends who loved them deeply, and they each had a preteen daughter who now has to live without one of their parents. I have been struggling because I feel like I should be able to raise awareness as I always try to do, but here is the thing: I don’t know what to say. I don’t have any answers. Both these people reportedly dealt with depression and other mental health conditions for quite some time. We will likely never know why they didn’t reach out for help at the last moment. But I can tell you I know what the feelings are leading right up to the edge of actually taking my life. I have attempted suicide multiple times. I have contemplated jumping in the river and went so far as to drive down there and leave a note in the car. I felt so completely lost. For me that was well beyond feeling sad and depressed. I felt this huge gaping hole right in the center of me and it felt like it would always be there. I couldn’t manage the feelings of emptiness and complete loss. Did I think about my family? Of course I did, particularly at the start and middle points of my depression. As an adult I worried about leaving my husband to care for our two spirited boys. In those moments, I understood (not agree with, just understood) the parents who would try to take one or more of their children with them. It was a scary time. In the critical stage of my depression, I was beyond even thinking about anyone else. You have to understand that I felt less than worthless. It’s one of the many lies depression tells you. So if I was worthless, I didn’t deserve to even be here. Beyond that was the fact I didn’t want to be here. I wanted the pain to stop. I was in therapy, I was taking medication and yet I could still feel so lost and empty. That just pushed me further into despair, what else could I possibly do? I wanted to talk to my husband and to friends but there were several reasons I didn’t. First, if I actually talked about it, spoke the words out loud, I was afraid it would make me feel worse. Second, I didn’t want to see that look of pity and concern on other people’s faces. That’s hard to handle. Third, if trained professionals couldn’t make me feel better then what could friends and family do? Fourth, what if I shared my darkest feelings and I was put back in the hospital? So maybe there was some small piece of hope deep down in me? Maybe the hope in all of this is why I didn’t actually die by suicide? I don’t know. Truth is that I attempted suicide twice and subsequently went to sleep fully expecting not to wake up. But I did. I’m glad I did but at the age of 17, that could have been the end. None of the life I have built since then would even exist. That is hard to face. As an adult, I think there was a bigger piece of me that recognized I was a danger to myself, so I reached out for help, however clumsily. The difficulty was getting the overextended mental health system to keep me safe until I could keep myself safe. If the system had the resources it should, they would admit you and keep you safe. But the way it is, in my experience, they will likely send you home. But that doesn’t mean you don’t go. Now that I wrote that paragraph, I find myself worrying: what if someone reads it and then doesn’t get the help they need? So, this is where friends and family come in — you keep taking the person back in and you keep calling all the resources in town. You take shifts staying with the person until someone listens and starts to help. You don’t believe the person if they say they have suddenly changed their mind and urge you to go home. You stay. You stay and you make noise and refuse to back down until a trained mental health professional does an adequate assessment for risk of self-harm. I had to do that for a close family member; he spent days in the emergency room waiting to be seen but we refused to leave until they took us seriously. I believe we are making headway in the campaign to bring mental health awareness to the forefront of society. More and more people are speaking up and sharing their stories. There is no one straightforward answer to stopping so many suicides. I say it’s not straightforward but they are pretty simple: 1. Make speaking about mental illness and even just basic emotions so routine that there is no shame in sharing your story. I hesitate about what is safe to share at times. What if people judge me? Luckily for me, I actually don’t care (the pre-medicated me would be very anxious about it all) and I believe my calling is to share, share and share in the hopes of helping even one person. 2. Start raising our children to be aware of their emotions, self-regulation and self-care. If we do this, by the time they are adults, they will be used to answering “How are you?” with a truthful answer to their close family and friends. 3. Easier access to mental health services. Provide mental health services to children, teens and their families as they need them without long waiting lists. 4. Train more psychiatrists. I have a family member who has waited three years or more to try to get a psychiatrist. When I asked my psychiatrist to take on my son, he told me his waiting list is at least one and a half years. 5. Government health plans. Government health plans should cover the cost of a mental health professional such as a social worker or psychologist. 6. Expand mobile mental health units. Fund them to be community focused and able to go to wherever the person in need requires them to be. 7. Improve mental health wards in hospitals. Make them feel more comfortable and give everyone their own room. Have programming to keep people busy and to give them a purpose. Let people’s support systems visit them during the day whenever they want; it’s not jail. 8. Affordability of medication. Make medication more affordable for people who do not have health benefits but make too much to qualify for assistance. These are the people who are getting much-needed prescriptions and then having to choose between rent or food for their family or filling that script. 9. Keep an eye on friends. When a friend or family member starts distancing themselves from everyone and everything, don’t let them. Keep calling, visiting or texting. Say things like: “You seemed down, I wanted you to know I’m thinking of you. No pressure to text back.” The last thing a person who is depressed wants to feel is guilty because they are not living up to their end of the friendship. Assure them you are there for them and there is not pressure to perform. Just don’t let them retreat into an abyss. 10. Building on the “no pressure.” One of the main reasons I didn’t talk to people was my experience that people would try to dismiss or minimize my feelings out of love and an attempt to help. But it just made me feel inferior. Like, I should be able to “just think of my family,” or “don’t let things get you down.” What would have helped? Just be with the person, watch movies and eat junk food. Convince them to go for walks. More than feeling like you have to say something, just be there for them. That is what they need. It is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a start. I feel better knowing I have put into words some of these emotions brought up by the past few days. I get why Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain did it, but I so badly wish it hadn’t come to that. 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 , the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “HOME” to 741741. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Photo by KaLisa Veer on Unsplash

Tina Szymczak

Simple Ways We Can Start Helping Those Who Feel Suicidal

The past few days have been a struggle: first Kate Spade and now Anthony Bourdain. They both fell into despair so deep they saw no way out, and they died by suicide. The struggle for me is such a deeply personal one and their actions bring back my past actions and what could have been. Both of these accomplished individuals had family and friends who loved them deeply, and they each had a preteen daughter who now has to live without one of their parents. I have been struggling because I feel like I should be able to raise awareness as I always try to do, but here is the thing: I don’t know what to say. I don’t have any answers. Both these people reportedly dealt with depression and other mental health conditions for quite some time. We will likely never know why they didn’t reach out for help at the last moment. But I can tell you I know what the feelings are leading right up to the edge of actually taking my life. I have attempted suicide multiple times. I have contemplated jumping in the river and went so far as to drive down there and leave a note in the car. I felt so completely lost. For me that was well beyond feeling sad and depressed. I felt this huge gaping hole right in the center of me and it felt like it would always be there. I couldn’t manage the feelings of emptiness and complete loss. Did I think about my family? Of course I did, particularly at the start and middle points of my depression. As an adult I worried about leaving my husband to care for our two spirited boys. In those moments, I understood (not agree with, just understood) the parents who would try to take one or more of their children with them. It was a scary time. In the critical stage of my depression, I was beyond even thinking about anyone else. You have to understand that I felt less than worthless. It’s one of the many lies depression tells you. So if I was worthless, I didn’t deserve to even be here. Beyond that was the fact I didn’t want to be here. I wanted the pain to stop. I was in therapy, I was taking medication and yet I could still feel so lost and empty. That just pushed me further into despair, what else could I possibly do? I wanted to talk to my husband and to friends but there were several reasons I didn’t. First, if I actually talked about it, spoke the words out loud, I was afraid it would make me feel worse. Second, I didn’t want to see that look of pity and concern on other people’s faces. That’s hard to handle. Third, if trained professionals couldn’t make me feel better then what could friends and family do? Fourth, what if I shared my darkest feelings and I was put back in the hospital? So maybe there was some small piece of hope deep down in me? Maybe the hope in all of this is why I didn’t actually die by suicide? I don’t know. Truth is that I attempted suicide twice and subsequently went to sleep fully expecting not to wake up. But I did. I’m glad I did but at the age of 17, that could have been the end. None of the life I have built since then would even exist. That is hard to face. As an adult, I think there was a bigger piece of me that recognized I was a danger to myself, so I reached out for help, however clumsily. The difficulty was getting the overextended mental health system to keep me safe until I could keep myself safe. If the system had the resources it should, they would admit you and keep you safe. But the way it is, in my experience, they will likely send you home. But that doesn’t mean you don’t go. Now that I wrote that paragraph, I find myself worrying: what if someone reads it and then doesn’t get the help they need? So, this is where friends and family come in — you keep taking the person back in and you keep calling all the resources in town. You take shifts staying with the person until someone listens and starts to help. You don’t believe the person if they say they have suddenly changed their mind and urge you to go home. You stay. You stay and you make noise and refuse to back down until a trained mental health professional does an adequate assessment for risk of self-harm. I had to do that for a close family member; he spent days in the emergency room waiting to be seen but we refused to leave until they took us seriously. I believe we are making headway in the campaign to bring mental health awareness to the forefront of society. More and more people are speaking up and sharing their stories. There is no one straightforward answer to stopping so many suicides. I say it’s not straightforward but they are pretty simple: 1. Make speaking about mental illness and even just basic emotions so routine that there is no shame in sharing your story. I hesitate about what is safe to share at times. What if people judge me? Luckily for me, I actually don’t care (the pre-medicated me would be very anxious about it all) and I believe my calling is to share, share and share in the hopes of helping even one person. 2. Start raising our children to be aware of their emotions, self-regulation and self-care. If we do this, by the time they are adults, they will be used to answering “How are you?” with a truthful answer to their close family and friends. 3. Easier access to mental health services. Provide mental health services to children, teens and their families as they need them without long waiting lists. 4. Train more psychiatrists. I have a family member who has waited three years or more to try to get a psychiatrist. When I asked my psychiatrist to take on my son, he told me his waiting list is at least one and a half years. 5. Government health plans. Government health plans should cover the cost of a mental health professional such as a social worker or psychologist. 6. Expand mobile mental health units. Fund them to be community focused and able to go to wherever the person in need requires them to be. 7. Improve mental health wards in hospitals. Make them feel more comfortable and give everyone their own room. Have programming to keep people busy and to give them a purpose. Let people’s support systems visit them during the day whenever they want; it’s not jail. 8. Affordability of medication. Make medication more affordable for people who do not have health benefits but make too much to qualify for assistance. These are the people who are getting much-needed prescriptions and then having to choose between rent or food for their family or filling that script. 9. Keep an eye on friends. When a friend or family member starts distancing themselves from everyone and everything, don’t let them. Keep calling, visiting or texting. Say things like: “You seemed down, I wanted you to know I’m thinking of you. No pressure to text back.” The last thing a person who is depressed wants to feel is guilty because they are not living up to their end of the friendship. Assure them you are there for them and there is not pressure to perform. Just don’t let them retreat into an abyss. 10. Building on the “no pressure.” One of the main reasons I didn’t talk to people was my experience that people would try to dismiss or minimize my feelings out of love and an attempt to help. But it just made me feel inferior. Like, I should be able to “just think of my family,” or “don’t let things get you down.” What would have helped? Just be with the person, watch movies and eat junk food. Convince them to go for walks. More than feeling like you have to say something, just be there for them. That is what they need. It is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a start. I feel better knowing I have put into words some of these emotions brought up by the past few days. I get why Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain did it, but I so badly wish it hadn’t come to that. 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 , the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “HOME” to 741741. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Photo by KaLisa Veer on Unsplash

Tina Szymczak

Simple Ways We Can Start Helping Those Who Feel Suicidal

The past few days have been a struggle: first Kate Spade and now Anthony Bourdain. They both fell into despair so deep they saw no way out, and they died by suicide. The struggle for me is such a deeply personal one and their actions bring back my past actions and what could have been. Both of these accomplished individuals had family and friends who loved them deeply, and they each had a preteen daughter who now has to live without one of their parents. I have been struggling because I feel like I should be able to raise awareness as I always try to do, but here is the thing: I don’t know what to say. I don’t have any answers. Both these people reportedly dealt with depression and other mental health conditions for quite some time. We will likely never know why they didn’t reach out for help at the last moment. But I can tell you I know what the feelings are leading right up to the edge of actually taking my life. I have attempted suicide multiple times. I have contemplated jumping in the river and went so far as to drive down there and leave a note in the car. I felt so completely lost. For me that was well beyond feeling sad and depressed. I felt this huge gaping hole right in the center of me and it felt like it would always be there. I couldn’t manage the feelings of emptiness and complete loss. Did I think about my family? Of course I did, particularly at the start and middle points of my depression. As an adult I worried about leaving my husband to care for our two spirited boys. In those moments, I understood (not agree with, just understood) the parents who would try to take one or more of their children with them. It was a scary time. In the critical stage of my depression, I was beyond even thinking about anyone else. You have to understand that I felt less than worthless. It’s one of the many lies depression tells you. So if I was worthless, I didn’t deserve to even be here. Beyond that was the fact I didn’t want to be here. I wanted the pain to stop. I was in therapy, I was taking medication and yet I could still feel so lost and empty. That just pushed me further into despair, what else could I possibly do? I wanted to talk to my husband and to friends but there were several reasons I didn’t. First, if I actually talked about it, spoke the words out loud, I was afraid it would make me feel worse. Second, I didn’t want to see that look of pity and concern on other people’s faces. That’s hard to handle. Third, if trained professionals couldn’t make me feel better then what could friends and family do? Fourth, what if I shared my darkest feelings and I was put back in the hospital? So maybe there was some small piece of hope deep down in me? Maybe the hope in all of this is why I didn’t actually die by suicide? I don’t know. Truth is that I attempted suicide twice and subsequently went to sleep fully expecting not to wake up. But I did. I’m glad I did but at the age of 17, that could have been the end. None of the life I have built since then would even exist. That is hard to face. As an adult, I think there was a bigger piece of me that recognized I was a danger to myself, so I reached out for help, however clumsily. The difficulty was getting the overextended mental health system to keep me safe until I could keep myself safe. If the system had the resources it should, they would admit you and keep you safe. But the way it is, in my experience, they will likely send you home. But that doesn’t mean you don’t go. Now that I wrote that paragraph, I find myself worrying: what if someone reads it and then doesn’t get the help they need? So, this is where friends and family come in — you keep taking the person back in and you keep calling all the resources in town. You take shifts staying with the person until someone listens and starts to help. You don’t believe the person if they say they have suddenly changed their mind and urge you to go home. You stay. You stay and you make noise and refuse to back down until a trained mental health professional does an adequate assessment for risk of self-harm. I had to do that for a close family member; he spent days in the emergency room waiting to be seen but we refused to leave until they took us seriously. I believe we are making headway in the campaign to bring mental health awareness to the forefront of society. More and more people are speaking up and sharing their stories. There is no one straightforward answer to stopping so many suicides. I say it’s not straightforward but they are pretty simple: 1. Make speaking about mental illness and even just basic emotions so routine that there is no shame in sharing your story. I hesitate about what is safe to share at times. What if people judge me? Luckily for me, I actually don’t care (the pre-medicated me would be very anxious about it all) and I believe my calling is to share, share and share in the hopes of helping even one person. 2. Start raising our children to be aware of their emotions, self-regulation and self-care. If we do this, by the time they are adults, they will be used to answering “How are you?” with a truthful answer to their close family and friends. 3. Easier access to mental health services. Provide mental health services to children, teens and their families as they need them without long waiting lists. 4. Train more psychiatrists. I have a family member who has waited three years or more to try to get a psychiatrist. When I asked my psychiatrist to take on my son, he told me his waiting list is at least one and a half years. 5. Government health plans. Government health plans should cover the cost of a mental health professional such as a social worker or psychologist. 6. Expand mobile mental health units. Fund them to be community focused and able to go to wherever the person in need requires them to be. 7. Improve mental health wards in hospitals. Make them feel more comfortable and give everyone their own room. Have programming to keep people busy and to give them a purpose. Let people’s support systems visit them during the day whenever they want; it’s not jail. 8. Affordability of medication. Make medication more affordable for people who do not have health benefits but make too much to qualify for assistance. These are the people who are getting much-needed prescriptions and then having to choose between rent or food for their family or filling that script. 9. Keep an eye on friends. When a friend or family member starts distancing themselves from everyone and everything, don’t let them. Keep calling, visiting or texting. Say things like: “You seemed down, I wanted you to know I’m thinking of you. No pressure to text back.” The last thing a person who is depressed wants to feel is guilty because they are not living up to their end of the friendship. Assure them you are there for them and there is not pressure to perform. Just don’t let them retreat into an abyss. 10. Building on the “no pressure.” One of the main reasons I didn’t talk to people was my experience that people would try to dismiss or minimize my feelings out of love and an attempt to help. But it just made me feel inferior. Like, I should be able to “just think of my family,” or “don’t let things get you down.” What would have helped? Just be with the person, watch movies and eat junk food. Convince them to go for walks. More than feeling like you have to say something, just be there for them. That is what they need. It is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a start. I feel better knowing I have put into words some of these emotions brought up by the past few days. I get why Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain did it, but I so badly wish it hadn’t come to that. 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 , the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “HOME” to 741741. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Photo by KaLisa Veer on Unsplash

Tina Szymczak

Simple Ways We Can Start Helping Those Who Feel Suicidal

The past few days have been a struggle: first Kate Spade and now Anthony Bourdain. They both fell into despair so deep they saw no way out, and they died by suicide. The struggle for me is such a deeply personal one and their actions bring back my past actions and what could have been. Both of these accomplished individuals had family and friends who loved them deeply, and they each had a preteen daughter who now has to live without one of their parents. I have been struggling because I feel like I should be able to raise awareness as I always try to do, but here is the thing: I don’t know what to say. I don’t have any answers. Both these people reportedly dealt with depression and other mental health conditions for quite some time. We will likely never know why they didn’t reach out for help at the last moment. But I can tell you I know what the feelings are leading right up to the edge of actually taking my life. I have attempted suicide multiple times. I have contemplated jumping in the river and went so far as to drive down there and leave a note in the car. I felt so completely lost. For me that was well beyond feeling sad and depressed. I felt this huge gaping hole right in the center of me and it felt like it would always be there. I couldn’t manage the feelings of emptiness and complete loss. Did I think about my family? Of course I did, particularly at the start and middle points of my depression. As an adult I worried about leaving my husband to care for our two spirited boys. In those moments, I understood (not agree with, just understood) the parents who would try to take one or more of their children with them. It was a scary time. In the critical stage of my depression, I was beyond even thinking about anyone else. You have to understand that I felt less than worthless. It’s one of the many lies depression tells you. So if I was worthless, I didn’t deserve to even be here. Beyond that was the fact I didn’t want to be here. I wanted the pain to stop. I was in therapy, I was taking medication and yet I could still feel so lost and empty. That just pushed me further into despair, what else could I possibly do? I wanted to talk to my husband and to friends but there were several reasons I didn’t. First, if I actually talked about it, spoke the words out loud, I was afraid it would make me feel worse. Second, I didn’t want to see that look of pity and concern on other people’s faces. That’s hard to handle. Third, if trained professionals couldn’t make me feel better then what could friends and family do? Fourth, what if I shared my darkest feelings and I was put back in the hospital? So maybe there was some small piece of hope deep down in me? Maybe the hope in all of this is why I didn’t actually die by suicide? I don’t know. Truth is that I attempted suicide twice and subsequently went to sleep fully expecting not to wake up. But I did. I’m glad I did but at the age of 17, that could have been the end. None of the life I have built since then would even exist. That is hard to face. As an adult, I think there was a bigger piece of me that recognized I was a danger to myself, so I reached out for help, however clumsily. The difficulty was getting the overextended mental health system to keep me safe until I could keep myself safe. If the system had the resources it should, they would admit you and keep you safe. But the way it is, in my experience, they will likely send you home. But that doesn’t mean you don’t go. Now that I wrote that paragraph, I find myself worrying: what if someone reads it and then doesn’t get the help they need? So, this is where friends and family come in — you keep taking the person back in and you keep calling all the resources in town. You take shifts staying with the person until someone listens and starts to help. You don’t believe the person if they say they have suddenly changed their mind and urge you to go home. You stay. You stay and you make noise and refuse to back down until a trained mental health professional does an adequate assessment for risk of self-harm. I had to do that for a close family member; he spent days in the emergency room waiting to be seen but we refused to leave until they took us seriously. I believe we are making headway in the campaign to bring mental health awareness to the forefront of society. More and more people are speaking up and sharing their stories. There is no one straightforward answer to stopping so many suicides. I say it’s not straightforward but they are pretty simple: 1. Make speaking about mental illness and even just basic emotions so routine that there is no shame in sharing your story. I hesitate about what is safe to share at times. What if people judge me? Luckily for me, I actually don’t care (the pre-medicated me would be very anxious about it all) and I believe my calling is to share, share and share in the hopes of helping even one person. 2. Start raising our children to be aware of their emotions, self-regulation and self-care. If we do this, by the time they are adults, they will be used to answering “How are you?” with a truthful answer to their close family and friends. 3. Easier access to mental health services. Provide mental health services to children, teens and their families as they need them without long waiting lists. 4. Train more psychiatrists. I have a family member who has waited three years or more to try to get a psychiatrist. When I asked my psychiatrist to take on my son, he told me his waiting list is at least one and a half years. 5. Government health plans. Government health plans should cover the cost of a mental health professional such as a social worker or psychologist. 6. Expand mobile mental health units. Fund them to be community focused and able to go to wherever the person in need requires them to be. 7. Improve mental health wards in hospitals. Make them feel more comfortable and give everyone their own room. Have programming to keep people busy and to give them a purpose. Let people’s support systems visit them during the day whenever they want; it’s not jail. 8. Affordability of medication. Make medication more affordable for people who do not have health benefits but make too much to qualify for assistance. These are the people who are getting much-needed prescriptions and then having to choose between rent or food for their family or filling that script. 9. Keep an eye on friends. When a friend or family member starts distancing themselves from everyone and everything, don’t let them. Keep calling, visiting or texting. Say things like: “You seemed down, I wanted you to know I’m thinking of you. No pressure to text back.” The last thing a person who is depressed wants to feel is guilty because they are not living up to their end of the friendship. Assure them you are there for them and there is not pressure to perform. Just don’t let them retreat into an abyss. 10. Building on the “no pressure.” One of the main reasons I didn’t talk to people was my experience that people would try to dismiss or minimize my feelings out of love and an attempt to help. But it just made me feel inferior. Like, I should be able to “just think of my family,” or “don’t let things get you down.” What would have helped? Just be with the person, watch movies and eat junk food. Convince them to go for walks. More than feeling like you have to say something, just be there for them. That is what they need. It is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a start. I feel better knowing I have put into words some of these emotions brought up by the past few days. I get why Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain did it, but I so badly wish it hadn’t come to that. 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 , the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “HOME” to 741741. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Photo by KaLisa Veer on Unsplash

Tina Szymczak

Depression: The Voice of Negative Thinking

Failure. Loser. Incapable. Unwanted. Unworthy. Words my mental illness plants in my brain. They sneak in under the cover of dark, rearing their ugly heads when I least expect it. Defenses down, I am bowled over by the intensity and severity of the words. I do my best to fight. I do positive self-talk and affirmations. I stay away from sad movies and TV. I seek out my husband who counteracts the force of the words. But sometimes… sometimes I can’t fight. They overwhelm me, those words. They tell me I can no longer do my job – that I am missing things with the families I help and I have made some major mistakes. I find myself compulsively checking my notes and second guessing what I have and haven’t done. Before home visits I sit in my car, taking deep breaths and trying to will the panic attack away. My heart races, my palms are sweaty, it feels like an elephant is sitting on my chest. I push down the feelings of inadequacy and will myself to be calm and receptive to the family I am there to help. The words tell me I am a horrible mother, that I have missed some major things with my children and I have failed them as a mother. They tell me that the boys would be better without me, a mother who is a burden and source of stress and anxiety. I am aware of how much I am yelling at them and that serves to throw me in deeper into my depression. They tell me I am a lousy spouse. That I have no interest in anything and have trouble connecting on a personal level. My caring husband wants to help me but I don’t know what to tell him, how to help me. Which then leads to me further berating myself for not being able to share with him. Those words tell me my family is better off without me, that I am nothing. How can they miss me when I am nothing? I try to tell myself that I am loved and wanted but the words are too strong. I have trouble getting out of bed. I watch mindless TV for hours and sleep is my new best friend. Lots and lots of sleep. And lets not forget the eating – anything and everything. The more unhealthy the better. And sometimes. Sometimes things get so bad I fear for my safety. I struggle to try to explain to others what is going on with me in that moment. I just know I feel so bad that I am thinking of killing myself. Those words. Failure. Loser. Incapable. Unwanted. Unworthy. They take my mental health away. But they won’t take my life. 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 . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via Digital Vision.

Tina Szymczak

5 Things My Depression Prompted Me Let Go of This Holiday Season

I’m not really feeling Christmas this year. Usually by mid-November, we have most of our Christmas shopping completed, and at the beginning of December, I have all our decorations up including the tree. This year, I admitted to my husband that my depression has really taken hold, and I am struggling to get through the season. With that in mind, we decided to get serious about not exacerbating my depression. So we did the following: 1. We let our boys put up and decorate the tree. I sat on the couch and handed them the decorations. The placement was all up to them. It felt good to spend family time without me having to get the tree to look “just right.” It’s all off balance with bunches of decorations and holes of emptiness, but my boys did it. I wouldn’t have it any other way. 2. I’m not doing any baking this year. I used to spend several nights in a row making homemade treats for everyone. I admit it felt good when people would sample them and proclaim how good they tasted. This year, I couldn’t even bring myself to buy flour when we ran out just in case I felt compelled to pick up a bowl and wooden spoon. 3. I shopped online. I usually like to see and feel things before I buy them, and I haven’t done a lot of online shopping. This year, I couldn’t bring myself to get out there in the crowds. So my dear husband started shopping online. I followed suit, and within the week, we had all of our presents bought and shipped directly to us. The ease in doing things this way will probably make it an annual event. 4. I shopped for only close family members. I didn’t buy for teachers, therapists, the hairdresser or the neighbor. I bought just for our family, and it felt good to not be inundated with packages that then needed to be wrapped and delivered. I can only hope the gifts are not missed. Maybe, next year I will get back to how things normally are, or maybe, this is my new normal. 5. I let go of my preconceived notions of what makes Christmas special. It’s not about the perfect Christmas cards, treats, perfect decorations and gingerbread creation. (We graduated from houses to themes a few years ago.) It’s the family time that matters. I’m going to take care of myself over the holidays. I’m going to stay in my PJ’s and take naps. I am going to make tasty food when I want to and resort to frozen foods when I’m just not up to creating. I’m not going anywhere or seeing anyone outside my immediate family. Hopefully, these five things will lead me to a happy and healthy end to 2016. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here. Image via Thinkstock.

Tina Szymczak

Veterinarian Encourages Boy With Learning Disabilities

“What’s your son’s diagnosis?” the veterinarian asked me in a rare moment when my son had stopped talking and instead was focused on his guinea pig. Normally such a question would make me get my back up. I mean, who asks such a question? But there was something about this man in his white coat, leaning up against the counter across the room from us. Something told me he wasn’t being rude. His question was genuine and I had to believe it would leadto a conversation I didn’t want to miss. “Well…” I stammered, “depends on who you talk to at this point.” But I went on. “Attention deficit disorder, OCD and Tourette syndrome are the main ones.” (We wouldn’t know about the autism and bipolar disorder for a few more years.) The doctor crossed his arms and nodded. “I ask because I see a lot of myself in him. I was diagnosed with ADHD and learning disabilities as a kid. Teachers told my parents I would never amount to anything. Doctors told my parents to put me in a special school to keep me busy. No one imagined I would even graduate high school. Look at me now!” He held his arms up and out, motioning to all that was around us. “I love what I do… and all this is mine.” “Hey buddy,” he said to my son. “Can I show you something?” He walked over to the other counter and motioned for my son to join him. “See this?” He held out a picture of a bright red sports car. “This ismine. You just remember that you too can get one of these. You can get whatever you dream.” I don’t think my son, who was 7 at the time, really understood the full meaning of this man’s words, but I did. I was paying this man a small fortune to care for our guinea pig, after all. This man who struggledall through school somehow found his way to veterinary school and a booming practice. Even more importantly, he obviously loved his life. I can’t ask for more than that for my boy. As we left the vet’s office, my son looked up at me with a bright smile and said, “Hey Mom, wasn’t that cool? He said I could get a sports car one day. I can do anything.” I smiled back and hugged him. “You sure can!” The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us about a time someone went out of his or her way to make you and/or your child feel included or not included. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.  

Tina Szymczak

When Depression Makes You a Liar

I have a confession to make. I’m a liar. I lie again and again, day after day. I lie to friends and family, and even to virtual strangers. I don’t mean to – it just comes out. “I’m fine.” I say it with a smile as soon as someone asks, “How are you?” Even my husband of over 20 years – I tell him I’m fine all the time. I don’t want him to worry. I don’t want anyone to worry. I don’t want to be a burden or an inconvenience. I don’t know what else to say. Not everyone needs to know my personal plight, but I lie even to those close to me. I don’t want to tell them I’m suffering from depression. Yes, suffer, because that’s how it feels. I’m practicing with my husband, telling him when I’m not fine. I see the worry in his eyes. My two-month hospitalization last year is still fresh on his mind. We developed a rating scale of one to five. Five being I’m doing great. One means I’m a potential  danger to myself. Yesterday I told my husband at the end of the day that I had been a two. Why didn’t I tell him sooner? I didn’t want to worry him. I wanted to lay in bed and hide from the world. I didn’t want someone to give me a pep talk or try to make things better. But then I did. I realized part way through the day that living in my head without reaching out to someone is dangerous for me. Lately, I’ve been “outing” myself – telling people I’m not always fine. More people are calling me on it and sharing their own struggles. We commiserate over the troubles that plague our lives. It makes me feel more normal. It makes me feel less alone. I’m a liar. But I’m also an advocate. And I will do my best to tell the truth so others can do the same.